Leadership (Abuja)

7 February 2008

West Africa: Ecowas - Its Formation And Achievements

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Abuja — Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) has existed for 33 years. Richard Alkali in this write-up takes a look at the motives behind its formation and how far those motives have been achieved

Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was created on May 28, 1975. It is a regional group of 15 West African countries namely, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivore, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and lastly, Togo.

ECOWAS is a mission to promote economic integration, and also was formed to achieve "collective sufficiency" for the member states by means of economic and union, creating a single large trade bloc. The creation of ECOWAS and implementation of the protocol on free movement of persons in practice came as a result of needs identified by the leaders of West African states who recognised in the early seventies that intra-regional integration could be an important step towards the sub-region collective integration into the global economy.

Thus, the treaty signed in Lagos on 28 May, 1975 creating the ECOWAS covered almost all the field of economic activity.

The most important of it all, is the signing of treaty, that outlines the key to removing obstacles to the free movement of goods, capital and people in the sub-region. The treaty simulated efforts towards an homogenous society that once existed in the sub region. It is in that context that the protocol on free movement of persons and the right of residence and establishment of May 1979 was explicit in free mobility of labour.

The phase one of the protocol guaranteeing free entry of community citizens without visa for ninety days was ratified by member states in 1980 and became effective to usher in an era of free movement of ECOWAS citizens within member countries. The right of entry, residence and establishment were to be progressively established within 15 years from the definitive date of entry into force of protocol. One of the most important aspects that led to the formation of ECOWAS was the irregular migration within the sub-region.

Migration in West Africa is strongly influenced by poverty due to depressed economic and socio-political crisis. This influx of immigrants into the cities, and irregular migration which reflects a crisis of development needed an urgent step to alleviate such region concern.

To understand the dynamics of these diverse migration, we focus on causes and changing configuration of emerging migratory inflows; autonomous female migration, trafficking in women and children, intra-regional migration, progress and constraints in creating a bondless sub-region and fostering intra-regional migration.

The abolition of the mandatory residency permit, introduction of brown card travel certificate and the elimination of the ubiquitous boards formalities are aimed at facilitating intra-regional movement of persons. However, progress was constrained by multiple cooperating groupings and membership; conflicting objectives; inconsistent political support; growing national identity; depressed economics and xenophobia against foreigners.

It is for this reason that a suggestion was made that government should align national employment laws, with regional treaties to protect the right of migration workers, promote poor, employment strategies and adopt reliable speed approach in implementing migration policies; and enforce migrants right of residence and establishment.

Attention was also focused on the achievements and constraints in implementing the protocol on free movement of person, as well as recent attempts to create a bondless sub-region.

Motivation for migration is historically a way of life in West Africa. For generations, people have been migrating in response to democratic, economic, political and related factors; population pressure, environmental disasters, poor economic condition, conflicts and the effect of macro-economic adjustment programmes.

History proves in the past, population movement restores ecological balance and for greater security prevailed over wide area and migrants have always considered the West African sub-region an economic unit within which trade and service bloom.

Today, intra and inter-country movement continue to be a central feature of African life.

In recent years, macro-economic adjustment measures and huge increase in the members of entrants into the labour market have fuelled the job crisis, creating a sustained pressure for labour emigration, while desertification and cyclical femine have triggered waves of environmentally displaced persons across national frontier within the sub-region.

The absence of peace and stability in several parts of the sub-region discourages investment, the very foundation of development which leads to capital flight, stalled sustainable development and employment generation. Crisis in the sub-region has uprooted thousands of people internally and across national boarders as refugees and displaced persons.

Progress made in enhancing free movement of persons without visa within the West African sub-region is a major achievement of the organisation. Associated with this development is the progress made in the area of monetory policy, communication, trade and related matters. These include the introduction of ECOWAS travelers cheque - the West African Unit Account (AUA) to harmonise the sub-region monetary policy; the proposed adoption of a common currency which has almost started to facilitate cross-borders transactions.

Regional infrastructure has been rehabilitated and expanded to foster economic integration with the proposed establishment of two links: a coastal route from Lagos to Cotonou and Accra and Sahelian route linking Lagos to Niamey and Ouagadougou.

The abolition of the mandatory residence permit and the granting by immigration officials of the maximum of 90 days period of stay to ECOWAS citizens at entry points took effect from mid April, 2000. To this effect, border post and checkpoints at international highway are to be policed by custom and immigration officials only.

Recently, the sub-regional private airline was launched in Abuja to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the organisation to facilitate intra-regional travel, firm proposals were made to boost transport, and telecommunication links among member states, and especially the establishment of trans-coastal, tran-sahel rail links. This was to take effect from 1 January 2000 for the circulation of goods.

The Lome protocol on the mechanization for the prevention, management and control of conflicts and maintenance of peace and security was signed in December, 1999 and the free movement of goods and persons across the border of ECOWAS member states was scheduled to begin by the end of April, 2000. Nigeria and Gambia are leading implementing the scheme ahead of other countries.

Similarly, the formation of GIABA, an antigraft body formed by ECOWAS in collaboration with other agencies to fight money laundering and terrorism financing within the sub-region is a good step taken to meet up with already planned targets.

More emphasis have been laid on reviewing the security situation in the sub-region. During the meeting of the ECOWAS commission on the 14th June 2007, in Abuja to review the political and security situation in the sub-region, Mr. DJibrill Yipene Bassole, minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional stressed the urgent need to the region's border in order to ensure peace and security, essential conditions for strengthening regional integration within ECOWAS.

In conclusion, migrants from and within the region include, temporary cross-borders workers, professional clandestine workers and refugees. Much of the movement has been intra regional, short term made domination and involving long distance. The movement are usually of the survival type in search of whatever work migrants can get, in any location and at any wage.

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