WACSOF: Pushing For ECOWAS Of Persons, Good Governance
EFFORTS aimed at realising a truly workable union in the West African sub-region are still a matter concern to governments and persons in the sub region. The Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) will be 40 on May 28, but a comprehensive execution of the ECOWAS treaty of 1975 and how that translates to better life for people is still work in progress, far from what it ought to be.
For instance, issues of rights abuses, poverty and susceptibility to diseases are rampant among countries of the region. This is of great concern to the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF), the umbrella network of civil society organisations (CSOs) from the 15 member states of the community, which recently partnered Oxfam on promoting the ratification and domestification of international legal and policy fameworks to guarantee rights-based, pro-poor governance in West Africa.
Acting General Secretary of WACSOF, Auwal Musa (Rafsanjani), said it is commonplace to find states signing on to international conventions, while it takes some decades to ratify. In the particular case of ECOWAS, its Vision 2020, aimed at facilitating a transition from ECOWAS of states to that of people, where citizens enjoy the benefits of a borderless, peaceful, prosperous and cohesive region, built on good governance is still far-fetched.
That vision promises regional resource development, where there is an inclusive society achieved through human capita development and empowerment. This is to translate to a peaceful and healthy environment where women, children and youth are offered equal opportunites for development.
The vision, according to the acting general secretary, also seeks to create an environment of peace and security, with an ECOWAS that is free of conflict and leaders commiting to a region free of illegal arms and drugs.
This is to provide a conscious and sustained security system that will eliminate social securiity and and aceptance of diversities. In that same vision, ECOWAS envisages a common and unified regional market with a single currency supported by an integrated and efficient financial market payment system.
The region is to be integrated into a continental and global economic space. ECOWAS also looks forward to a region with a conducive policy environment in which the private sector will be the primary engine of growth and development; an integrated regional production base developed by competitive private sector activities, which provide production and distribution levers for deeper regional integration and development, supported by an efficient business body that promotes strong public-private partnership for generating wealth to sustain the deveopment and prosperity of the region.
WACSOF’s desire is to see the aforementioned objectives of ECOWAS fast-tracked for the benefit of the people. With the support of Oxfam, the forum went to town to monitor the implementation of international conventions, treaties and ptotocols entered into by member states of the community, and to mobilise political will for increased ratification, domestication and complinace with these instruments.
These were the concerns at a meeting of the Forum in Abuja, Nigeria, on Tuesday, March 17 and Wednesday, March 18, 2015. The meeting, which also focused on Oxfam’s regional good governance programme for West Africa (RGGP), was well-attended and participants were drawn from the civil society , the academic, legislature, government officials and the media.
Eleven West African countries were at the event, with presentations made on topical issues including, the ECOWAS Vision 2020; good governance, security and health at the plenary sessions, panel discussions, presentations, questions and answer session and group work.
After exhaustive deliberations and discussions over the two days, key observations and recommendations were made, with focus on each of the four sub-themes (ECOWAS vision 2020 – good governance, security, and health).
The following observations were made:
•That the West African sub region has been faced with persistent developmental challenges such as, inequality and violence, and African states are faced with challenges of treaty ratification and implementation.
•There is lack of readiness by ECOWAS member states to comply with the Vision 2020 agenda.
• Persistent conflicts, autocratic rules, sit-tight governments, undemocratic process leading to tenure elongation across the region have threatened compliance by member states to various treaties and conventions, which guarantee citizens’ rights, equality and development.
• Over-concentration of ECOWAS intervention largely in conflict resolution, rather than conflict prevention and peace-building in the region.
• Poor political will by leaders across member states for effective implementation of the ratified ECOWAS treaties and conventions.
• Neglect by ECOWAS towards achieving regional integration has paved way for poor governance in the region.
• Present achievements disclosed by the ECOWAS commission do not articulate its readiness towards achieving the proposed Vision 2020.
• Unequal access to land, resources and power for women has discouraged women political leadership and altered efforts at achieving citizens’ equality and regional integration.
• There are deep-rooted ethnic divides as the main issue, rather than the elections, which serves as a trigger to instability; and that political parties are largely to blame for playing up the ethnic card during elections.
• National institutions have not been put in place to address lapses in the electoral process in the region, especially, in Burkina Faso; and there is need for permanence of electoral institutions and activities beyond the periodic election exercise.
