22.03.2013 Feature Article

ECOWAS@38, and Prospects for a West African Economic Governance Architecture

ECOWAS38, and Prospects for a West African Economic Governance Architecture
22.03.2013 LISTEN

Long before the global financial crisis in 2008, African integration had been an important strategy by developing countries to face globalisation. The development of the regional economic communities into discrete units that can trade with each other and exchange experiences might not yet be the normative narrative of African integration, but it is safe to say that it is going to happen sooner than later.

With the Sirte Declaration of 9 September, 1999 seeking to fast-track the Abuja Treaty—the de facto continental plan for Africa's unity--that has been in operation since 1991, much has been achieved by the regional economic communities.

Regional economic community programmes that seek to harmonize the work of the communities have found expression in the Minimum Integration Programme, which was mooted by the Third Conference of African Ministers of Integration in 2009.

Programmes such as the Tripartite FTA between SADC, COMESA and EAC was not by accident as this has been part of the plan in the Minimum Integration Programme, as well as part of the six stages leading to continental integration by 2034. Many of the plans and programmes may not make the light of day in much of the African media, but they exist, and RECs, including ECOWAS, have been getting to work.

Despite the fact that in ECOWAS's 38 years, much of its efforts has been spent consolidating its peace and security imperative, it is arguable that all this notwithstanding, it has chalked quite a number of successes on the economic front. Even if it continues to postpone its common currency—now scheduled for 2020--(from 2005 to 2009 to 2015), that it even has a West African Monetary Institute established as an agency to have oversight of the West African Monetary Zone countries (of Ghana, Guinea; Gambia; Nigeria; Liberia; and Sierra Leone) speaks volumes of its continued economic ambition to merge with the CFA countries that populate the francophone UEMOA countries.

Simply put, economic integration continues to be an important feature of ECOWAS. Its focus on peace and security are not inconsistent with the desire to be united as a regional economic bloc—and the battles that it has undergone since 2002 when the EU launched its Economic Partnership Agreements are testimony of its desire to forge ahead with its economic integration. Despite the calls by the EU to suspend ECOWAS' Levy, ECOWAS has remained steadfast in its desire to safeguard a modicum of dignity around its regional integration project.

While the truth is that it has not done this alone—much of the battles were fought with and by civil society to protect ECOWAS's policy space—ECOWAS officials have more often than not been ready to break from the visceral state-led engagements that characterise some of the other regional economic communities.

Despite the fact that the arguably-superintending African integration actor in the African Union(AU) might not have made as many gains on the economic front (as compared to the peace and security front) as one would have hoped, it is safe to say that in the specific case of the Economic Partnership Agreements, having the AU's deputy Minister Erastus Mwencha state in December 2011 in Accra at the 7th Conference of African Trade Ministers that the EPAs are not “a priority” to Africa has been considered a great boon to African efforts to create her own Continental Free Trade Area(CFTA), ultimately paving the way for greater economic emancipation for the sub-region in particular and the continent in general.

According to organisations like the Accra-based Third World Network-Africa (TWN-Africa), one of the main lessons of the global economic crisis that has been with us since 2008 is that this is the time to be diversifying trade away from over-reliance on EU markets.

It is clear to all observers that the economic chaos engulfing the EU in its euro-zone shows no end in sight and the prospect of long- term stagnation is becoming ever more real. Most economies in the EU are registering low growth or no growth.

In spite of the above implications on the West African economies, the European Union has shown itself to be so intransigent in the EPA negotiations by adopting divide-and-rule tactics. At the moment the pressure is still on Ghana to sign and that will be the end of the regional integration efforts.

Sources close to the negotiators however indicate that a regional solidarity fund is being proposed to compensate Ghana and Ivory Coast for any losses that would be incurred for not signing the EPA.

This is an idea that civil society organisations have been pushing for to save the sub region from disintegration. As a consequence, they continue to call on Ghana's Minister of Trade to redirect their energies towards this for the greater good of Ghana and the ECOWAS Region as a whole.

On the continental level, a response can be seen with the latest edition of Assessing Regional Integration in Africa V―the fifth in a decade since the publication was started in 2002, and which came out in 2012. It is a testament of Africa's integration efforts, which seem to paint a picture of slow and uneven progress of the regional economic communities (RECs). Entitled “Towards a Continental Free Trade Area”, it is expected to shape the debate and the move towards fast-tracking the establishment of a CFTA, the Information and Communication Service of the UNECA has said.

Published jointly by the ECA, African Union Commission (AUC) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), ARIA V is organised into eight chapters with two chapters aimed at theoretically and empirically assessing the gains and losses to Africa from the CFTA. It lays great emphasis on the need for greater commitment to the removal of outstanding obstacles to trade, including barriers to the free movement of people, investments and factors of production across Africa.

Both the proposed ECOWAS Solidarity Fund and the AU's Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) are emerging new approaches that ineluctably call for a discussion and elaboration of novel approaches to be introduced that would seek to improve the integration process. Ideally, these approaches should include one that is consistent and in conformity with the Abuja Treaty (Africa Economic Community).

In 2009, in his capacity as a “Do More Talk Less Ambassador” of the 42nd Generation—an NGO that promotes and discusses Pan-Africanism--Emmanuel gave a series of lectures on the role of ECOWAS and the AU in facilitating a Pan-African identity. Emmanuel owns "Critiquing Regionalism" ( Established in 2004 as an initiative to respond to the dearth of knowledge on global regional integration initiatives worldwide, this non-profit blog features regional integration initiatives on MERCOSUR/EU/Africa/Asia and many others. You can reach him on [email protected] / Mobile: +233.268.687.653.