I Salute, Mr President But No Smooth Road For ECOWAS

The protocols are over and President John Dramani Mahama has settled down to work as Chairman of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS).

Last week, he was in Brussels, Belgium where in the dual capacity as President of Ghana and ECOWAS chair he made significant contributions to deliberations at the 4th European Union (EU)-Africa summit.

Now, let me salute President Mahama on his election as Chairman of ECOWAS. I and other Ghanaians who were in Yamoussoukro for the two-day 44th ordinary meeting of the ECOWAS Authority felt proud that our President had been elected by his peers to lead the regional group and we had reason to celebrate on the night.

While in my room, I looked at my watch and the time was 7:40 pm. A text message had come through from Presidential Aide, Stan Dogbe, that the heads of state had elected President Mahama the next chair of the Authority.

Minutes later, a vehicle came to convey us to the magnificent conference centre built by the first Ivorian President, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, where the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Ms Hannah Tetteh, confirmed the news.

Houphouet-Boingny, the pro- West ambitious leader, built and transformed Yamoussoukro into the administrative and political capital of Côte d’Ivoire and today, the city has all that it takes to host every international conference.

Clearly, the other heads of state must have considered the capabilities of Mr Mahama before settling on him.

Before going for the closed-door meeting to discuss the election of the next chairman to replace Ivorian leader, Alassane Ouatarra, there were reports that Gambian President, Yahya Jammeh, who had for a long time not participated in meetings of ECOWAS, and Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Saelief were seriously lobbying for the position which rotates amongst Francophone and Anglophone West African nations. Doubts, however, hung on the chances of the two.

With the handing over of the chair complete, what confronts the comparatively young Ghanaian leader is how to galvanise his colleagues and the available resources, including human, material and financial to advance the course of an organisation which sometimes receive the flak from its own people for not doing much to promote their wellbeing since its formation in 1975.

Task

Doubtless, the task ahead of the new chairman and ECOWAS itself is not all smooth. Nonetheless, he has the opportunity to come out as one of the best chairmen ever in the history of the regional body if he implements his vision satisfactorily.

I heard Mr Mahama say in his acceptance speech that the tremendous performance of his predecessor will make his work easy. But I beg to differ, Sir.

There is no question about the fact that President Ouattara scored high marks in his two-year term but that may not necessarily lead to Mr Mahama having things cheap. This is against the backdrop that the sub region’s challenges are historically multifaceted. Notwithstanding the rough road, the political experience and youthful energy of Mr Mahama can propel him to achieve results.

Security

Perhaps President Mahama’s first major security concern is how to ensure peace and security in Guinea Bissau. The former Portuguese colony will on April 13 go for presidential and legislative elections after the last coup d’etat.

ECOWAS has already warned that attempts by any group of people or individuals to disrupt the elections, and, thus, draw back the progress achieved so far will be met with drastic consequences.

It is incumbent on the political parties and their leaders, as well as the security forces of that county, to show maturity and get the process going while ECOWAS ensures that the elections are organised in a free and fair manner.

President Mahama is also confronted with that demon called Boko Haram, which has been undertaking unimaginable killings and destruction of properties in Nigeria, as President Goodluck Jonathan struggles, albeit unsuccessfully, to find an antidote to the attacks.

For now, it is becoming clear that the Nigerian government does not have the wherewithal to uproot the monster, and many are, therefore, looking up to ECOWAS to save the situation.

Refreshingly, in his acceptance speech, President Mahama promised to get ECOWAS support for Nigeria to deal with the Boko Haram menace. It is a huge task but he may have something under his sleeves and I can only pray he succeeds.

I was a bit surprised when heard ECOWAS President, Kadre Desire Ouegraogo, describe 2013 as a “year of ECOWAS victory over the forces of terrorism, crime and obscurantism, as well as over the demons of division and destabilisation.”

That some amount of success has been achieved in the security situation cannot be denied but, does that extend to victory over terrorism where Boko Haram is a continuous threat.

Even Mali, where ECOWAS, with support from the AU and the UN, has restored democracy and the separatists and Islamists who seized the north have reunited with the rest of the country cannot be said to be free from its troubles. As you read this piece, there are some non-state groups still armed to the teeth and disarming them will not come on silver platter.

To ensure sustainable peace and security in that country, it is important for ECOWAS to take on board a suggestion made by the African Union’s High Representative to Mali and the Sahel, Mr Peirre Buyoya, to get the Malian authorities to seek an all-inclusive peace talks.

Economic integration

Mr Ouedraogo again said the regional body had made a “quantum leap” in the process of economic integration. He mentioned the adoption of the Common External Tariff (CET), strides towards achieving a common currency and the conclusion of negotiations with the EU on the adoption of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) as some of the notable points of economic integration. These are commendable.

However, there is quite a distance to travel to hit target. The fact that movement of goods from one country to another is still a major problem gives indication that there is still more to do with economic integration.

Again, this is where President Mahama’s capabilities would have to come to bear by working to remove the remaining barriers.

Economic Partnership Agreement

This is another area where President Mahama will have to get a thick skin to face the opposition coming from religious leaders and civil society groups against its introduction.

From all indications, ECOWAS is bent on signing the agreement with the European Union but how it balances it with the opposing voices is left to be seen.

Lessons should be drawn from past Economic Partnership Agreements such as the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act (AGOA), which Africa entered into with the United States of America to see if the adoption of the EPA with the EU would bring any meaningful benefits to the sub region.

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