'The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen
In my last article, I touched on the emergence of a permanent West African Civil service that the new ECOWAS Commission will eventually be. Since the commencement of the duties of the Commission in 2007, Community citizens can safely say the ECOWAS Commissioner has been an invisible force. We need the ECOWAS Parliament as an ally to ensure they become accountable. The jury is out as to whether an ECOWAS Commissioner can adequately-compete with the European Commission. What we do know is that ECOWAS has access to independent and non-donor resources that can transform the ECOWAS Commissioners into powerful plenipotentiaries fully representing the West African interest. One way of ensuring this happens is by shedding light on what the ECOWAS Commissioner is supposed to do to ensure the interest of the West African is preserved.
By E.K.Bensah Jr
An ECOWAS Commissioner is a member of the 15-member ECOWAS Commission. Each Member within the college possesses a specific portfolio, and is led by the President of the ECOWAS Commission. Simply put, they are equivalent of national ministers.
It remains unclear at the moment how ECOWAS Commissioners are appointed. Ideally, each commissioner should first be nominated by their member state in consultation with the Commission President. Ideally, the more capable the candidate, the more powerful a portfolio the ECOWAS Commission President will assign.
The President's team should ideally then be vetted by hearings at the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja. In the absence of a legislative ECOWAS Parliament, community citizens are hamstrung by having the Commissioners attain the post without any formal vetting of any kind. Significant steps are in motion for the ECOWAS Parliament to graduate from a consultative to a legislative body. There has been no indication that when this happens, incoming ECOWAS Commissioners will go through hearings at the ECOWAS Parliament.
Once the Community Parliament is able to make this happen, one is likely to see more oversight by Parliament of the Commissioners, their duties, functions; and responsibilities to the citizens of West Africa.
What is likely to happen now is that the Authority of the Heads of State of Government of ECOWAS (which have powers binding on ECOWAS institutions) will be the ones to approve the ECOWAS Commissioners.
It should be noted that unlike the European Commissioner that does not necessarily represent their Member state, each of the fifteen ECOWAS Commissioners (including President and Vice) are representatives of their member states. This means, for example, that the Ghanaian ECOWAS Commissioner that will hold the portfolio of Administration and Conferences will automatically become the most senior Ghanaian at the ECOWAS Commission. It is a given that they should fight for the interests of Ghana.
That said, while each Commissioner will implicitly work for the interests of their Member State, it is believed they are supposed to act in 'West African interests'. Although there is a nebulous perception of the 'West African interest', perhaps the ECOWAS Treaty does attempt to spell it out for all and sundry in article 3(1) of the revised ECOWAS Treaty (1993). It is conceivable that the West African interest is one that seeks to 'promote cooperation and integration, leading to the establishment of an economic union in West Africa in order to raise the living standards of its peoples, and to maintain and enhance economic stability, foster relations among Member States and contribute to the progress and development of the African Continent.'
Unlike the European Commissioner, the ECOWAS counterpart is unlikely to be necessarily selected from the political party of the day. While it is difficult to predict what other West African countries would do, what one often finds in Ghana, for example, is that a political party in power is likely to nominate a (popular) political opponent to an international position as a way of ensuring they do not interfere with the politics of the day. For example, political opponent of the National Patriotic Party(NPP) Alan Kyeremateng was nominated to the position of the World Trade Organisation, and endorsed by ministers of the African Union. This runs counter to the European situation where the political party of the day almost-always rallies support for their popular member to be propelled into international civil serviceas was the case of the Labour Party in the UK recommending and lobbying for Lord (Peter) Mandelson to be become European Commissioner for Trade in November 2004.
Partly due to the member-state selection, only a handful of the 15-member Commission are women: the Commission remains largely a preserve of men.
In 2009, in his capacity as a 'Do More Talk Less Ambassador' of the 42nd Generationan 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" (http://critiquing-regionalism.org). 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.