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Regional integration and development amidst concerns

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ECOWAS Headquarters


The 51st Economic Community of West African States – ECOWAS Summit of the Authority of Heads of State and Government is scheduled between June 3 and 4, 2017 in Monrovia, Liberia. The ECOWAS Commission and Liberia share a history. Many believe that the ECOWAS’ roles in the Liberian civil war paved the way and proved the African approach to restoring peace, security and stability in West Africa while continuing in its original role as a regional economic integration body. Also, it is believed that the ECOWAS’ peace efforts in Liberia launched its global relevance. This is an overview on the regional strengths, challenges, gains, threats and opportunities for regional integration and development in West Africa.

The June ECOWAS’ Summit, the first summit ever to be hosted by Liberia since ECOWAS’ inception about 42 years ago will focus on regional peace, security, stability and development. It will deliberate approaches to achieving the regional economic integration agenda and right-track West Africa development planning.

The analyzes of the of 2017 ECOWAS Summit in Liberia will not be complete without a background drift into the August 1990 intervention of a group of West African nations under the auspices of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which took the unprecedented step of sending a peacekeeping force into Monrovia to quell the fratricide, internecine blood-letting civil war. This force, known as the Economic Community Cease-Fire Monitoring Group, (ECOMOG) – (with an initial 3,500 troops from Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Gambia and later increased to over 10,000 troops including Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Senegal, Benin and Côte d’Ivoire) – ultimately restored peace, in Liberia and generally contributed to reinstating political stability in West Africa.

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From the final outbreak of Liberian hostilities in 1989 to the August 1990 ECOMOG intervention without a prior UN Security Council (UNSC) authorisation and amidst questions of legitimacy, legality, human rights accusations, the heavy loss of ground boots, by 1995, ECOMOG had boldly, decisively and successfully intervened in the bloody conflicts raging the entire Mano River Union (MRU) and had assumed the onerous task of protecting some 160 United Nations Observer Mission in Liberia (UNOMIL) observers. ECOMOG’s successful facilitation of 13 peace agreements, overseeing the disarmament of 24,000 combatants, accomplished the flow of international humanitarian and relief materials to Liberia, created a safe environment for transparent elections, distribute ballot boxes and other election materials and providing security for the July 1997 Liberian presidential and national elections are unprecedented and novel. Subsequent conflict mitigation and peacekeeping ventures in Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Senegal and most recently in Guinea Bissau, Mali, Burkina Faso and The Gambia have today represented important steps forward for consolidating on the sub-region’s peace, security, democracy and stability.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf sets out “Four-Point” agenda immediately after her election at the 49th Ordinary Session of the Summit of the Authority of Heads of State and Government as the ECOWAS Chair in 2016, in Dakar, Senegal. The agenda aimed broadly at consolidating regional peace and security architecture, concluding negotiations and legal actions to enhance trade integration, transforming ECOWAS Vision 2020 through agriculture and infrastructure and improving ECOWAS’ Financial Stability.

The Sirleaf priority agenda relies irreversibly on the cooperation and collaboration of the community institutions and the support of development partners to move forward the regional planning of programmes and actions and implement measures to attain regional growth and development as set by the ECOWAS, African Union and Global Backbone Strategy documents like the ECOWAS 2020 Vision, the ECOWAS Community Strategic Framework (CSF) 2016-2020 document in alignment with the Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 2030.

Therefore, this summit would predictably receive the assessment report on ECOWAS’ institutional reforms, regional peace and security as well as sundry issues on the strategic regional programme and action reviews relating to the status of the broad Four-Priority agenda of the ECOWAS’ chairperson. The ECOWAS Commission President, Mr. Marcel Alain de Souza oversees the institution’s implementation of the broad agenda.

There are multifaceted challenges impeding West Africa integration and development. This ranges from criminal intrusion of terrorism in the region, kidnapping/human trafficking/smuggling and the drug trade, threats and actual acts of terrorism, human rights’ violation, hunger, rising food prices and increasing household poverty levels, high costs of living, migration and new bilateral/trilateral/multilateral agreements to concerns regarding Diaspora remittances, global economic meltdown, pervasive government corruption, resurgence of violent militancy, spread of political violence, fragility of the state, difficult cash transfer systems and high unemployment levels.

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Other challenges include declining quality of education, weak national and regional institutions, challenges of migration, mobility and trade, trade and global competitiveness, struggling private sector, rising domestic debts, cross-border bribe, delays and harassments, infrastructural deficits, inequality and lack of equitable access to basic services and social security, concerns over monetary integration/single currency agenda, rising inflation, environmental disaster and Climate change issues coupled with the recent hazardous Ebola outbreak among many others.

