ECOWAS at a Crossroads – Latest News from Nigeria, Nigerian Newspapers, Politics
By Paul Ejime
After 46 years of existence, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) can be proud of many of its achievements, particularly in the area of ââpeace and security, prevention, management and conflict resolution.
For more than two decades after its formation by the Treaty of Lagos on May 28, 1975, the 15-nation organization originally headquartered in Lagos, but now in Abuja, faced a myriad of political crises and security forces that have plagued many of its members. This was to the detriment of its main agenda of promoting economic integration, but the concern was understandable then, given that peace, political stability and economic development are closely linked.
Liberia had started the fire with its civil war in December 1979 followed by Sierra Leone then the crises in Guinea Bissau, later in Guinea Conakry, CÃ´te d’Ivoire and other countries.
In 1990 Nigeria and Ghana, with the support of a few other regional leaders, established the regional peacekeeping force, the ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), which, with the support of the international community, ended the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. ECOWAS recently ended a similar mission in Guinea Bissau, but still has one in The Gambia.
The regional organization has also made tremendous progress in other areas such as its 1979 Flagship Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence and Establishment, making it the only region in Africa where citizens can visit and stay in a country other than their own. for at least 90 days without a visa. Also in 1979, the region adopted the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) to promote cooperation, regional economic integration and the common market.
There has also been some progress in infrastructure development, regional roads, environment, power / energy pool and gas pipeline projects, and other community programs, as well as in the synergy between gender and humanitarian affairs, collaboration on electoral issues through the ECOWAS network. Election commissions (ECONEC) and ECOWAS electoral assistance to member states.
The wave of pluralist democracy that swept across the African continent in the 1990s actually started in the ECOWAS region (Benin), but the region has since become the epicenter of global socio-economic, political and security upheavals.
All ECOWAS member states profess to practice a democratic system of government, but the bitter truth is that over the past decade, democracy has in fact been on the decline in the region due to the quality of governance and destabilizing electoral conflicts and the tendency of political parties in power to manipulate national constitutions either to lengthen the presidential term or in favor of the government in power.
Political and religious intolerance and ethnic conflicts are also on the increase, accentuated by the high rate of youth unemployment, poverty, deprivation and repression, with even military coups resurfacing!
In response to these recessions, ECOWAS, once considered a pioneer among Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in Africa, appears to have lost its teeth, becoming increasingly responsive and therefore ineffective in addressing regional challenges and even its own challenges. existential.
For example, political conflicts simmer in Benin, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, Togo, Gambia, CÃ´te d’Ivoire and Senegal. Mali has seen two military coups in nine months and Niger recently reported an attempted coup.
The prognosis looks very grim with the ongoing global financial crisis and the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, not helping matters.
Careful ECOWAS observers attribute the current situation to a combination of factors, including the weakness, ineffectiveness and lack of political will of the leadership. They warn that unless drastic corrective action is taken, the organization could become completely irrelevant.
Nigeria, given its strategic position as a regional power and the central role it played with Togo in the creation of ECOWAS, has a responsibility to work with committed and like-minded Member States to save ECOWAS from imminent collapse. The same zeal that propelled the birth of the regional organization must be revived to counter all the forces that oppose the regional integration project.
The ECOWAS rescue mission is set to begin in earnest as regional leaders gather in Accra, Ghana for their regular summit, which will discuss regional security, health issues and most importantly the much-vaunted institutional reform.
Part of the organization’s problems are related to its top management structure, flawed recruitment system, lack of capacity and non-use of existing human capital, muffled rivalry between language groups and external interference.
But these can be addressed at the level of Heads of State and the ECOWAS Commission.
For example, the transformation of the ECOWAS Executive Secretariat into a Commission in 2007, with all its good intentions, seems to have given way to waste. This decision would be consistent with the structure of the African Union Commission and the European Commission. But ironically, ECOWAS is older than the African Union Commission which came into being in 2002, and the European Commission also emphasizes its unity through the nomenclature of the European Union.
ECOWAS is expected to move towards greater union and integration, in accordance with its slogan of an âECOWAS of peoples instead of an ECOWAS of Statesâ. But the Commission, from an initial number of seven commissioners plus a vice-president and a president, now numbers 15 commissioners with the huge increase in staff and operating costs and the unnecessary tendency of some commissioners to operate in silos, protecting national interests to the detriment of the Community objective. .
In addition, some of the statutory appointees allegedly followed their home government guidelines for dealing with community issues and therefore viewed the organization as a âregional cakeâ.
Despite opposition two years ago, the 15 commissioners are still in place and with the global financial crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries have been hit hard, including Nigeria, a regional oil-producing economic powerhouse. , main financial contributor to ECOWAS.
The implication is that ECOWAS could face serious financial difficulties, similar to its experience in the 1990s when the Executive Secretariat relied on Nigeria for the payment of staff salaries.
With the rotation of ECOWAS statutory posts, increasing the number of commissioners to 15, even with unlimited resources, does not make economic sense. But if member states insist on having commissioners at the same time, each member should foot the bill, as Nigeria once suggested. This will save the organization from the unnecessary financial burden of additional staff salaries and other financial implications of an enlarged structure, including new directorates, office space and equipment, and additional operating costs.
Another area of ââserious concern for the survival of ECOWAS is its unsatisfactory progress towards the achievement of a common market and a single monetary union, which are essential for regional economic integration. France, acting in collaboration with CÃ´te d’Ivoire, has effectively diverted the currency name proposed by ECOWAS, ECO, to replace the CFA franc, used by the former member states of the French ECOWAS colonies.
The changes in the statutory positions of ECOWAS expected in February / March 2022 are a golden opportunity for drastic and forward-looking measures that will allow ECOWAS to regain its past glory and take greater strides. In addition to recruiting competent people, the recruitment criteria for the leadership of the commission and community institutions, including the president and commissioners, need to be more rigorous, background-based and performance-oriented.
There are robust normative frameworks or instruments, and if possible, this is an opportunity to make the relevant changes and undertake a strategic exercise of cleaning the house and installing effective new leadership with the vision, the dynamism and political will to reposition ECOWAS.
For example, to effectively face the current malaise in the region, ECOWAS has instruments such as the Declaration of Heads of State on Political Principles of 1991 reaffirming the community’s commitment to democracy and the market. free, the Revised Treaty of 1993, which established the Community Court of Justice and the Parliament of ECOWAS, and the 1999 Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security conflict (or the Mechanism).
There is also the 2001 Additional Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, which sets minimum constitutional convergence criteria for membership in ECOWAS based on the shared values ââof democracy and the free market, the separation of powers, popular participation, democratic control of the armed forces and guarantees of fundamental freedoms.
A key provision of this protocol is âzero toleranceâ for power obtained or maintained by unconstitutional means, which was followed in 2008 by the adoption of the ECOWAS Conflict Prevention Framework (ECPF) to recalibrate the architecture. regional peace and security.
By applying the zero tolerance clause of the Additional Protocol, ECOWAS has exerted powerful pressure on âcapricious regimesâ to change their habits through a combination of sanctions and preventive diplomacy. Three member states – Guinea Conakry, Niger and CÃ´te d’Ivoire – were suspended for violating the protocol between 2009 and 2011.
The ECOWAS Commission also refused to send observers to the presidential election organized by The Gambia in 2011, and refused to recognize the outcome of this election in which the now ousted President Yaya Jammeh claimed victory. Much earlier, the Commission had resisted an attempt by former Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja to extend his term with a questionable constitutional change through a botched referendum in 2009.
- Ejime, is a consultant in communications, media, elections and international affairs.