In another self-deceiving declaration, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) announced recently that notable progress has been made in its plan to establish a single currency by 2020. The Liberian Ambassador to Nigeria, Prof. Al-Hassan Conteh, stated this in Abuja while speaking on behalf of the permanent representatives of member states to ECOWAS at the 41st anniversary of the commission.
It is noteworthy that just by the imagination of ECOWAS leaders, a single currency should by now be a legal tender across Anglophone West African countries. The plan had been based on a degree of economic sanity and progressive integration of extant national interests that are nowhere near what is needed to create a common currency. That nothing of such happened has made many to laugh off the latest claim of “notable progress” in that direction, especially coming at a time the European Union (EU) seems to be unravelling with the United Kingdom now exiting.
It is widely known that ECOWAS has been talking about this monetary union for about 20 years now. The commission has set and shifted dates over and over again. But we find it rather ridiculous that officials of the commission will hold on to what is no more than an illusion. As things stand today, the regional solidarity needed for the next steps is missing. The reforms that should precede such a union have not been carried out.
Even at that, there is overwhelming evidence of limited consensus on key issues and resolutions that had to be made at extra-ordinary meetings where a full house would be more indicative of genuine commitment. It is therefore important that ECOWAS does not deceive itself into mistaking the regular consultations with limited impact on the far-reaching policy decisions of its members for progress.
Besides the huge capital outlay for the realisation of such ambitious agenda which is not there, the timeline for monetary union seems to fly in the face of contemporary global realities. Against the background that Europe took several steps before deciding on Euro, we should advise ECOWAS leaders to get serious. Even at that, given the problems that Europe is facing now, how will ECOWAS countries be able to handle such critical challenges if and when they come? How will ECOWAS suddenly come up with a binding monetary union that would be meaningful outside the confines of diplomatic niceties that define illusory global achievements?
We believe that West African leaders should face the common challenge of poverty and hunger before thinking of a common currency that is no more than a pipe dream. It is one thing to sign treaties and regional agreements that would apparently bring an El-dorado and quite another to settle down to the serious business of impactful governance.
We note with dismay, for instance, the subsisting practice of using European and other foreign economic consultants for tasks that Africans can handle. Yet development and regional integration are, first and foremost, about the nurturing and use of human capital to create a hub of capacities. Unless this fact is kept on the front burner there may emerge a lumbering bureaucracy that measures success by the number of meetings and resolutions, rather than by concrete achievements with measurable impact on the life of the people.
We must remind West African leaders that it was this recourse to hasty and ill-digested decision making which led to the introduction of ECOWAS Travellers Cheque some years ago with the result that it could not survive beyond one year. The ECOWAS single currency plan may not be a bad idea in terms of the broader goals of regional integration, but there is no point dissipating energy on an idea that is doomed to fail.