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Monday, 30 May 2011 20:55

Ecowas Undergoes Transition

By Mohammed Suleman

ACCRA, Ghana, May 30, 2011 (Public Agenda) - The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is a regional grouping of 15 West African countries. Founded on 28 May 1975, with the signing of the Treaty of Lagos, ECOWAS has as one of its objectives to promote cooperation and integration--leading to the establishment of an economic union in order to raise the living standard of the people of West Africa.

 

Considered one of the pillars of the African Economic Community, the organization was founded in order to achieve "collective self-sufficiency" for its member states by creating a single large trading bloc through an economic and trading union. It also serves as a peacekeeping force in the region. The organization operates officially in three co-equal languages--English, French, and Portuguese.

 

However, after 36 years since the integration process begun, ECOWAS has not made a great impact on its citizens and this could be attributed to the numerous challenges it is confronted with.

 

Among the challenges are political instability, lack of good governance, lack of political commitment and limited involvement of Non State Actors in the process that has largely been dominated by government officials.

 

Again, lack of representation of all member countries on the ECOWAS Commission has created some ill-feeling among some of the countries that are not represented. For these countries, ECOWAS does not fully reflect the views and interest of all countries in its decision.Others also feel decisions are not always democratic and that the Commission is not transparent hence marginalized.

 

Additionally, ECOWAS has been faulted on its approach: it is an ECOWAS of technocrats and head of states rather than the people.

 

Similarly, lack of information and appropriate participation mechanisms, and the fact that the benefits of sub-regional body are not visible to most citizens of member countries, continue to hinder the integration process.

 

Notwithstanding the challenges above, the ECOWAS has chalked some marginal successes -- particularly in the free movement of persons and goods, the introduction of the ECOWAS Brown Card, the establishment of ECOWAS Common External Tariff and the introduction of ECOWAS Passport to mention a few.

 

ã--It is for this reason that the ECOWAS Vision 2020 which was launched in 2007 tries to focus on the transition from ECOWAS of states to ECOWAS of people. The vision seeks, among other things, to "create a borderless, prosperous and cohesive region where people have the capacity to access and harness its enormous resources through the creation of opportunities for sustainable developmental and environmental preservation."

 

Since the establishment of the regional body, a lot of the discourse on the policy content and direction of the community has remained at the level of heads of states. The Non-State Actors of ECOWAS have largely remained at the peripheral of the processes expected to lead to the creation of a community that is people-centered.

 

Thus, in its casino netherlands pursuit to make ECOWAS a body of people rather than that of technocrats, the ECOWAS Commission has partnered 17 Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) within Africa to implement NSAs project.

 

The Project which is ongoing in Ghana is being executed by four NGOs. These are the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC), Media Response, Ghana Chamber of Commerce and the Foundation for Sustainable Development in Africa(FSDA).

 

The project is dubbed, "Building Capacity of Non State Actors (NSAs) Towards Achieving a Customs Union and a common market in Africa."

 

It is aimed at making information available to NSAs at the grassroots on Customs Union and Common Market policies and impact, and establishing a regional network among Civil Society Organizations to ensure constructive engagement with regional organizations.

 

It is also to enhance the participation of NSAs in ECOWAS economic, monetary and socio-cultural activities through sensitization and information sharing using the media and other channels.

 

To ensure effective education, the initiative targets relevant NSAs particularly Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) working on regional integration and trade related issues; public institutions such as Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) working on policy, regional and sub-regional issues; traditional authorities, local business groups, women's associations, Community Based Organizations (CBOs), Farmers Based Organization (FBOs) and the Ghanaian media organizations across the country.

 

It is expected that by the end of the project, capacity of NSAs relative to ECOWAS regional integration process would be enhanced. Besides it would empower NSAs and the citizenry to engage policy makers on accountability issues bordering on the regional integration process.

 

In a recent interview, the Director of Programmes at ISODEC, Dr. Yakubu Zakaria, opined that "ECOWAS has not progressed because it has not been an ECOWAS of the people but an ECOWAS of technocrats and it is time the people of Africa joined hands to reverse this trend."

 

According to him, the little progress made by ECOWAS after three decades of integration has been largely due to lack of adequate institutional mechanisms and capacity for the management of regionalism, weak integration and poorly equipped ministries as well as the lack of involvement of NSA in the agenda of regional integration.

 

Dr. Zakaria noted that the new approach is focusing on how to change the regional body from "ECOWAS of states to an ECOWAS of people," adding that the new initiative would emphasize economic issues and improve the capacity of the grassroots on the basic principles of as well as mobilize large populations towards regional integration--"

 

Regional integration is a key to national development so let us join hands to move the ECOWAS Vision 2020 agenda forward," he said. (END)

 

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