The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was established on May 28, 1975 to facilitate a common socio-economic space for West Africans.
The ECOWAS Commission is comprised of 15 member states – the Republic of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.
In 1979, the Commission’s Protocol on Free Movement was conceived as an instrument to enable free movement of ECOWAS citizens within the sub-region (ECOWAS).
The Free Movement was projected as a vital part of establishing one regional economic space where all West African citizens can benefit from opportunities in member states, including the use of agricultural land by indigenous people, access to coastal areas by landlocked member states, employment of English and French language experts and, most significantly, unrestricted access to natural resources by member states.
But since the start of the Protocol, free movement of persons and goods within the West Africa region is very far from being realized. Differences in immigration and customs policies and official languages among member states have negatively impacted on the Protocol. It is clearly not for nothing, that ECOWAS recently to renovate its conceptual notion of “ECOWAS of States” to “ECOWAS of People.”
By the fall of Friday, 28th March, news came through that, President John Dramani Mahama was elected to succeed Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara as ECOWAS Chairman by an acclamation at the 44th Ordinary Summit of the 15 – member organisation in Yamoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire.
This is the third time Ghana is assuming the Chairmanship of the ECOWAS since its establishment with Nigeria Chairing it for the seventh times. The other two leaders were former Presidents Jerry John Rawling in 1994 and John Agyekum Kufuor in 2003.
Unarguably, former President Rawlings’ contributions to restoring peace and stability to Liberia earned him the position of ECOWAS Chair and even for two conservative terms.
In the case of President John Agyekum Kufuor who was elected to Chair the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) at the 26th Heads of State summit held in Senegal, the point is made very strongly, that, Ghana under the leadership of President Kufuor was at the time playing a major role especially in respect to the then Ivorian crisis and the situation in the Mano River Region comprising Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
For the last few hours Ghanaians are being told, President John Dramani Mahama is poised for the task ahead as the Chairman of ECOWAS without being informed on how His Excellency will deliver the tasks.
The truth is that President Mahama is expected to oversee the West African sub – region at a period of the contentious Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Union (EU). Experts say, this is the particular moment that will do or undo the Ghanaian leader for the rest of his political life.
Already, civil society groups and private sector organisations have urged the President to ensure that Ghana does not sign the Economic Partnership Agreements between West Africa and the European Union (ECOWAS-EPA).
The request was made in a petition presented to the President by the Trades Union Congress of Ghana, Ghana Chamber of Commerce, Christian Council of Ghana, Socialist Forum of Ghana, Third World Network and the Economic Justice Network of Ghana.
Within the sub-region of West Africa, some Countries including Nigeria Government and Manufacturing Association of Nigeria described the current EPA document as deadly bait, whose signing will result in total collapse of all manufacturing firms in West Africa.
The point needs to be made that, Nigeria remains the largest donor of funds for ECOWAS operations. In fact between the period 2003 and 2011, the Nigeria government contributed $918.7 million dollars (74%) to the running of ECOWAS as compared to $225.7 million dollars (22%) from Ghana.
Of course with respect to democratic principles, every member state of ECOWAS has an equal stake and opportunity. However, a major reduction in terms of funds contributions from Nigeria will result in the regional bloc – ECOWAS collapsing on the head of President John Dramani Mahama.
The signals are very clear that, Nigeria would give real meaning to the announcements that it objects to the signing of the EPA. This would be done in many fronts including substantial reduction in contributions to ECOWAS and might further reduce the natural gas supply to Ghana.
President John Dramani Mahama began his two-year term as Chairman of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS on Saturday, 29th March at the end the summit 44 ordinary summit in Yamoussoukro, Cote d'Ivoire.
The Election of President Mahama to the Chair means most of the meetings of ECOWAS will be hosted in Ghana.
Your Excellency, please accept my congratulations and I wish you well.