The ECOWAS sub-region covers the entire West African continental land-mass and islands, with an area of 6.2 million kilometers and drained by three major rivers: the Niger–4,200 km long; the Senegal–1,700km; and the Volta–1,200km. The three winding rivers, like jugular veins sustain agriculture, the main activity in the sub-region.
The southern parts of the sub-region along the West African coast-line are covered by dense tropical rain forests, rich in timber. Towards the north is the Savannah belt, and further northwards – the Sahara Desert –which in recent years, has noticeably been advancing southwards. The climate conditions vary – humid and wet in the South changing gradually to dry in the North.
The sub-region is endowed with some of the richest mineral deposits in Africa. The mineral resources include, iron ore, bauxite, copper, crude oil, chromium, tin, manganese, gold, diamond, phosphate, silica and uranium. They make up the bulk of the Community’s export trade with the outside world. The exportable agricultural resources are many – cocoa, coffee, timber, oil palm products, pineapple, rubber, cotton, ground-nuts. The main industries are food processing, textiles, metallurgy and production of chemicals.
RATIONALE OF ECOWAS
The rationale behind the formation of ECOWAS is predicated on three important goals of public policy:
(a) Ensuring success in the struggle against economic domination and subjugation by external forces. To ensure success in the struggle, small states need to cooperate as much as possible to enable them effectively resist external domination. Resistance will only become effective if the economies of the region are strong.
(b) Alleviation and eventual elimination of poverty. The achievement of this goal is also dependent on a strong and buoyant economy.
(c) National economic development limitations. The failure of the economies of most West African States to develop during the two United Nations Decades was due, among other things, to the fact that the pattern of development in West Africa was isolationist, based as it was, on small national markets in several cases. While it is possible under resource-oriented specialization and high levels of skilled craftsmanship for a small country to set up industries that will rely mainly on the export market, such as the Swiss watch, pharmaceutical and precision engineering industries, the small countries of West Africa possess neither the resources nor the critical skills required to set up such export dependent industries. Thus, as rapid industrialization is the key policy goal of all the Member States of ECOWAS, the establishment of the grouping must be seen as a curtain–raiser in the drive towards industrialization since the existence of a wide community market of 150 million consumers should stimulate production. It should encourage the expansion of existing industries, the establishment of new industries and the mobilization of existing levels of excess capacity of those industries that are operating at less than their full capacity. A development of this nature should help alleviate the unemployment situation in our Member States.
AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF ECOWAS
Given this rationale, one can understand why the Founding Fathers decided that ECOWAS should aim at promoting cooperation and development in all fields of economic activity, particularly, in the fields of industry, transport, energy, agriculture, natural resources, commerce, monetary and financial questions and social and cultural matters for the purpose of raising the standard of living of its people. It also aims at increasing and maintaining economic stability, fostering closer relations among its members and contributing to the progress and development of the African continent.
ECOWAS: A POLITICAL WILL
The creation of ECOWAS by the Heads of State and Government of West African sovereign states is in itself one of the boldest political initiatives ever taken within the second decades of the post-African independence era, thus bringing together people, divided by former colonial powers, and under-developed after more than a century of colonial exploitation.
The partitioning of Africa, the colonial and imperial policies of economic serfdom, formulated at the Berlin Conference of 1884, created many problems, particularly in communications and free movement of people and resources between states. The creation of colonies made regional or sub-regional economic unity difficult, obstructing and stultifying any meaningful horizontal commercial activities, economic development and co-operation. These obstacles have been swept away by the political will and resolve of national leaders of a renascent West Africa.
History of economic cooperation in West Africa is a long one and can be traced to the colonial times. In those days this cooperation was arranged on linguistic lines. The formation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) embracing all the sixteen states in the West African sub-region (from Nigeria to Mauritania) is the climax of a series of past efforts within the sub-region to bring about closer economic and social cooperation between the independent West African States.
The member countries of ECOWAS are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Cape Verde. Mauritania used to be a member but decided to withdraw in 2000 to join the Arab Maghreb Union.
The main objective of ECOWAS is to promote cooperation and integration in the context of an economic union of West Africa in order to raise the living standards of its people, to maintain and increase economic stability, to strengthen relations among the Member States and contribute to the progress and development of the African continent. If the initial objectives were essentially economic, the Community however took on political and security issues well. In 1990, it established a peacekeeping force (ECOMOG) to help deal with various conflicts in the region.
