ECOWAS ministers propose reopening of land borders next month
APRA faults travel ban against Africa
Sectoral ministers of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) manning the Interior, Health, Finance, Trade and Transport ministries and other experts have recommended the mutual recognition of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests and reopening of land borders from January 1, 2022.
They made the recommendations at the end of the virtual meeting of the body held in collaboration with the West African Health Organisation (WAHO) in Abuja.
Beyond the impact on Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the raging COVID-19 pandemic led to disruptions in demands and supplies, as well as investments in key economic sectors. Also, the tertiary services and primary (agriculture) sectors experienced a considerable decline on account of restrictions on travel and movement due to the closure of borders, disrupting supply chains and market access for small and medium scale businesses.
In addition to the closure of the gateways, member-states facing challenges had also tightened checkpoints.
The consequence on the economy was a cumulated decline by 6.7 per cent of GDP of ECOWAS countries between 2020 and 2021, amounting to approximately $50 billion.
Addressing the opening session, ECOWAS Commissioner for Trade, Customs and Free Movement, Tei Konzi, observed that the reopening of borders for economic recovery “has now become a fundamental issue as the outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 in West Africa adversely impacted the volume of trade and mobility of persons.”
He stressed that the hasty closure of the borders in a bid to tackle the virus suspended the implementation of community integration texts on the free movement of persons and goods.
During the deliberations, co-chaired by the Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs in charge of African Integration and Burkinabes Abroad, Mrs. Clarisse Mérindol Ouoba, the participants relived the challenges and lessons learned from the two years the borders were shut to contain the novel Coronavirus.
The ministers further assessed the relevant regional priorities, technical options and appropriate measures to ensure the safety of life.
They adopted the draft standard procedure for the continuity of border operations in the event of any incident and procedures for cooperation and synergy at various levels.
The ministers further suggested an effective implementation by member-states of the harmonised directives of ECOWAS against COVID-19, mutual recognition of PCR tests at the borders and harmonisation of their validity period.
The report and recommendations of the meeting are to be presented first to the ECOWAS Council of Ministers (meeting) held December 9 and 10 in Abuja and thereafter to the Heads of State and Government for adoption.
IN a related development, the African Public Relations Association (APRA) has condemned the travel ban against Africa by Europe and Canada following the outbreak of the Omicron variant of the virus.
In a statement jointly signed by Yomi Badejo-Okusanya, President (Nigeria) Robyn D’ Villiers, Vice President (South Africa) and Jane Gitau, Secretary-General (Kenya), the organisation noted that since the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, “nothing has evoked a throwback to that dark era in history as the current discriminatory travel ban against Africa,” stressing that of all the continents, Africa has the lowest infection and mortality rates.
It described the ban, which started with South Africa and got extended to 13 other nations, as illogical, considering that China, the United States and Germany “are the leading Red Letter COVID-19 territories.
ARPA aligned itself with the position of the President of the African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr. Akinwumi Adesina, “on the unfair, unjust and ridiculous tagging of Africa.”
The group added that at a time Europe and America were entering the winter season when there are fears that COVID-19 casualties would increase significantly, “it is laughable that Africa is being singled out for a ban.”
It challenged the African Union (AU) to speak, adding that African leaders must rise up in defence of the continent.