Regional CSOs Call For Urgent Restructuring Of ECOWAS, Strategic Partnerships

*By Paul Ejime

The networks of Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in West Africa have ended their three-day consultations in Dakar, Senegal with a call for the reduction of the ECOWAS governance and institutional structure to six Commissioners from the current costly 15-Commissioner format.

This was a major highlight of two Declarations from the consultations, which also featured a workshop on Trade Facilitation Advocacy.

A second Declaration urged an end to the practice of African leaders always lining up for meetings with “single State” in foreign capitals.

“Considering the structural cumbersomeness, the burden of administrative operations and the inefficiency of ECOWAS’ budgetary and financial management,” the CSOs called on ECOWAS to “undertake, without delay, institutional reforms to lighten and make efficient the functioning of the community body.”

ECOWAS Heads of State are due to meet in the coming weeks to consider a report on institutional reform, which has reportedly recommended a slimmer structure with seven Commissioners.

The three-page CSOs Declaration read at a press conference on Saturday by Dr. Ken Ukaoha, President of the National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS), lamented the “unprecedented deterioration of the security situation” and “persistent threats to countries in the region.”

It also noted the “political and democratic crises that are the consequences of constitutional changes and the organisation of elections on a basis that does not guarantee transparency and fairness,” as well as the “increasing reduction of civic and democratic space, obstacles to freedom of association and demonstration and the persecution of socio-political actors in certain countries.”

The Declaration also condemned the “persistence of customs and immigration harassment and the systematic ransoming of citizens at border posts despite the presentation of the required identification documents,” as well as “the difficulty of implementation by the States of the legal and judicial decisions of the Community Court of Justice and the lack of reaction by ECOWAS to this reluctance.”

The CSOs regretted the “non-achievement of the ECOWAS Vision 2020 of moving from an “ECOWAS of States” to an “ECOWAS of Peoples,” and highlighted the “continuous deterioration of the image of ECOWAS in the consciousness and confidence of the citizens of the community.”

They called for the “removal of all forms of impediments to free movement of persons and goods both at border posts and along the corridors; institutional reforms to lighten and make efficient the functioning of the community body; allocation of community levies for the realisation of regional integration projects; and actions to prevent conflicts and violent extremism, and to develop African responses to the security crisis.”

The Declaration also called for the establishment of “a conflict analysis, peace dynamics and action research initiative, with the involvement of civil society and community-based organisations in institutional dialogue, policy development and monitoring the implementation of decisions.”

Similarly, the CSOs called for “an action plan for the realisation of a truly sovereign common currency as soon as possible; establishment of regional ECOWAS-Civil Society Consultation Days for a better orientation of actions; and preparation of an annual report with civil society on the contribution of CSOs to development in the region.”

Dr. Ukaoha explained that the Dakar Declaration was a follow-up to a correspondence sent in August 2020 to the management of the ECOWAS Commission and the Chair of the Authority, President Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana.

In the second Dakar Declaration read by Mr. Mahaman Nouri of the Niger RODADDHD, a National NGO for the defence of human rights and democracy, the regional CSOs said that on the eve of the 8th Forum of Sino-African Cooperation (FOCAC) taking place in the Senegalese capital next week, they acknowledged the benefits of South-South Cooperation, adding that the China-Africa Partnership “has produced tangible results on the African continent.”

However, noting that Forum was taking place “in a context marked by profound economic, social, health and political upheavals caused by the occurrence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the CSOs, underscored the “lack of transparency, openness and democracy in relations, which exclude private actors and civil society.”

“The existence of often misleading conditionality included in contracts with African countries,” and the “low labour standards of Chinese companies in Africa; environmental degradation in many areas operated by Chinese companies; unfair competition from national productions by Chinese companies; and the huge debts owed China by many African States,” were also highlighted by the Declaration.

It cited the “example of Uganda” which has reportedly seen China assume control of the Entebbe International Airport, lamenting that “China has a strategy on Africa but Africa does not have one on China.”

West African CSOs, therefore “urge African leaders to abandon the practice of putting all African states before a ‘single state’ – Africa-France, Africa-India, Africa-Brazil; Africa-Japan; Africa-Turkey; Africa-Russia; Africa-Europe; noting that “the resulting images are disastrous for the leaders and  the African continent.”

The Dakar regional workshop provided regional CSOs with knowledge and tools on advocacy, as well as influencing techniques for trade facilitation. Presenters also took participants through advocacy cycles, building of alliances and partnerships, funds mobilization, institutional reforms within ECOWAS, gender mainstreaming and regional texts on trade and free movement of people, goods and services, among others.

In her intervention, Dirse Piloto Valera from the Cabo Verde civil society group underscored the importance of proactive and collective actions by regional non-state actors, interfacing between the community citizens and policy makers at various governance levels and taking government to the grassroots.

Addressing the opening ceremony on Thursday, Dr Cheikh Tidiane Dieye, Director of the Dakar-based African Centre for Trade, Integration and Development, ENDA-CACID, explained that CSOs play a crucial role in the development and integration processes in the ECOWAS region.

He noted that CSOs were “involved, at regional and national levels, in the design and implementation of sectorial policies including trade, agriculture, industrial policies as well as issues related to migration, gender, food security, women empowerment and youth employment, among others.”

Participants were later presented with Certificates of attendance.

Held as part of the activities of the Trade Facilitation West Africa (TFWA) Project, the workshop was also designed to strengthen the voices of civil society organisations in the dialogue and stakeholder engagements for trade facilitation.

The TFWA project is a multi-donor initiative supported by the USAID, the Government of the Netherlands, the European Union and the German Development Cooperation. It is managed by the World Bank Group and the German Development Cooperation Agency (GIZ) on behalf of ECOWAS and West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA).

*Paul Ejime is an independent Consultant to International Organizations on Strategic Communications, Advocacy, Media, Peace & Security, Elections and a Global Affairs Analyst.

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