ECOWAS has 8 main institutional organs namely:
The Commission is the main entity responsible for implementing the policies and measures adopted by the Conference of Heads of State and Council of Ministers. It was established in 2006 to replace the Secretariat. It is composed of nine commissioners, who are nationals of the member countries, and who are selected on a rotational basis. ECOWAS represents a market of about 295 million people.
EXPANDED ECOWAS COMMISSION
For the third time since its inception in 1975, ECOWAS is undergoing institutional reforms. The first was when it revised its treaty on 24 July 1993; the second was in 2007, when the Secretariat was transformed into a Commission. As of July 2013, ECOWAS now has six new departments (Human Resources Management; Education, Science and Culture; Energy and Mines; Telecommunications and IT; Industry and Private Sector Promotion. Finance and Administration to Sierra Leone has been decoupled, to give the incoming Ghana Commissioner the new portfolio of Administration and Conference)
THE COMMUNITY COURT OF JUSTICE
The ECOWAS Community Court of Justice was created by a protocol signed in 1991 and was later included in Article 6 of the Revised Treaty of the Community in 1993. However, the Court did not officially begin operations until the 1991 protocol came into effect on 5 November 1996. The jurisdiction of the court is outlined in Article 9 and Article 76 of the Revised Treaty and allows rulings on disputes between states over interpretations of the Revised Treaty. It also provides the ECOWAS Council with advisory opinions on legal issues (Article n10). Like its companion courts the European Court of Human Rights and East African Court of Justice, it has jurisdiction to rule on fundamental human rights breaches.
SPORTING AND CULTURAL EXCHANGE
ECOWAS nations organize a broad array of cultural and sports event under the auspices of the body, including the CEDEAO Cup in football, the 2012 ECOWAS Games and the Miss CEDEAO beauty pageant.
WEST AFRICAN MONETARY ZONE
Formed in 2000, the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) is a group of six countries within ECOWAS that plan to introduce a common currency, the Eco, by the year 2015. The six member states of WAMZ are Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone who founded the organization together and Liberia who joined on 16 February 2010. Apart from Guinea, which is Francophone, they are all English speaking countries. Along with Mauritania, Guinea opted out of the CFA Franc currency shared by all other French colonies in West and Central Africa.
The WAMZ attempts to establish a strong currency 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 a single, stable currency. The launch of the new currency is being developed by the West African Monetary Institute based in Accra, Ghana.
A Trans-ECOWAS project, established in 2007, plans to upgrade railways in this zone.
MULTILATERAL SURVEILLANCE DIRECTORATE
The Directorate of Multilateral Surveillance is one of the three Directorates in the Department of Macroeconomic Policy in ECOWAS Commission. The Directorate is entrusted with monitoring and evaluating the macroeconomic performance of ECOWAS Member States with a view to promoting macroeconomic stability and convergence. It also promotes the harmonization of national economic and financial policies towards the establishment of an economic and monetary union.
The Directorate works closely with the West African Monetary Agency (WAMA), which is a specialized Agency of ECOWAS established to promote monetary cooperation among the ECOWAS Member States. WAMA is based in Freetown, Sierra Leone. The Directorate also works closely with the West African Monetary Institute (WAMI), which was established to promote the establishment of a second monetary zone in West Africa, known as the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ). All ECOWAS Member States which are not members of the UEMOA, except Cape Verde, are members of the WAMZ. Specifically, the ECOWAS Member States in the WAMZ are The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
SYNOPSIS OF PERFORMANCE MILESTONES
The Community was set up as a catalyst in bringing the countries of the sub-region together, facilitating and creating opportunities for an accelerated and harmonious development of West Africa.
To talk of achievements, one has to match the set goals against the resources available, namely, human, financial and material resources as well as the time that has been available within which to achieve the goals.
The Treaty establishing ECOWAS was signed in Lagos on 28th May, 1975, and the Community came into being definitively on 10th June, 1975, when the provisions of the Article 62 of the Treaty were fulfilled by the ratification of the Treaty by seven Member States.
It is however worth pointing out that ECOWAS did not become operational until March, 1977. This is because even though the Treaty was signed in 1975, it was only in November, 1976, that decisions were made as to where to locate the headquarters and which countries were to provide the Statutory Appointees. The Executive Secretary and Managing Director of the Fund assumed duty in January, 1977, but it was not until March, 1977, that a Task Force was put together to build the Community from scratch.
