As New ECOWAS Chair: Ellen Prioritizes Peace, Security, Institutional Reform

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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been elected the new chair for Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), on ‘white ballot’ by her colleagues at the 49th Ordinary Session of the Summit of the Authority of Heads of State and Government in the Senegalese capital Dakar. Immediately following her election, President Sirleaf set out key priorities aimed at consolidation of peace, security architecture, conclusion of negotiations and legal actions, the transformation of Vision 2020 and improvement in financial stability.

A dispatch from Dakar, Senegal said President Sirleaf’s election as Chairperson of the regional body comes on the heels of multifaceted challenges facing the Community ranging from terrorism, global economic meltdown, coupled with the recent Ebola outbreak.

In her acceptance speech, she described her election as an indication of the progress and peace Liberia enjoys, which would not have been possible without the tremendous sacrifices and solidarity of the ECOWAS community.

She commended her Senegalese counterpart, President Macky Sall, whose extraordinary leadership guided the work of the organization in the past year, paid tribute to Dr. Kadre Désiré Ouadraogo of Burkina Faso for the able manner in which he managed the affairs of the Community as President of the ECOWAS Commission, and congratulated his successor, Marcel Alain de Souza and team as they assume their responsibilities.

President Sirleaf historicized the 48th Summit of the Authority held in Abuja, marking the 40th Anniversary of ECOWAS, noting the achievements during the last four decades across all sectors – Including the harmonization of macroeconomic policies, trade integration, regional infrastructure, peace and security, regional institutional development, democracy and the rule of law.

“As we move towards the achievement of such lofty goals, we are reminded that the Community faces both challenges and opportunities; such as the sharp reduction in commodity prices and the effect of epidemiological outbreaks, which have resulted in a decline in investment and growth,” President Sirleaf said.

Beyond financial difficulties, she indicated that growth is affected by terrorism, drug and human trafficking, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and the impact of climate change.

President Sirleaf also indicated that it was important to take pride in the high potential of the ECOWAS Community for a vibrant integrated market, which is currently estimated at the equivalent of US$1.3 trillion, produced by a wide range of activities in agriculture, commerce, industry and services.

As she jump-starts her new post as Chairperson of the ECOWAS Authority, she laid out the consolidation of peace and security architecture, as guided by the Mechanisms and other Protocols, and the need to work even harder as member states to stem terrorism, strengthen intelligence capacity and enhance coordination with the African Union (AU), the United Nations and other partner institutions.

President Sirleaf extended sympathy to ECOWAS citizens victimized by the disastrous attacks and stressed the need to ensure that there will be no expansion of terrorism in the sub-region as recently experienced in Burkina Faso, Mali and Cote D’Ivoire and most recently in Niger. She added that ECOWAS must also, through collective and determined efforts, ensure that Boko Haram, a Nigeria-based terrorist organization, is totally defeated.

President Sirleaf called for the conclusion of negotiations and legal actions to enhance trade integration, but warned that failure to close the negotiations could lead to differentiation among member states.
She also called upon the remaining countries, which have not ratified and commenced the enforcement of the Common External Tariff (CET) thereby deepening the potential for trade and productive integration in the Community, to do so.

Meanwhile, President Sirleaf has proposed the ardent need to achieve transformation of Vision 2020 through agriculture and infrastructure, adding, “The impressive success of several ECOWAS countries in value addition in agriculture can be expanded and trade integration enhanced through the acceleration of the several ongoing regional projects in roads, energy, and railroads.”

She pointed out that during her tenure, the imperative will be to holistically improve financial stability through existing protocols and mechanisms, which call for financing the Community through contributions of the Community levy by Member States in order to meet the operational costs of the institutions and to respond to security emergencies such as those faced by peacekeeping troops in Mali and Guinea Bissau.

She observed that recent financial difficulties imposed by global conditions have affected ECOWAS’ ability to meet commitments despite tremendous efforts but however joined colleagues in commending President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria for the relief brought by his recent expressed commitment to continue Nigeria’s support to the community levy – stressing yet, we can do more.

She pointed out further that there is space for cost saving through continued rationalization and reduction in the multiple activities and high benefits of community institutions for which she commended President de Souza for the important steps he has so far taken to achieve this objective.

“We must institute a call to action to finalize the ongoing review of the restructuring of community institutions,” she stressed.

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