By Obadiah Mailafia
IT is always a joy to be in Ouagadougou. Each time I am here, I’m struck by the warmth and friendliness of the people. I find in most Burkinabe the warmth and conviviality of the ancient savannah of our beloved West Africa. Sadly, I have also noticed, since my arrival here, that something has changed in the atmosphere. There is tension in the air. And it all has to do with the new terrorist onslaught against an unarmed and defenseless people. The killings and mayhem are pushing the people to breaking point.
Regional economic communities, RECs, dominate the contemporary landscape of African development. At the apex we have the African Union, AU, comprising 1.2 billion people and 54 member countries, with a total GDP of $2.33 trillion. It is generally agreed that ECOWAS has been the most successful of the lot, followed by SADCC. The East African Community, EAC, has made remarkable progress in recent years.
Economic theory establishes several rationales for regional economic communities. They range from scale economies and regional public goods to promotion of intra-regional trade to the theory of Optimum Currency Areas underpinning monetary integration. Regional communities promote regional public goods while pooling the sovereignties of relatively small nations into an economic space that promotes trade, economic development and regional harmony. Our countries emerged as accidents of colonial history; described by one Western jurist as “fictitious states” that could hardly survive on their own in our cruel and divided world.
There is nothing sacrosanct about regional economic communities. According to the jurist and philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun, states and human institutions are born, and they grow, reach maturity and they eventually decline and die. When leaders tread the path of folly, RECs can atrophy and die; but when they follow the path of wisdom, they continue to grow and to flourish. For example, the EAC was born in 1967 but lasted only a decade, having been wound down in 1977. Many factors contributed to its demise: Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda shared very different economic and social systems; there were strong feelings that the benefits accrued disproportionately to Kenya at the expense of the others; and General Idi of Uganda became a thorn in the flesh of the others. His foolish military misadventures into Tanzania forced Mwalimu J. K. Nyerere to invade the country to get rid of a nuisance.
I fear that ECOWAS today is facing onerous challenges. The organisation has become virtually irrelevant in relation to the ongoing crisis in the Sahel. The organisation is today facing the classic game-theoretic free-rider problem which often afflicts international organisations. The secretariat is owed arrears to the tune of $700 million. Many of the member states are not paying up their dues. It is rather anomalous that Nigeria single-handedly underwrites 70% of the annual operating budget. And for that we get nothing but barely concealed contempt. Many Nigerian nationals at the Commission complain of marginalisation and mistreatment. It is inconceivable that a world power such as the United States could financially underwrite an entire international organisation without insisting on a minimum veto power or other form of influence commensurate with its contributions.
I am persuaded that our manifold security challenges in Nigeria today have much to do with the failures of ECOWAS. Under cover of the regional protocols on the free movements of goods and people, all sorts of gangsters have infiltrated into our territory, bearing arms. Boko Haram may have started off innocuously enough as a bunch of local thugs based in Maiduguri. But it has metamorphosed into an international terrorist organisation with links as far afield as Libya, Somalia, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. As many as 90% of the insurgents are foreigners from neighbouring countries. After receiving training in military camps at the border, they infiltrate our country bearing sophisticated arms, including rocket launchers, drones and satellite-guided navigation systems. When they kill and maim and exact maximum havoc, they always dash back across the border to reload and re-arm. Same is true of their doppelganger, the so-called “herdsmen” militias, a murderous horde that are even more genocidal in their methods and intent. It is a sophisticated international war being waged against our country and people. The strategic intent is to bring our country to its knees while ensuring its eventual dismemberment.
The decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to close down our borders has obviously not gone down well with some of our neighbours. But it has been a welcome boon for us. It has been the best antidote to the menace of smuggling — including smuggling of arms and other dangerous products. It has also seemingly weakened the operational capabilities of the insurgents. I would insist that the borders be kept firmly close until such a time as we have cast-iron guarantees from our neighbours that their frontiers will not be used as launch pads against our country in any way.
I am also intrigued by the recent report of a fleet of top-range armoured tanks emanating from Cameroon and intercepted by Customs and Immigration authorities in our territory. Only a few days ago, we are told, an order came down from our national security services ordering the immediate release of those armoured tanks. We were given the opaque statement that they were American weapons headed for neighbouring Niger Republic. The enemies of our country and their local agents are having a field day!
No regional community can long endure if it is not anchored on trust and reciprocity. It also requires at least two or more regional hegemons working together to ensure the sustainability of the organisation in the same way as the Franco-German axis has worked as the engine and locomotive of the New Europe. Our dilemmas are compounded by the dark, satanic forces of informal empire. Every schoolboy knows that France calls the ultimate shots throughout “Francophone” Africa, with the exception of Guinea. When they realised they could not stop the emergence of ECOWAS, they stampeded the creation of Union Monétaires des États de l’Afrique d’Ouest, UMEOA, as a counterforce to slowdown progress in regional integration in West Africa.
The French are bitterly opposed to the idea of a single West African currency. These days we hear that they are creating chaos in the Sahel as a ruse to help themselves to the untold mineral wealth that has recently been discovered in the area. They are even prepared to redraw the map of the Sahel and to create a fictitious “Bantustan” that will enable them untrammelled access to our natural resources and patrimony. It is a shame that France has reinvented herself as a parasite and devourer in our continent.
But they are not alone to blame. The foreign-inspired wars that brought such untold suffering to the people of Sierra Leone and Liberia were brought to an end, thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices in blood and treasure by Nigeria, with assistance of our ECOMOG brethren. But I make bold to say that these horrendous wars were inflicted upon our region indirectly by France and Muammar Gadaffi’s Libya. Felix Houghouet-Boigny of Côte d’Ivoire was the primary agent acting on behalf of the French. He on his part aided his son-in-law Blaise Campaore to assassinate Thomas Sankara in 1987 and aborting the pan-African revolution in Burkina Faso. Campaore as an agent working for foreign powers wreaked such unbelievable carnage in West Africa, including orchestrating civil war in Côte d’Ivoire. They and their foreign masters deserve all the Jewish curses in the Book of Leviticus.
*Being the text of a paper presented at the Conference on Regional Organisations and Economic Development Organised by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.