As the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) recently marked the 40th commemorative anniversary of its formation, it is reasonably appropriate to reflect that after four decades of its founding, ECOWAS is still waxing strong in spite of the inherent complexities and diverse nature of member-states.
Established by the Treaty of Lagos and signed in May 28, 1975, ECOWAS seeks 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.
Though, the initial objectives were essentially economic, the Community however took on political and security issues as well. In 1990, it established a peacekeeping force, ECOMOG, to help deal with various conflicts plaguing the region, particularly in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Therefore, 40years is indeed an auspicious time for self-appraising. Though, the sub-regional organisation, may not have fully realized all the objectives of its founding fathers, even its critics will admit that the organization stands out among other regional economic communities in the continent, if not globally.
Notwithstanding the mammoth security challenges occasioned by the politically restive and culturally diverse region, only few commentators gave the sub-regional body any chance of survival.
But through greater commitment and hope by the leaders and citizens of the 16-member countries, the organization is soldiering on steadily in the murky global politics. In the last four decades, the body has made some remarkable progress in evolving a unified passport and visa-free protocol, trans-border trading activities are taking place, a functioning ECOWAS Parliament and ECOWAS Court of Justice are in place and there is security cooperation exemplified by the ECOWAS Monitoring Group, ECOMOG, and above all, there is a blooming transnational citizens cooperation, especially
in the civic space.
So, with an estimated 362 million people spread across 16 member-states and occupying about 5.1 million square kilometres of land, the economic potential for the sub-region is no doubt very huge. And with trans-border trading and division of labour that encourages specialization in areas where member states have economy of scale, the region has been a safe place of sustainable economic growth and development.
However, in spite of the existing areas of cooperation, the body is facing some problems which include political instability and poor governance in some of its member-states. Others are lack of diversification of its economies, absence of infrastructure for transportation and communications. There is also the need to strengthen ahead of the bigger goal of sub-regional and continental unity. A synergy is therefore required in areas of marketing boards; road infrastructure air transportation connectivity, among others.
Another major problem is human trafficking, especially of women and children across the sub-regional frontiers. It is in the light of this that at the 47th Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government, held recently in Ghana, immediate past President, Goodluck Jonathan, in his valedictory speech challenged ECOWAS leaders to address the growing wave of young men and women in the sub-region undertaking what he called “very perilous journeys across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea to Europe”.
ECOWAS, in the first instance, should earnestly address these problems, not only at the level of individual member-states, but at the forthcoming 24th Summit of the African Union, AU, this month in South Africa. This, we earnestly hope, will receive the needed attention and save the lives of young men and women risking their lives to Europe.
These impediments notwithstanding, there is the compelling need for good governance amongst member-states; this is crucial to the realisation of the ECOWAS principles and vision of its founding fathers.