ECOWAS in 40 years marriage of convenience
In April 1972, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd.) and the late General Gnassingbé Eyadéma of Togo began to act on the call made by the late President William Tubman of Liberia in 1964 for the establishment of a West African community.
Among the leaders who hearkened the call early were the Presidents of Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
They signed an agreement in February 1965, but there was no significant outcome until General Gowon and President Eyadema of Togo toured 12 countries from July to August 1973, soliciting the support of other West African countries.
A meeting was then called at Lomé from 10th-15th December, 1973, which studied a draft treaty. This was further examined at a meeting of experts and jurists in Accra in January, 1974 and by a ministerial meeting in Monrovia in January, 1975.
Finally, 15 West African countries signed the treaty for an Economic Community of West African States (Treaty of Lagos) on 28th May, 1975 and ECOWAS came into existence.
The shifting of the initial celebration date of 28th May to December may not be unconnected with the recent change of leadership in Nigeria.
It’s being forty years of collective self-sufficiency for member states in seeing to a single large trading bloc.
Over the years, the Community had been able to achieve among other things the movement of goods and persons across borders, promotion of economic integration across the region, played a frontline role in resolving conflicts and ensuring good governance in the region, unifying fight against epidemic and other health-related issues as could be seen during the outbreak of the Ebola virus disease and a host of others.
The bloc is also concerned about economic integration in the region and that was why a call for a single currency was made in 2000 with the aim to establishing a strong stable currency, “Eco”, to rival the CFA franc, whose exchange rate is tied to that of the euro and is guaranteed by the French Treasury. The eventual goal is for the CFA franc and Eco to merge, giving all of West and Central Africa countries a single stable currency.
President Muhammadu Buhari attended the 48th Ordinary Session on 16th December as well as the 40th Anniversary celebrations on 17th December, both of which attracted a number of continental and world leaders. He said Nigeria would remain steadfast in its commitment and support to democracy and good governance in Africa.
He said that the successful conduct of elections in Nigeria, Togo, Guinea, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso had completed the cycle of 2015 presidential elections in the region.
According to him, this remarkable achievement reflects the member states’ collective resolve to entrench democracy and good governance in the region.
His words “We believe that Africa can only be strong and prosperous only when the region is politically stable.”
The ECOWAS had recorded concrete achievements over the years, which had made it a universally acclaimed regional economic community model, said Buhari. According to him, in spite of the significant achievements, the Community still faces numerous challenges.
“While some militate against the integration drive, others continue to pose risks to peace and security, as well as political stability in the region. There are also structural and administrative challenges in running the Commission that equally require serious attention.”
Security challenges persist in our region as we continue to be confronted with the daunting scourge of transnational organised crime including arms trafficking, drug trafficking, as well as piracy and criminality at sea. Equally worrying is the rising scourge of violent extremism and terrorism. All this constitute serious threats to peace and security in the region and, therefore, require our urgent and concerted actions.”
The President said that regional and global solidarity was vital in the ongoing efforts to counter these threats. He called on Africa leaders to consider a clean source of energy in other to reduce global warming and combat the degradation of the environment. He also affirmed that no meaningful development could be achieved in the region if issues concerning the environment are not addressed especially now that the global community is more than willing to assist the African Sub-region in combating the menace of global warming.
He noted that the region is not immune from the challenges of global warming and environmental degradation adding that every avenue must be explored to address the situation in collaboration with the global community. He advised that the region should make an investment in resources that would help the region in its quest to address the situation.
He said the economic progress already achieved in the region could not be allowed to be jettisoned adding that he has a strong conviction that the progress achieved so far in the region will be a progressive and continuous one that would impact on the future generation.
Buhari advised the heads of government to ensure that the reforms embarked on by the region are concluded and strengthened for effectiveness and continuity. He said it is imperative for the region to strengthen joint initiative and collaborations to consolidate other achievements already made in the region.
“The catastrophic consequences of climate change are manifest in our region. A number of fragilities, conflicts and environmental degradation that affect our countries today with serious negative impact on peace, security, economy and livelihood are either directly or indirectly triggered by climate change. Alone, we will not be able to reverse or stop some of these consequences, as it requires a huge investment of resources far beyond our capabilities.
“We should, therefore, continue to press for international assistance and to work with the rest of the world to protect the environment. We should do so without losing focus on our industrial development objectives. Our efforts to fast-track regional integration should also be informed by the requirement for a clean source of energy. In this regard, I welcome the agreed outcome of the just concluded COP21 in Paris which aims at reducing global warning and providing financial support to developing nations”.
He advised the Community to continue to cooperate with development partners and take advantage of their willingness to support Africa initiatives to address the challenges in the most appropriate and beneficial ways to the region and to global peace and security.
He said part of the considerable progress achieved so far indicated that the region have gone beyond the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons and Goods, realising incrementally the harmonisation of trade and customs codes, the achievement of the ECOWAS Common External Tariff and Trade Liberalisation Scheme, which he said is a vital signpost in the Convergence Criteria required for the region’s Common Currency regime.
Citing the commission’s successful resolution of the crises in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Mali, and Guinea-Bissau, the President said the region is committed more than ever to replicate same commitment and leadership anywhere the need might arise in the region.
He, however, challenged the heads of government not to rest on their oars as a lot more work still needed to be done in the region.
He said the celebration should not take away that beyond politics, the economic integration of the region must remain the fundamental objective of the organisation adding that there is need to accelerate efforts being made towards achieving monetary union by meeting the convergence criteria while member–states should strive to key into the Common External Tariff, which came into being this year.
He called for an urgent need for structural reforms and capacity building internally within the Commission and other institutions of the Community in order to enhance efficiency improve transparency and build confidence.
The President of the Commission, His Excellency Kadre Desire Ouedraogo attributed the continued solidarity enjoyed in the region to the victory in its fight against the Ebola Virus Disease epidemic. He said the coordination of joint actions the region inspired and sustained was able to put a stop to the spread of the deadly disease.
“It is incumbent upon us to remain vigilant and to sustain the best practices gleaned from our fight against the epidemic, all the while strengthening our health systems and ensuring the establishment of the regional disease control centre in Nigeria”.
He charged the region to continue to demonstrate the same resilience in order to consolidate and further the good progress the region has achieved in the area of good governance and sound democratic practice with the organisation of transparent, credible and peaceful elections.
The Chairperson of the AU Commission, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma spoke on the critical role of Regional Economic Communities, such as ECOWAS, in African integration in relation to Africa’s Agenda 2063. She emphasised the importance of boosting free movement of goods and people, regional infrastructure development, the mechanisation of agriculture, democratisation as well as the ongoing fight against extremism and terrorism.
In a message to the occasion, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Kimoon, pledged that the continuous support of the UN in the ongoing fight against religious extremism and terrorism in the region and beyond.
The 40th anniversary celebration offered the opportunity through which heads of state and government of the sub-region were presented biometric ID cards and General Gowon (rtd.) was honoured as a founding father of ECOWAS.
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