• Need for peace and stability in the region to stabilise the democratic process, which is at a learning stage; whether in stable countries like Cape Verde or in fragile democracies like Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire;
• The organisation of election can also cause instability among the population if elections are not well-managed, leading to refugees; and there is a need to focus on issues of peace and security and the offshoots of war and armed conflict to be taken into consideration;
• Corruption is also a tool to subvert democracy, which can also trigger regional insecurity and criminal activities across borders; and that social inequality is based on discrimination;
• The issue of election funding, which is largely borne by international donors, should be examined in the long term;
• The issue of conflict arising from electoral processes is already known through the ecowas-wanep early-warning system, although there is little response to this development;
• There is a huge gap in terms of capacity and mediation on election and insecurity issues, while every stakeholder has a role to play from government to civil society; and that there is a need for a paradigm shift and institutionalisation to enable civil society properly engage government;
• Civil society need to be more proactive especially in terms of funds and resource mobilisation for national activities especially from national platforms that are skilled in chosen thematic issues;
• There is basic knowledge of Ebola virus disease and that information dissemination on Ebola response from macro to micro levels will allow all voices to be heard;
• Health systems are not just working, in the case of HIV before and now Ebola; that poor sanitation and poor orientation help fan the virus especially among the rural populace; and that transport systems for affected persons are quite challenging and in most cases non-existent;
• Lack of preparation and inefficient systems were major challenges in Ebola and cholera response; that the dead can be buried and honoured without adverse effects on the living;
• Access to information and stigmatisation of affected victims are issues, and that ebola has affected women more as care-givers and also children. TO move forward, the meeting suggested prompt and effective implementation of the ECOWAS protocols to concretise respect for citizens’ rights, respect for human dignity and true democracy.
It also canvassed the creation of dynamism within ECOWAS to institute and document a periodical filing/report of the level of implementation of ratified treaties and convention by member states.
The strengthening ECOWAS-WACSOF collaboration towards ensuring workable domestication and implementation of ratified treaties and protocols was suggested, in addition to proactive efforts by ECOWAS to institute enabling mechanism for conflict prevention and peace-building across the region.
On issues of transparency and accountability, the meeting transparency wants regional leaders to demonstrate adequate political will towards implementing the protocols on transparency and accountability. Enforcing sanctions and punishment by ECOWAS court was argued.
Equal access to land, resources and power for women; adequate implementation of affirmative action by member states to promote gender inclusion and encouragement of women political leadership was argued; as well as the elimination of violence against women through enforcement of existing laws.
Institutions, which focus on conflict resolution and international instruments should be embraced and employed, while election observation should be redefined with proper use of allocated funds; It was agreed that ECOWAS should be more involved in the democratic processes of member-countries; fire-brigade approach should be eschewed, and the political situation in the region should be carefully assessed by electoral bodies, civil society organisations and the ECOWAS commission in a bid to ensure regional stability.
For sustainable democracy, meeting suggested that permanent electoral commissions, like the one in Ghana, should be established, instead of the current approach in some countries, where electoral commissions are only mobilised during election periods; instead, electoral bodies should be strong and independent.
Civil society groups are to enlighten the populace and citizenry on voting patterns, processes and preferences, while the issues of ethnicity and religious sentiments should be minimised using an institutional approach.
ECOWAS commission is advised to fund the mechanism to engage member-states on various instruments at regional and national levels; while there should be engagement on relevant charters so that governments of member-countries, who signed on to those charters also domesticate and implement them at national and local levels.
The health status of the ECOWAS citizens was a major item at the meeting, particulary with the outbreak of Ebola in the region. It was of great concern to participants that Ebola constituted a major health challenge, but of greater concern is how to harness lessons of its containment, especially in Nigeria. Of concern too is the fact that poverty is endemic in the sub-region, which fuels diseases such as typhoid and other opportunisitic diseases.
Bringing the meeting to a close, Rafsanjani disclosed that this is the first time WACSOF would bring groups together for this venture, promising that efforts would be made to build capacity of groups, with the support from the Commonwealth Foundation The Foundation, he said had signed a memorandum of understanding with OXFAM for WACSOF on the ECOWAS project.
Rafsanjani called on other partners to join WACSOF projects that will promote good governance in the sub-region. All national platform members and donor agencies were urged to put in their best to enhance advocacy and awareness on relevant issues in the region.