By Sam Eyoboka
AS the name suggests the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was established by the Treaty of Lagos in Lagos, Nigeria, on May 28, 1975 to promote economic trade, national cooperation, and monetary union, for growth and development throughout West African region.
Its four commissions deal with the following functions: Trading, immigration, monetary interaction; Industry, natural resources, and agriculture; Transportation and communications; and Social and cultural issues.
There were 15 members initially: Benin, CÃ´te dâ€™Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Burkina Faso (formerly Upper Volta). Cape Verde joined in 1977. A revised treaty intended to accelerate integration of economic policy and improve political co-operation was signed on July 24, 1993 which spelt out the goals of a common economic market, a single currency, the creation of a West African parliament, economic and social councils, and a court of justice.
The treaty also recognised that there is a slim line between economy and the politics of individual states and therefore laid the burden of settling regional conflicts on the treaty members and incorporated a Mutual Defence Protocol: a non-standing army deployed in the region as ECOMOG. It was at that point especially with the wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and other nations in the region, the Commission started having problems with monitoring economic activities in the region and eventually reached a state of near collapse.
But faced with global recession, the Commission is now poised to take its destiny in its own hands as it has perfected plans to host an ECOWAS regional symposium on development in Ougadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. The objective of the regional symposium is to re-evaluate the concept of development and review its economic, social, cultural and political implications for Africa, particularly the ECOWAS member states.
According to the statement signed by the Commissioner, Macroeconomic Policy of ECOWAS Commission, Prof. Lambert Bamba, the symposium is expected to allow for multi-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary and indeed cross disciplinary small study groups and research groups to be formed around issues of development and regional integration with a view to: Helping decision makers through open discussions on all issues capable of promoting development in an international setting beset with doubt and risk; facilitating the use of research outcomes in decision making; and contributing to the establishment of a regional think tank with the involvement of the Diaspora to further inform decision making process and promote integration as a lever for development.
To this end a delegation of the Commission visited Nigeria last week to woo Nigerian academicians for their impute towards developing a position paper on how to tackle the growing threat of globalisation with particular reference to environmental challenges. The theme of the symposium, according to the leader of the delegation and the chairman of Scientific Committee on the Symposium, Prof. Moustapha Kasse, is â€˜Ending underdevelopment: What new prospects for West Africa?â€™ He listed seven sub-themes where contributions are needed.
They include: Crisis of the development model: Reject or remodel economic theories on development?; Growth and development: Is growth a prerequisite for development?; Development and poverty reduction strategy: Which development vision is behind the strategy?; Social capital (physical, human) and development: Role of the civil society and networks; Development through regional integration; and Institutional and political approaches to development: Role of the African state in democracy, development, conflict management and land settlement.
The delegation took the gospel to three universities in Nigeriaâ€”the University of Lagos, University of Ibadan and University of Abuja—-soliciting for presentations which may be incorporated in to the final document which will be published and presented to ECOWAS leaders as a regional response to the globalisation threat. position paper Prof. Kasse
Addressing the sensitization meeting on ECOWAS Regional Symposium on Development at the University of Lagos, the former Senegalese university don, Prof. Kasse urged the academic community in the region to submit papers on how the region can make progress in the area of development.
At the Unilag conference which was attended by renowned university dons drawn from the University of Lagos, the Lagos State University and the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, NIIA, the chairman said it is only proper that Africans come together as one and find common solutions to the problems besetting the region.
He maintained that the search for impute in Nigeriaâ€™s three universities is in recognition of â€œthe prime place of Nigeria in the region and it is aimed at bringing together a reference document that will represent our own collective convictions, in making sure that our region does not just grow, but develops.
â€ Drawing a distinction between national growth and national development, Prof. Kasse pointed out that there can be growth without development, especially when majority of the masses leave in abject poverty, stressing that the whole idea of the symposium is to make the regionâ€™s decision makers to look inwards for solutions to multi-faceted socio-political problems currently plaguing the region.
He maintained that there is no limit to the areas where the academicians can make their imputes,
adding that history, developmental models of crisis, relationship between growth and development, institutions and development through small nation-states may be the focal points of note.
â€œWe intend to focus on the academic community to sensitize them towards the actualisation of the mobility of all the areas in the region with a view to using the publication to galvanise all governments in the area to action,â€ he said, adding â€œwe can have a development model so that nobody will propose a model for us.â€
According to him, the West actually tricked African nations in to structural adjustment programmes, stating that the point was adequately made at the University of Lagos several years ago but unfortunately African leaders did not see the wisdom in models proposed by their fellow African researchers.
Speaking at the occasion, the chairman of Lagos Conference, Prof. Bola Akinterinwa of NIIA, Lagos, said the symposium will go beyond approaches to ensure that West Africa is moving beyond economic integration. He acknowledged that there are conflicts which had made ECOWAS to redirect its attention to conflict resolution and security matters, hoping, however, that it is only when the region settles down to solving its economic problems that we can make the needed economic advancement.
Other speakers at the meeting including LASUâ€™s Prof. Abubakar Momoh, Prof. Tokunbo of Unilag, Dr. Wale Aderemi of LASU, all of whom agreed that there are fundamental issues militating against the development of the region. Prof. (Mrs.) Fashake believes that for as long as the issue of corruption is not adequately tackled and offenders are brought to book it will be difficult for the region to witness any appreciable development.
Prof. Momoh, who lamented an experience he had at the University of Pittsburgh where academicians from all over the world gathered to fashion a way forward out of globalisation, harped on demographic explosion, urbanisation and climate change, saying that our collective response to the foregoing will go a long way to solving the problem.
According to him, there were only two Africans at that conference and he raised the issue of why Africa was not on the agenda; but he was told pointedly, that the only important thing about Africa was poverty.
In conclusion, Prof. Kasse maintained that there may have been previous position papers that were presented to governments in the past but there are several fresh angles to approaches to the problems of development in the region.
At the University of Ibadan, the story was not much different as Prof Kasse also sold the same gospel to the college of academicians who gathered at the Conference Hall. Prof. Akin Iwayemi of the prime universityâ€™s Department of Economics was the chairman of the occasion. He stressed the mission of the group to include the mobilisation of the academic community â€œto tell us what research is ongoing, what they are doing and make the result of their research available to decision makers in the region. We are living in a knowledge driven world and the time has come for us to make sure that our decision makers actually take into account the results obtained from research.
If we can do this we will be able to take the right decision for the benefit of the region.â€
Asked how the commission hopes to handle intellectual disagreements arising from different presentations, Prof. Kasse said academic controversy is not strange because â€œwe can only move forward through arguments, contestations, intellectual disputes.