By Victoria Ojeme
Since the beginning of 2021 and as a follow-up of the events of last year, the food security situation in Western Africa is a mixed picture.
Although COVID-19 infection rates remained low compared to global figures, the impact of the pandemic led to reduced economic growth stemming from national restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the virus.
The restrictions on movement of people and closure of workplaces limited people’s access to income-generating activities and markets, hampering access to food.
The number of food-insecure people rose to almost 22 million in 2020, which is an increase of over 70 percent from the same period 2019. Some of the highest needs in the region were also countries with active conflict such as Nigeria, Niger and Burkina Faso.
Also, the continent is slated to hold 13 national elections in 2021. Roughly half of these are in ECOWAS. The problem includes leaders attempting to circumvent term limits. A small but growing number of incumbents are likewise banning opposition parties, or criminalizing critical media reporting, to clear the electoral playing field.
To this end, the Speaker of ECOWAS parliament, Sidie Mohammed Tunis said the ECOWAS parliament receives an estimate of a consolidated 2021 budget of USD398,044,626 from the ECOWAS commission.
Speaking at the session which is to deliberate on the community budget, the Speaker said the session provides the opportunity, in accordance with provisions of the Supplementary Act, for Parliament to consider the community’s budget.
He also added that specifically the Parliament is expected to ensure that estimates are directed towards programs that address the needs of the people.
The Speaker admonished the regional Parliamentarians to put into consideration while debating the budget that they are now responding to the worst global pandemic in a century. In his words: “We live in an era of great uncertainty and increasing risk, overcoming these challenges in the interests of our fellow citizens should be our major priority.
It is also not enough that the budget surmounts the immediate threats brought upon us by Covid-19, it should also advance efforts to make progress on other fronts and priorities which our region continues to value: democracy, rule of law, peace and conflict resolution, the fight against terrorism, poverty reduction and climate change.”
Tunis noted that despite the ravaging effect of the Covid-19 pandemic in the ECOWAS region last year, the final quarter of 2020 was a very engaging period for the Parliament.
According to him, “I wish to recall that though the pandemic greatly imparted our operations last year and still continues to have its toll on our programs, Parliament, however, acted with determination and swiftly implemented the necessary steps to continue its work under the current circumstances.”
He said that while the region celebrates the development of vaccines, he called on the citizens of the region to avoid complacency and continue to observe all the existing health protocols.
The Speaker said, “The Pandemic still lingers and is having devastating social and economic consequences on our citizens. Regulations and restrictions previously imposed and relaxed are being reinforced. If the current trend continues, we are likely to see the imposition of more stringent measures aimed at curtailing the spread of the virus.”
Tunis added that the covid-19 protocol which includes the constant washing of hands under running water, wearing of face mask, maintaining social distance and respiratory hygiene, have proven very effective in curbing the spread of the disease and we must continue to practice them at all times.
Meanwhile, the Vice President of ECOWAS Commission, Mrs Finda Koroma has said that an additional 19 million Euros is expected into the ECOWAS Stabilization Fund.
The Fund expected this year will be provided by the German government.which would cover post Ebola countries like Guinea and Liberia.
The Stabilization Fund which seeks to address the economic stabilization of member states, currently stands at 19m euros plus a contribution of 3 million units of account from ECOWAS Commission which has accrued since 2018.
Addressing members of the ECOWAS Parliament at the ongoing 2nd Ordinary Session held virtually, the Vice President of ECOWAS Commission, Mrs. Finda Koroma said the Fund would cover post Ebola countries like Guinea and Liberia.
She said the Commission was pushing for a stand-alone fund just like The Gambia that has 17 million Euros, for Guinea Bissau, some Northern States in Nigeria and Sahel countries.
Koroma further explained that the Fund would look at three priority sectors with emphasis on job creation for women and youths and that it would be managed by KSW, a fund management to be established within ECOWAS Commission.
According to her, the fund will consist of several components. “It will have four components as a private sector promotion and employment window, consisting of short-term employment like labor, construction projects, maintenance of basic economic and social infrastructure as well as Medium term employment creation through investment in value chain especially in agriculture.”
The first component includes Vocational training, entrepreneurship training and skill development, managed by GIZ while the second is in the provision of infrastructure.
“The second component is basic service provision and strengthening resilience. We will therefore look at construction or rehabilitation of basic social economic infrastructure such as schools, health care facilities, water, sanitation, transport and energy, especially solar energy and other types . We will look at investment that enhances resilience such as housing, dam and urban sewage.”
The two remaining components, she said are “promotion of social Cohesion and good governance which will look at social dialogue and conflict resolution as well as strengthening local and national implementation capability.
Earlier, Tunis, the Speaker of parliament had disclosed that the ECOWAS parliament will closely monitor all post Electoral issues in countries that held elections last year until they are legally and reasonably concluded.
Five ECOWAS countries held elections in 2020. They include Ghana, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Cote d Ivoire and Niger. However, Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire are still faced with post-election issues arising from the decision of the Presidents to contest for a third term in office.
Tunis also reiterated the Parliament’s call for all political actors to support the democratic process and act fervently with the confines of the law.
In reference to Mali, where a transitional government is in place, following the toppling of President Ibrahim Keita, Tunis said the Parliament would continue to watch with keen interest developments in that country while another Fact-Finding Mission would be sent to monitor the situation.
“You may recall that a Parliamentary Fact-Finding Mission was sent to that country in August of 2020, to ascertain unfolding developments at the time. Unfortunately, the mission could not go on as planned due to uncertainties brought upon the Republic by the staged coup. Nevertheless, it is still very important that we engage all stakeholders in the Malian political realm to work out genuine peace and stability in the West African State. Against this front, I, in consultation with the Bureau, shall reconstitute and dispatch another Fact-Finding Mission to the Republic of Mali in the no distant future”.
He said the objective of the mission was to assess the current political situation and advise the Parliament on areas that need their intervention.
Also, the President of the Ecowas Court of Justice, Justice Edward Amoako Asante said the 2021 ordinary session is taking place against the tragic background of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic with significant disruption of the global socio-economic fabric.
Asante said this is exemplified by the reliance on virtual technology instead of physical meetings for the conduct of this session and other activities in line with the protocols for dealing with the pandemic.
“After the initial disruptions on the conduct of Court sessions by the outbreak of the pandemic in early 2020, which affected sixty cases which had been scheduled for both hearing and judgment, the Court realized that in a post Covid-19 world, it was imperative to migrate to the virtual technology infrastructure in order to continue to discharge its role.”
“Consequently, it had to invest a significant portion of its resources in virtual technology with the first virtual session of the Court held on Monday, 22nd June 2020. As part of the process for deploying the virtual technology, the Court had to align its Practice Direction with the new reality with the concomitant benefits of ensuring the safety of judges and staff. Although a fallout of a pandemic, the deployment of the technology and the new practice direction had other benefits including the timely and efficient disposal of cases,” Asante said.