Before the creation of ECOWAS, the collective territory known as West Africa, was made up of an aggregation of states that had emerged from different colonial experiences and administrations which largely defined the boundaries of the 15 states domiciled in the area.
Even though Member States of the community now make use of three official languages (English, French and Portuguese), there are well over a thousand existing local languages including cross-border native tongues such as Ewe, Fulfulde, Hausa, Mandingo, Wolof, Yoruba, Ga, etc. that constitute its over 300 million people tucked in a vast land of about 5.1 million square kilometres.
Prior to colonialism, the area played host to many proud empires and kingdoms that spanned centuries, some of which included Ghana, Mali Songhai, Wolof, Oyo, Benin and Kanem Bornu.
The region’s cultural, linguistic and ecological diversity presents both opportunities and challenges for the integration process. The longing to combine forces politically and economically has always been recognised as a step forward in the desire to engender co-prosperity in the area.
In this regard, the first effort at integration dates back to 1945 with the creation of CFA franc that brought the francophone countries of the region into a single currency union. Then in 1964, Liberian president William Tubman proposed an economic union for West Africa leading to an agreement which was signed in 1965 by the four states of Cote d’Ivore, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
However, it was not until 1972 that a proposal for a union of West African States emerged. That year, the Nigerian head of state Gen Yakubu Gowon and his Togolese counterpart Gnassingbe Eyadema toured the region in support of the integration Idea. Thanks to the drafts that emanated from their efforts. These formed the basis for the emergence of the treaty of Lagos in 1975 which birthed ECOWAS. The treaty of Lagos was originally touted as an economic initiative, but emerging political events led to its revision and therewith the expansion of scope and powers in 1993.
ECOWAS is meant to foster interstate economic and political cooperation. History is on its side in this regard. Dating back to pre-colonial times, West Africans have been among the world’s most mobile populations although much of the migration had been intra-regional. About 7.5 million West African migrants (3 percent of the regional population) are living in ECOWAS countries other than their own. The 1.2 million other migrants are dispersed mainly in North America and Europe. Estimated at about 149 million in 2013, women constitute over 50 percent of the region’s population. The cross-border migration of women as traders and business persons places them as potential champions for promoting integration. This reality needs to be fully exploited.
The diverse socio-cultural dimension of development should be a necessary building block for establishing peace and security in the region. Drawing strength from its past, leaders of the community have been making sacrifices to keep the shape of the political structure of the region. In 1976, Cape Verde, one of the two Lusophone countries in the region joined ECOWAS, and in December 2000, Mauritania withdrew its membership.
At all times, ECOWAS chief executive officers presiding initially as Executive Secretaries and now as Presidents, defer to the supreme organ of the community-the Authority of the Heads of State of Government for guidance. This body is usually headed by a Chairman.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) comprises three arms of governance, namely, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. At the helm of the organization structure is the Chairman of the Authority of Heads of State and Government. The Chairman is the current Head of State and Government appointed by other Heads of State and Government to oversee the affairs for a period of one year.The Minister in charge of ECOWAS affairs in the country of the Chairman of the Authority automatically becomes the Chairman of Council of Ministers; similarly, that country presides over all other ECOWAS statutory meetings for the year (ministerial and senior level, such as the Technical Committees).At the helm of the Executive arm of the Community is the President of ECOWAS Commission appointed by the Authority for a non-renewable period of four years. He is assisted by a Vice President and 13 Commissioners.
The legislative arm of the Community is the Community Parliament headed by the Speaker of the Parliament. The administrative functions of the Parliament are directed by the Secretary General of the Parliament. Pending elections by direct universal suffrage in future, parliamentarians are seconded by national Parliaments to the Community Parliament for a period of four years. The judicial arm of the Community is the Community Court of Justice, headed by the President.
They are all seconded by the Supreme Courts of their respective Member States to fill the country positions. The Court ensures the interpretation and application of Community laws, protocols and conventions. The administrative functions of the Court are handled by the Court Registrar who is assisted by other professionals.The ECOWAS is guided by its fundamental Principles in all its dealings with member states, citezens and other external bodies. These principles are enshrined in the Treaty of the Community, which is also the fundamental document bringing the members together.
The ECOWAS fundamental Principles states that:
THE HIGH CONTRACTING PARTIES
In pursuit of the objectives stated in Article 3 of the ECOWAS Treaty, solemnly affirm and declare their adherence to the following principles:
o equality and inter-dependence of Member States;
o solidarity and collective self-reliance;
o inter-State co-operation, harmonization of policies and integration of programmes;
o non-aggression between Member States;
o maintenance of regional peace, stability and security through the promotion and strengthening of good neighbourliness;
o peaceful settlement of disputes among Member States, active Co-operation between neighbouring countries and promotion of a peaceful environment as a prerequisite for economic development;
o recognition promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights;
o accountability, economic and social justice and popular participation in development;
o recognition and observance of the rules and principles of the Community;
o promotion and consolidation of a democratic system of governance in each Member State as envisaged by the Declaration of Political Principles adopted in Abuja on 6 July, 1991;
o equitable and just distribution of the costs and benefits of economic co-operation and integration.
Since its creation on 28 May 1975, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been promoting economic cooperation and regional integration as a tool for an accelerated development of the West African economy. Regional integration remains the most viable and appropriate tool for achieving and accelerating sustainable development of the West African countries. Consequently, the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government reaffirmed its commitment to improve the West Africa integration process while enhancing its effectiveness.
To achieve this objective, the Authority adopted a resolution in June 2007 to introduce the transformational ECOWAS Vision 2020. The ECOWAS Vision 2020 is aimed at setting a clear direction and goal to significantly raise the standard of living of the people through conscious and inclusive programmes that will guarantee a bright future for West Africa and -shape the destiny of the region for many years to come. In this connection, the President of the ECOWAS Commission was directed to mobilize the citizens of the region to the vision, and help to achieve it by 2020. It is gratifying that the visioning process has achieved remarkable progress, culminating in the formulation and preparation of this Vision Document. This accomplishment represents a significant step, given the commendable effort to involve all relevant stakeholders in the visioning process. This involvement within and outside government machinery, augurs well for the achievement of our common objective of a much better West Africa.
The Idea is to make the ECOWAS Vision 2020 a people’s document and make both the region’s integration and development process people-centered and people-driven. This paradigm shift in attitudes and institutional orientation is vital if the region is to create an environment in which the business community and the general public will have a shared vision and work together to realize the development aspirations of the people and achieve equitable and broad-based growth, sustainable development and poverty eradication.
The Vision Document is also emphatic and unequivocal about the other changes to be made in the way the political and socio-economic life of the region is viewed and managed. It constitute the necessary and vital new orientations that must be embraced by West African to successfully bring an end to poverty and deprivation.
As clearly enunciated in the document, the Vision 2020 is feasible and realizable. For it to happen, all stakeholders in the West African enterprise need to make required changes in their policy formulation and implementation, as well as their institutional capacity.
Vision 2020 has the lofty goal of transforming ECOWAS from a body of states to a community of people.