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ECOWASGetting Down To Business
06/09/12, Africa Today
Ecowas Chairman, Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara.
These are trying times for ECOWAS, but its new management team, lead by Ambassador Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, hits the ground running.
The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is internationally acknowledged as an economic grouping with exemplary achievements in regional integration, including being the first and only economic community in Africa so far with a visa-free regime.
With an impressive track record in conflict prevention, management and resolution using a combination of preventive diplomacy, peace-keeping and peace-enforcement where necessary, the organisation is also no stranger to conflicts or governance issues going by its vast experience in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Niger and Cote d'Ivoire, to name but a few examples.
But as it matures in age, the challenges of responding to the growing demands of globalisation and community needs have also continued to multiply. If anything the expectations and pressure on ECOWAS and its leadership have never been greater as witnessed in the first quarter of 2012, the organisation's 37th anniversary year.
Given this scenario, it is an understatement that Ambassador Kadre Desire Ouedraogo, who took office as president of the ECOWAS Commission in March 2012, and his new management team which includes a vice-president and six commissioners, have their job cut out for them.
Ecowas Commission President, Burkina Faso's Kadre Desire Ouedraogo.
Their arrival coincided with the election of a new chair of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government, President Alassane Ouattara of Cote d'Ivoire, who took over from his Nigerian counterpart, President Goodluck Jonathan in February 2012.
This brand new team had barely settled down to business when the military struck in Mali sacking the democratically elected government of President Ahmadu Toumani Toure on March 22, 2012. And while the region was grappling with that aberration in democratic governance, the military in Guinea-Bissau staged its own coup on April 12, throwing the political transition process in the politically restive country in jeopardy.
For the record, the new chair of the ECOWAS Authority only assumed office in May 2011 as president of Cote d'Ivoire, which is undergoing a major transition and recovery from a bitter post-election dispute. In other words, neither he nor the Ouadraogo-led ECOWAS Commission's new management team had the luxury of settling to down or studying the files, as it were.
Just before the Mali and Guinea-Bissau crises, the region was already reeling under the burden of the Sahalian drought, which had resulted in serious food shortages coupled with the adverse consequences of global financial crisis and the spill-over effects of the Libyan crisis, which are still threatening to destabilise the region.
To their credit, the new management of the ECOWAS Commission and regional leaders have risen to these challenges in a most emphatic and unequivocal manner. Invoking the regional principle of zero-tolerance for ascension to power through unconstitutional means, which had resulted in previous suspensions of some member states, such as Guinea and Niger, ECOWAS leaders moved very swiftly. First, it denounced and rejected the military take-overs in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, and then insisted on the immediate restoration of constitutional rule. This was followed by the imposition of crippling sanctions which forced the Capt. Amadou Sanogo-led junta in Mali to back down.
The same rule of the thumb was applied to Guinea-Bissau, which was already undergoing a political process to elect a new leader to replace President Bacai Sanha, who died on January 9, 2012 before the military struck.
Unrelenting in its efforts to restore democratic rule in both countries and conscious of the fact that instability in one member state could destabilise the entire region and wipe out the gains of previous years, ECOWAS, with the support of international partners, including the African Union and the UN, has come up with separate 12-month transitional road-maps for its two errant members.
These efforts have not come cheap. There have been a series of ministerial and defence staff meetings and emergency summits of regional leaders with the attendant costs. And while regional mediators have moved into action, complementing initiatives at the highest level, ECOWAS has also finalised arrangements with member states that pledged troops, to the regional standby force for deployment in both countries.
With the authorisation of the Authority of Heads of State and Government, Burkina Faso's 170-strong police unit became the first contingent of the ECOWAS Mission in Guinea-Bissau (ECOMIB) to arrive Bissau on May 17, 2012. The unit will be followed by military, police and civilian contingents from Senegal, Cote d'Ivoire and Nigeria, which is providing the bulk of the regional standby force for Guinea-Bissau.
Flags of Ecowas member states: from (L-R) Benin, Burkina Faso, the Ecowas and Ivory Coast.
ECOMIB's mandate is unambiguous: to relieve the Angolan technical military mission in Guinea-Bissau, support the restoration of constitutional rule, provide security for VIPs and guarantee the freedom of movement of humanitarian agencies ahead of the planned and critical defence and security Sector reform in the country. Meanwhile, the regional Contact Group, following up on the ECOWAS decisions on Guinea-Bissau, headed by President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, continues its work at the diplomatic level, all geared towards pulling Guinea-Bissau from the brink.