The first permanent staff members of the two institutions of the Community – the fund and the Executive Secretariat – took up their posts only in late 1979 and early 1980.
A sense of Community spirit is increasingly developing and there has been “ECOWAS Awareness” in the sub-region at all levels. This greater sense of understanding is felt even at the high political level. Some tensions and disagreements that had persisted before the creation of ECOWAS were soon afterwards solved. Many organizations, both governmental and non-governmental involving themselves in the attempts to crease cooperation among the Member States of the sub-region. Thus, the West African Health Community (WAHC) and francophone sister, the OCCGE are seeking to merge into one organization under ECOWAS umbrella. The Federation of West African Chambers of Commerce has come stronger and recently has been trying to make its cooperation efforts even more solid. One example of this is the ongoing commercial bank (ECOBANK).
Cooperation in defense is not mentioned anywhere in the Treaty but it soon became evident that the right atmosphere for Social and Economic Cooperation in West Africa would require not only the removal of fear of aggression by other Member States but also the assurance of mutual defense against external aggression. This led to signature of the Non-Aggression Pact April, 1978, and the Protocol on Mutual Assistance in Defense Matters in May, 1981.
EXISTENCE OF SEVERAL INTER-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS
One of the problems which ECOWAS is contending with is the presence in the sub-region of a multiplicity of inter-governmental organizations (IGOS) – as many as 32. These IGOS not only make claims on the limited financial and material resources of Member States but also, in several instances, are in competition with one another in objectives and operations. The effect of the presence of several IGOS in the sub-region quite obviously is dissipation of efforts and energy. This calls for concerted action on the part of the Governments of the sixteen countries, to take steps to rationalize the objectives and institutional arrangements governing the operations of IGOS in the West African sub-region.
TARDINESS IN POLICY IMPLEMENTATION
Another problem bedeviling the Community has been the low rate at which Member States comply with decisions taken by the Community as well as non-implementation of policies and programmes agreed upon.
The community can only make progress in the second decade if all Member States would promptly implement decisions so as to enhance the credibility of the Community. It is, therefore, imperative that Member States translate into concrete action at the national levels, decisions and policies taken at the Community level.
The effectiveness of the institutions of the Community to carry out their work largely depends on the resources made available to them. Unfortunately, the resources – financial and human – have always fallen short of the requirements of the Community institutions. To be able to face the challenges of the future, Member States’ contribution to the resources of the Community must not only be adequate but should also be provided on a timely basis.
WEAK NATIONAL LINKS WITH THE SECRETARIAT
There is also the absence of or weak national links with the Secretariat. This has made it difficult for the Secretariat to know what is happening in Member States about their development strategies.
In the four decades of its existence, ECOWAS made considerable progress in establishing and strengthening the various institutions within the Community. During the same period good progress has been made in laying a solid institutional foundation, in setting up the relevant infrastructural and in the preparation of programmes covering all aspects of economic activity and development within the sub-region.
This is a critical development which merits the special attention of the Community. As the situation assumes tragic dimensions, the Community must show its solidarity. The years ahead should see the community making every effort to ensure the full implementation of protocols signed and decisions taken in the formative years of its existence. As the community moves into the next decade, before its Golden Jubilee Anniversary, one of the urgent issues to which ECOWAS would have to address itself is that of combating insurgency in any part of the sub-region. The Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government and President of Ghana Mr. John Mahama was blunt on this issue of global concern while addressing the third Legislature of ECOWAS Parliament recently in Abuja. In his words “The abduction of over 200 girls in Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria, is a matter of global concern. Any destabilization of Nigeria would be a destabilization of the entire sub-region,” adding “and unless we are able to overcome Boko Haram and its ideology of criminalizing the rightful quest for education, the future of our sub-region could be badly affected. ECOWAS has already invoked the relevant sections of its Joint Counter Terrorism Strategy and is closely monitoring the situation while seeking the backing of the ECOWAS Parliament towards some impending actions by ECOWAS against terror in the region”
It is our sincere belief that the progress achieved in the economic integration of the sixteen ECOWAS Member States will hasten and make possible the political and socio-cultural integration of the West African countries and their peoples even within the life-time of the present generation.
Culled from The ECOWAS Review
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