The President of Ghana, John Mahama, has been proffered by his colleagues to head the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). He was unanimously elected chairman of the organization at the 44th Ordinary Summit of Heads of States and Government.
According to a dispatch from Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire, where the Summit was held, President Mahama was elected at Friday’s Closed Door Session, after President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf withdrew from the race and pledged support to President Mahama’s candidacy.
The Liberian leader, who already chairs several regional organization’s including the sub-regional Mano River Union, decided to support President Mahama and urged her colleagues to follow suit. He takes over from Ivoirian President Alassane Ouattara, who had held the post for the past two years.
As stipulated in the ECOWAS rules, Francophone and Anglophone countries rotate the chairmanship of the organization after every year. Côte d’Ivoire, a Francophone country, has served for the last two years; making it the turn of an Anglophone country. Sierra Leone, Ghana, Liberia, Gambia, and Nigeria were all eligible.
At Friday’s opening of the Summit, outgoing Chairman Ouattara, while briefing his colleagues, provided an update on the affairs and welfare of the region. He praised the organization and welcomed the meticulousness the organization had adopted during his tenure, especially in providing responses to the crises in Mali and Guinea Bissau.
He said they were in the process of restoring constitutional normality in Guinea Bissau where presidential elections are expected to be held in two weeks. He urged Guinea Bissau’s authorities to create an enabling environment so that elections could be held in a safe and secure environment while that country embraces freedom and democracy.
President Ouattara also praised the organization for making significant progress on several economic, political, and diplomatic fronts during his tenure.
He highlighted the irreversible steps it has taken to set up a single currency. A dream he hoped would become a reality by 2020.
Recounting achievements during his tenure, he mentioned the adoption of the draft ECOWAS Common External Tariff in Dakar, in October last year. The draft was based on the Harmonized Commodity Description; a common external tariff that will become effective in 2015 after more than seven years of discussions.
Chairman Outtara said that in 2015, the project’s move from an ECOWAS for States, to an ECOWAS for ‘the people,’ will bear fruit.
Regarding the infrastructure of the region, the outgoing Chairman mentioned the Abidjan-Lagos Highway project and the Abidjan-Ouagadougou-Niamey-Cotonou railway. In fact, the treaty related to the Abidjan-Lagos Highway project is expected to be signed by concerned Heads of State and Government this Saturday.
Noting the progress the organization has made during the outgoing administration, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Kadré Désiré Ouédraogo, highlighted the challenges that still remain.
He said that despite projections making West Africa one of the best-performing regions on the continent, growth rates remain far below the required minimum to enable the sub-region to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.
He went on to say that the situation calls for a sustainable adaptation of a development and integration strategy for structural transformation of economies, development of human capital and the consolidation of peace and security. Human security, he reiterated, must be at the core of regional concerns.
The ECOWAS President said that even though institutional crises are about to be fully resolved, new threats posed by terrorism and organized crime cannot be totally ruled out. He condemned atrocities committed by the Boko Haran sect in Northern Nigeria and said they served as a stark reminder of the need to embark on more cooperative efforts at regional level.
Mr. Ouédraogo predicted that the war against terrorism would be won through military action. In spite of his prediction, he was quick to add that the long term solution to fighting terrorism is economic development, good governance, and youth employment. He expressed the belief that democracy and respect for human dignity constitute another avenue for combating terrorism by serving to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms. “Regional integration needs to be deepened while giving due attention to peace and security,” he pointed out.
During the Closed Door Session mentioned above, the Heads of State and Government discussed the 2013 Annual Report of the President of ECOWAS; Report of the 71st Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Council of Ministers; Reports of the 12th and 13th Extraordinary Session of the ECOWAS Council of Ministers, and the Report of the 31st Meeting of the ECOWAS Mediation and Security Council, were among the remaining items.
The 44th Ordinary Session was well attended. Of the 15 Heads of State and Government, only the Presidents of Cape Verde and Togo, Carlos de Almeida Fonseca and Faure Gnassingbe, were absent.