31 May 2017

West Africa: Will the Ensuing Ecowas Summit Chart the Course for a Decisive and Workable Plan Towards a Single Currency?

The 51st Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is scheduled to convene on Sunday, June 4, 2017 at the Farmington Hotel, Roberts International Airport (RIA).

Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Chairperson of the Authority of Heads of State of ECOWAS, will preside.

High on the agenda of the 15 Heads of State and Government are robust integration, youth empowerment and gender development.

But by far the most fascinating and hopeful issue at hand for this 51st Summit will be the development of a single currency for the West African Sub-Region.

We already know what this new, revolutionary currency will be called--the Eco.

But the more challenging question will be HOW will it be so attractive and welcoming that all 15 ECOWAS Member States will readily embrace it, letting go the Naira in Nigeria, our most populous and most powerful ECOWAS member state; the CFA, currency of most of the French-speaking West African member states; the Ghanaian Cedi; The Gambia's Dalasi; Sierra Leone's Leone; and Liberia's dual currency--the Liberian dollar and the United States dollar?

A substantial portion of the groundwork for this and other major decisions of the 51st Summit starting next Sunday rests with the ECOWAS Management Team, which has been holding in Monrovia their preparatory meetings of their final year of existence.

In his comprehensive and stirring Opening Address last Friday, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Benin's Marcel Alaine de Souza, told his colleagues and the attending participants that the year 2017 "is the final year of the current ECOWAS Management Team and as such, we must leave on a high note. It is for us together to ensure that we leave a solid legacy and a strong and viable Organization for the next Team to carry on with the task of working towards the realization of the dreams, hopes and aspirations of the Founding Fathers of this great Organization, which are as relevant today as they were 42 years ago."

Who are the ECOWAS Founding Fathers?

We know of the three original Fathers--President William V.S. Tubman of Liberia, President Sekou Touré of Guinea and Prime Minister (later President) Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, who first met in Sanniquellie, Nimba County, Liberia on July 15-19, 1959 to lay the groundwork for the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU--now African Union--AU), out of whose belly ECOWAS and all the other African regional bodies were born.

Among the other Founding Fathers who participated in the formation of the OAU that was finally realized on May 25, 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, were Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, President Nnamdi Azikiwe and Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria, President Julius Nyerere of Tangayika, President Milton Obote of Uganda, President Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, President Felix Houphouet-Boigny of La Côte d'Ivoire, Prime Minister Sir Albert Margai of Sierra Leone, Prime Minister Modibo Keita of Mali, President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt (United Arab Republic) and President Habib Bourguiba of Tunisia.

We are recalling the founders of the OAU-AU because it was they who started the African Unity movement that led to all the other African regional bodies, including ECOWAS.

Some of these leaders were still in power in West Africa when, in 1975, ECOWAS was born. Among them were President Touré of Guinea and President Houphouet-Boigny of La Côte d'Ivoire. President Tubman of Liberia being no longer around, having died in 1971, his successor, President William Richard Tolbert Jr. was among the 15 West African Heads of State and Government that signed the Treaty creating ECOWAS.

Lest we forget, another Founding Father was also a Liberian--not a Head of State but a Liberian civil servant and banker named A. Romeo Horton, founder of the Bank of Liberia, the country's first Liberian-owned bank. In the 1960s Mr. Horton became President Tubman's Secretary of Commerce. It was Horton who first put on paper the proposal for the founding of the African Development Bank.

In 1964 President Tubman, using Horton's notes, and following a decision at the founding of the OAU in 1963-- Article XX of the OAU Charter--for the formation of several Commissions, including the first, an Economic and Social Commission, yes, it was against that background that President Tubman proposed an economic union for West Africa. This led to an agreement signed in 1965 by four countries--Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, Liberia's three most immediate neighbors. This laid the basis for the founding of ECOWAS.

Following this brief historical background, we now return to this Editorial's original question. It is: Will next Sunday's ECOWAS Summit, to be presided over by Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Chairperson of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State, lay the basis for the realization of a single currency for West Africa?

That remains to be seen.

West Africa

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