Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have opened the 46th Ordinary Session of ECOWAS with focus on the political and security situation and the Ebola virus in the sub region.
According to a Foreign Ministry dispatch, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, host of the occasion, outlined both success and challenges the regional body has encountered as it prepares to observe its 40th anniversary come 2015.
At the opening ceremony held this morning at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, the Nigerian Leader spoke of the improved economic growth in West Africa which he noted is one of the fastest growing economies on the continent.
He, however, lamented the over 7,000 deaths in West Africa resulting from Ebola, which he identified as one of the many very serious challenges facing the sub region: "In the last six months, I have witnessed the negative impact of the Ebola virus disease in the region.”
Liberia's Foreign Minister, Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan, is representing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who could not attend because of the frontline role she is playing in the crucial fight against Ebola in meeting the ‘zero-cases before Christmas’ target.
Making an appeal for more support towards the Ebola fight, the Nigerian leader called on member states as well as development partners and the international community at large to contribute generously to the ECOWAS Regional Solidarity Fund to fight the Ebola virus disease.
President Jonathan also named the rising trend of terrorism in West Africa as a worrisome issue that threatens the peace and insecurity of the sub-region as a result of the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, which he stressed, has direct consequences.
Also speaking was the current Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority, Ghanaian President John Mahama, who asked for "all hands on deck to contain the scourge of the Ebola virus". He said the socio-economic setbacks created by the Ebola epidemic in the three most-affected countries also have sub regional consequences.
"We acknowledge that Ebola is a threat to our regional integration process and to our regional peace, security and economic development", Chairman Mahama said.
He cautioned that despite progress in Liberia and Guinea against the virus, details from Sierra Leone warrant a cause for serious concern.
"Let me caution that Ebola is still a very serious challenge and we cannot entertain any complacency or relent in our efforts until the last infected person is cured of the disease and the disease is wiped out from the affected countries. I wish therefore to urge all of us to keep our hands firmly on deck, spare no effort, and [remain] vigilant until we eradicate Ebola from our sub region", he stated
Earlier, the Chairman stressed peace and security in West Africa, particularly in Burkina Faso and in Guinea Bissau as he urged his colleagues to reflect and take stock of all the work ECOWAS has managed to do in this past year and also to take practical steps to consolidate peace and security in the sub region, strengthen democracy and good governance and to address topical issues affecting the more than 350 million people of the sub region.
He said notable progress has been made in addressing political and security challenges, citing the holding of successful presidential election in Guinea Bissau. The Ghanaian leader then added that 2015 will be key for the sub region as Nigeria, Togo, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Ivory Coast hold elections in the coming year.
Other speakers at the opening event included Mohammed Ibn Chambers, the United Nations Secretary General's Special Representation for West Africa and the head of the ECOWAS Commission, Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo who all re-echoed previous speakers during the opening session.
The summit will be climaxed with a communiqué at the conclusion of deliberations of the day-long event.