Confronting these old and new threats requires the will and determination to achieve specific goals.West Africa and its leaders need to react in a timely and efficient manner to drastically close the widening poverty gap and stem the rising poor living conditions within the region. Forecasts and estimates of capital flows to West Africa remain unsatisfactory as a decrease in the prices of mineral raw materials (oil, gas, metals, and minerals) as well as of certain food and plant products is imminent.

There should be the determination to reduce member governments’ consumption and corruption, speed up bank integration systems, increase agricultural production, management and storage systems – and formulate initiatives on promoting food security and regional market to promote competitiveness. Negotiate multiple win migration MOUs and Agreements and renew political leadership to promote inclusive governance while pushing pro-poor growth agenda.

At the same time, governments of Member States should be encouraged to continue to support programmes to increase production and productivity. The balance between these two important goals depends largely on regional regulation of the market. Hence, the importance of the Common External Tariff (CET), the terms of which continue to obstruct successful action plan of implementation on regional trade, migration and mobility. Regional common market, trade and the efficient management of migration and mobility is the cornerstone of regional integration, which also cannot exist without the efficiency of the free movement of persons and goods. While it may be good to increase the number of bilateral agreements to manage migration between European and West African countries, the impact of these bilateral agreements on regional and continental policies as well as on intra-regional mobility is often neglected and inadequately addressed. So, ECOWAS needs consistency in its trade, monetary and migration policy agenda.

It is important to reduce the abuses of the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) and the ECOWAS Common External Tariff (CET) including generally improving the terms which continue to obstruct the negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA).

Though, the ECOWAS team has also managed to follow through with the ECOWAS Vision 2020 agenda. The idea is to achieve transformation of ECOWAS Vision 2020 by accelerating the reversal of infrastructural deficits. Devise innovative ways to minimize youth unemployment, facilitate the ease of doing business and trading activities, reducing brain drain, brain waste and encouraging brain circulation, facilitate beneficial return migration and improve air services connectivity efficiency.

In this connection, the President of the ECOWAS Commission should be able to contribute to realising the vision, and help to achieve it by 2020. The implication is that, henceforth, both the region’s integration and development processes would be people-centered and people-driven. These are necessary to end poverty and facilitate a hassle-free borderless region. For this to happen, all stakeholders in the West African enterprise need to make required changes in their policy formulation and implementation, as well as increasing their capacities.

But in many instances, insufficient attention is given to understanding the capacity challenges and assessing if and how the four-point priority agenda is the right response to address the identified problems. Also, a significant proportion of the solution scenarios continue to be supply-driven with an overall low level of ownership and involvement on the part of the partner countries and by the weakness of accountability to some of the key partner agencies and institutions.

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Externally, many partner countries have inadequate capacity to ensure active ownership of ECOWAS programmes and to deal with an overloaded reform agenda including ensuring coordinated and owned regional strategies and plan of actions. In some cases, political will, leadership and initiative at country levels are insufficient to be able to advance the regional reform agenda.

At the ECOWAS ’institutional levels, insufficient funding for programmes and right-sizing management structures to improve skill and efficiency is important. The Sirleaf agenda aims at addressing the funding issue primarily by cost cutting approaches and reducing waste. Finalize the ongoing review of the restructuring of Community institutions, and mobilising collaborative support from bilateral and regional entities and for joint ventures and partnership with the private sector. But beyond cost saving approaches, ECOWAS must standardize its operations and genuinely uphold merit in all recruitments to all community institutions. Rationalising for transparent and accountable spending while promoting job incentives for internal skills and filling capacity gaps in ECOWAS institutions is vital to realising the key regional priority agenda. Human Resources policies will need to deliver on incentives that tend to reward merit, efficiency, disbursements and timely delivery of future results.

Lastly, though, the political situation in West Africa holds some encouraging signs albeit with some troubling challenges for democracy for instance in Guinea-Bissau and the Tuareg irredentism in Mali. The connection between terrorism and small arms flow, the traffic in narcotics and human beings is blurring the line between political and criminal violence. Emerging intra-regional labour migration issues, regional skills and labour mobility, rights’ violation, employment and decent work agenda, inequality and migrants’ discrimination on social security and rights’ protection, cross-border trading, brain circulation, migration and health issues, the diaspora and remittances, ease of regional cash transfer, return migration and retention of talents are additional migration and development issues that require priority focus for future sustainable growth of the region. In the face of increased social demand exacerbated by political fragility, new political figures and leaderships are no doubt emerging at the political stage via elections or appointments. How these new political figures or leaderships will help address these concerns, shape, direct and drive the regional visions remains to be seen.
Olatuyi is African Development Bank (AfDB) consultant and executive director at the Policy Consult in Nigeria.


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