Regarding Mali, while resolute on its principled position that the era of military rule is over in the region, ECOWAS is also readying a contingent of the regional Standby force for deployment to that country, to help consolidate peace and security and also restore Mali's national sovereignty in the face of separatist rebellion in the north. In accordance with the Malian constitution, the Speaker of the Parliament, Dioncounda Traore, has since been sworn in as the president of the country while the military is being negotiated out of power and back to the barracks where they rightly belong.
To be sure, ECOWAS leaders are not under any illusion that the crisis in Mali or Guinea-Bissau will disappear with the wave of a magic wand, neither is there any feeling of déjà-vu, but the region is responding robustly to every eventuality thanks to the new management team's exceptional grasp and handling of the emerging situations.
In accordance with its Vision 2020 for transformation from an ECOWAS of States to an ECOWAS of the People where programmes are citizen driven, President Ouadraogo in April presented cheques totalling $4.5 million as humanitarian support for Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger three member states adversely affected by the rebellion in northern Mali.
Ecowas leaders pose for picture in Dakar, Senegal, May 3, 2012, before their meeting on the crisis in neighbouring Mali and Guinea-Bissau.
In addition to the proactive responses to the unfolding political situation in Mali and Guinea-Bissau, the ECOWAS Commission and other community institutions have continued to deliver on commitments to the citizens, through measured and meticulous implementation of programmes and activities in line with the dream of founding fathers, for a peaceful, stable region united by a common vision of accelerated regional integration.
In pursuit of this overarching objective, and in the realisation that the future of west Africa belongs to the youth, a set of 18 young ECOWAS pioneer volunteers took their Pledge of Commitment after a week's induction training in Monrovia recently ahead of their deployment in Liberia. The 18 are part of the 160 volunteers earmarked under the ECOWAS Volunteers Programme (EVP), for four member states. This is with the support of partners such as the African Development Bank UNDP, UN Volunteer programme, UNHCR and UNSECO, with the aim of addressing the structural causes of vulnerability, instability or outbreaks of violence in the region. Sierra Leone, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau are the other countries to be covered under the pilot phase of the EVP programme, managed by the ECOWAS Peace Fund and which will eventually cover all the 15 member countries.
The Commission's Vice-President Toga McIntosh, who presided over the volunteers' Pledge of Commitment in Monrovia, used the opportunity to visit three of the four refugees Resettlement and Reintegration Estates, established by ECOWAS and partners in Liberia. The estates are housing thousands of ex-Sierra Leonean refugees who opted out of the voluntary repatriation programme following the end of the civil war in their country in 2002.
Meanwhile, the region continues to make impressive progress in all fronts including removing impediments to the implementation of its trademark protocol on free movement of persons, right to establishment and residence. The Organisation is also moving forward its campaign for the elimination of malaria from the ECOWAS region by 2015 through the implementation of a tripartite agreement with Cuba and Venezuela with emphasis on vector elimination strategy.
The new chairman of the 15-nation Ecowas President Alassane Ouattara of Ivory Coast with Mali's Interim President Dioncounda Traore, in Abidjan.
A regional mechanism has also been agreed to fight terrorism, piracy and other organized crimes threatening regional security. Similarly, a regional position on Arms Trade Treaty negotiations has been hammered out ahead of the UN Conference on the issue later this year, while regional leaders have also authorised the early conclusion of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations between ECOWAS and the European Union with the interest of the community in mind.
It was also not all doom and gloom for the region in the first quarter of 2012 going by the successful April presidential election in Senegal where incumbent President Abdoulaye Wade graciously conceded defeat to the opposition candidate and new President Macky Sall. The electoral process, adjudged internationally as transparent, free and fair, adds to the region's democratic and good governance credentials.
Addressing the Community Parliament in Abuja recently, President Ouedraogo affirmed the commitment of his team to accelerate regional integration and consolidate activities of ECOWAS institutions through a range of proactive measures.
On the whole, regional integration is not an event but a process. And as ECOWAS enters the 37th year of its existence and with the mounting development challenges, both the leadership and community citizens can take comfort in the region's achievements since the signing of the Treaty of Lagos on May 28, 1975, and at same time look forward to a brighter future given the dogged determination and unwavering commitment of all parties to the realization of the ECOWAS project.
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