01.05.2013 Feature Article

Communicating the ECOWAS Message(3), or A Tale of West Africa Monetary Institute's non-transparency?

Communicating the ECOWAS Message3, or A Tale of West Africa Monetary Institute's non-transparency?
01.05.2013 LISTEN

“The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”:
By E.K.Bensah Jr
Only this week, I had a small encounter with the Tetteth-Quarshie-based ECOWAS agency mandated to work on West Africa's second currency, which will be known as the “Eco”.

In order to expedite West African integration, the Heads of State and Government of Anglophone-speaking countries of The Gambia; Ghana; Guinea; Liberia; Nigeria; and Sierra Leone signed in Accra on 20 April, 2000 a Declaration on the creation of a second monetary zone after the CFA-franc zone. The Second Monetary Zone would be formally launched and named the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) at the Bamako Mini-Summit of Heads of State and Government of member countries in December 2001.

In October 2012, the WAMI was responsible for organising the Fifth Trade Forum of the West Africa Monetary Zone that took place right here in Accra. I wrote at the time that “I don't know about you, but I would have thought that two ECOWAS-related conferences like these ought to have been better-publicised” I went on to add that “It is already a good start that the organisers are copying Ghana News Agency, from where many Ghanaian media outlets pick general stories from Ghana. As to whether it is standard practice for the communication outlets of the West Africa Monetary Institute and the ECOWAS Court to send releases only to GNA, though, is moot.”

After my encounter, I am actually not quite sure whether I can confidently speak of a communications outfit at WAMI. This is simply because my experience with them this week is that their processes are too opaque for the 21st century.

Not intimidated by the flying flags of the six member countries of the WAMZ at the entrance of the building on the Gulf House compound, I walked in to a small reception area—only to be met by a receptionist who was attending to be-suited old Arab-looking and African men, while what looked like drivers were sitting in the reception watching television.

To be fair, the receptionist was direct and polite, but it was what she said that I didn't take kindly to. I wanted to know whether I could obtain any information on what WAMI does. I was asked whether I had checked the website. I had, but it has not been updated in a while—never mind that it needs a radical re-design to reflect a website that belongs to an important organ of ECOWAS! I explained that the information there is not appropriate, and was assured by the receptionist that their technical people are working on the site.

I wondered how, then, I can get any updated information, and insisted on meeting a WAMI staff with whom I could have a conversation about what WAMI does. The receptionist quietly and politely explained that no WAMI staff is instructed to speak to members of the public without a written request to the Director-General of WAMI. “Seriously?” I asked. She insisted, explaining that even when you want general information about WAMI, you have to write addressing the Director-General, and not even his name directly, otherwise it might be considered a personal request.

To say I was shocked is an understatement; I was almost furious.

ECOWAS will turn 38 on 27 May, 2013. In this critical year that no less than five decades of OAU/AU and African integration efforts are being celebrated, it is a crying shame that an agency of one of the regional economic communities—of ECOWAS—that claims in its ECOWAS Vision 2020 of a sub-region that should be accessible to all Ecowas community citizens has this policy!

According to the “Follow-up Report on the Implementation of Recommendations from COMAI V”, which draft was produced by the AU Department of Economic Affairs for the just-ended Sixth Conference of African Ministers on Integration(COMAI VI) that was held in Mauritius from 15-19 April, 2013, section 6.11 (p.116) categorically speaks to challenges bedevilling African integration efforts, and they include “lack of sufficient citizen involvement in the policy formulation process and detailed design, appraisals and evaluation stages of a programme or projects.”

Now it is all well and good that the Director-General of the West Africa Monetary Institute may feel that what is portrayed about the Institute is so sensitive that no member of the public should know, but let us just say that that is a misplaced notion. The ECOWAS Commission cannot produce tomes of information about an ECOWAS vision of 2020, where citizens can interact freely with ECOWAS institutions, yet on the other side of the mouth, have one of its organs adopt a suchlike policy. It is frankly unacceptable.

If ECOWAS and all its agencies cannot consider being transparent just before it hits 40 years in 2015, then I am not quite sure when it will begin to be more transparent.

Back in October 2012, I made recommendations for ECOWAS to better-communicate to the public and the rest of the wider ECOWAS Community Citizens at large. I re-print them below by way of conclusion.

Recommendations for ECOWAS
First, ECOWAS should re-configure its ECOWAS National Units into permanent missions and reduce the fiction that they are liaising with the public. Even if they never intended to do that, it should have been one of their aims: serve as the link between the ECOWAS institutions and its community citizens. In Ghana, they are a desk at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration.

Ecowas has sufficient internally-generated funds to be able to afford establishing a mission in every Ecowas member state. If the AU can establish a permanent mission in Brussels (which is regrettably largely-funded by the EU!), then it should be able to also establish missions in at least “strategic” AU countries.

Failing that, the ECOWAS National Units should establish a website, and regularly-provide citizens information on what Ecowas is doing. Few people have sufficient time to be checking the website of ECOWAS every day. The Ecowas National Unit should be bringing Ecowas to community citizens, and not expecting us as citizens to find out what they are doing. Simply put, they must be accountable. And in this era of New and Social Media, Ecowas should hurry up and re-design its website so that everything on their site can be shared to an Ecowas page on Facebook. Even the AU is beginning to appreciate the necessity of being on Facebook and Twitter. Ecowas must do same quickly or face continuing to be considered an irrelevant institution by a large part of its community citizens!

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.