As ECOWAS marks 40 years of existence on May 2015, it is pertinent to reflect on the 6th October 2009 Business Summit in Accra on the Ghana-Togo-Benin-Nigeria corridor, attended by top government functionaries from the four countries, high customs, immigration, police officer and diplomats with special focus on COPAZ.
The acronym connotes a regional security agreement between the four neighbouring ECOWAS countries for free movement of products of origin between the four nations.
Community Products Auditing Zone (COPAZ) is also meant to equal European Union EU, in terms of free movement of goods, services and people within the sub-region. More importantly, COPAZ was initiated to fast track trade liberalization policy and services within the sub-region.
But from all indications it would seem that a satisfactory arrangement for controlling the borders has still not been worked out and the borders frictions remain unabated.
At this point in history, it is worrisome that neither COPAZ nor ECOWAS is living up to the expectations of the founding fathers apparently because of avalanche of hurdles noticed at the Accra Business Summit initiating against the full implementation of ECOWAS treaty
(i) Perceived national pride of some member states e.g Ghana has stopped issuance of ECOWAS passport to its citizen and run a serious immigration control on ECOWAS citizens within its territory in conflict with many ECOWAS provisions. Ghana is presently the toast of America and Europe seems not ready to fully implement any treaty that will jeopardize its national interest. Ghana does not want to share or lose its presently found identity with any ECOWAS member states.
(ii) Unequal productive capacity: Other member states apart from Nigeria are less developed in terms of industrialization e.g some of these francophone countries produce less than 2% of their basic needs, they still depend on import from Europe and Asia and Aids from western countries, so full implementation of ECOWAS treaty will make their state a dumping ground.
(iii) Unstable fiscal policy (Exchange Rate) among members’ states makes trade liberalization a mirage, within the ECOWAS with about eight currencies and most of these are very weak. There is no unique platform for FOREX transaction.
(iv) Corrupt Security Agencies: The summit noted that the issue of corruption is the main epidemic ravaging the whole of African States and has eaten deep into our system especially within the ECOWAS sub-region. The main agencies concerned with movement of goods, services across the borders are aiding and abating corruption. Unfortunately, the government of member states are either powerless or lack political will to tackle this vice. The affected agencies are; immigration, Police and Customs.
(v) Import Prohibition list: Nigeria has the longest import prohibition list among member states and to other co-members this is not fair because it is perceived that Nigeria is much interested in aggressive production drive and limited import initiative. Though a good idea to protect its collapsing industries but it is in conflict with ECOWAS treaty because Ghana produces a lot of textile materials but this is a serious controlled item on our import prohibition list.
(vi) External Influence: Most of the member states industrial sectors are dominated by foreigners. These foreigners have formed a powerful clique and cartel because they feel threaten by any emergency of trade liberalization within the region e.g Ghana paints and plastic industries are dominated by Asians, these Asians prefer to buy/import the required raw materials from North Africa or Arabian countries even at high rate despite the fact that better quality at competitive price is available in Nigeria same with francophone countries.
Generally, each member state is still allowed to invest in Ghana just as it applies to other citizens of non-member ECOWAS to its own tent nothing has changed as far as movement of goods, services and people are concerned while the gap to cover still remains a serious task that could take decades to accomplish. How could one explain the recent classification of potential investors who are citizens of ECOWAS member states as expatriate by the Ghana Investment Promotion Council and are required to have minimum capital of US $300,000.00 before being allowed to invest in Ghana just as it applies to other citizens of non-member ECOWAS states. Specifically Ghana is not helping matters on ECOWAS protocol simply because it has found itself as a good bride of Africa to the outside world.
The main challenge facing African Continent obviously is poverty. This hydra headed monster is now classified by the west (developed nations) as African identity mainly because African countries are very reluctant to trade with each other. A very robust trade initiative within all African sub-regions will certainly create wealth and reduce poverty in Africa. African leaders must come together to confront this plaque. The seed and forest of poverty that covers our land are being watered by the negative attitude of an average African man/leader.
Our leaders are morally, financially and power corrupt and lack the willingness to engage each other in intra-continental trade and exchange programmes. Certainly, there is strength in unity; this single factor is elusive within ECOWAS sub-region and in the African Union.
For ECOWAS or COPAZ to flourish in the years ahead conscious efforts must be made by successive community leaders to translate the vision into reality.
By Babatunde Bamidele
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