The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) began in 1975 as an organization with the aim of fostering economic activities in the areas of trade and agriculture in the sub-region.
It started with less strength and without much control over member states in terms of security, justice and the enforcement of peace. In fact, during the 1970s and 80s people only studied the historical background of ECOWAS in Social Studies but could not feel its impact as they do today.
Beginning in 1990, ECOWAS has proven its strength beyond expectations. In August of 1990 ECOWAS organized forces and tested its military might in the Liberian civil conflict under the ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group, ECOMOG. It remained in Liberia and monitored the conduct of the 1997 election that led former President Charles Taylor to the presidency. ECOWAS was also proactive in intervening in the 10-year civil conflict in Sierra Leone.
In 2003 ECOWAS returned to Liberia with another peace mission, this time under ECOMIL, when the war continued following the presidential victory of Charles Taylor. Here in Liberia, forces of ECOMIL stayed until September when more forces under the United Nations joined and UNMIL took over its peacekeeping mission.
In Mali in 2013, the regional grouping quickly intervened in the assassination attempt on the Malian Government and restored democratic governance to that country.
Continuous instability in Guinea Bissau has impeded the growth of that tiny West African country, but with the intervention of ECOWAS, using sanctions and peace enforcement, stability is gradually returning there.
Early this year ECOWAS scored a major victory when it pressured former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh to relinquish power for a democratically elected President to take over. A political commentator during this period of ECOWAS’ intervention in The Gambia said the West Africa group was growing in strength even more than the mother organization, the African Union. We acknowledge Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal for the frontline roles they have played in the military interventions of ECOWAS.
Besides these major military interventions, ECOWAS has gone further to establish a justice system that has led to the setting up of its high court in Nigeria.
It is also making strides in unifying the sub-region by creating a regional passport for all West Africans. The ECOWAS Passport, strengthened with biometric qualities, is internationally recognized.
In March this year, the ECOWAS Commission on Infrastructure held a meeting in Monrovia where member countries reached a consensus to construct the Dakar-Abidjan Highway Corridor that will connect the region’s coastal countries.
Now ECOWAS is undertaking another major initiative which could very well prove to be the crowning regional unification jewel of them all—the introduction of a single currency through which all member countries may trade.
ECOWAS is also embarking on visa waiver for all citizens of member countries.
It is these achievements that caused the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Benin’s Marcel Alaine de Souza, to declare in a major address last week that ECOWAS, through its interventions, is transforming the West African Sub-Region from instability to stability, from perennial dictatorships into sustainable democracies. He told the 38th Ordinary Ministerial Meeting of ECOWAS held at the Farmington Hotel in Margibi County that the regional group is indeed exerting its presence in the region, even pushing for more reasons to unite the people of West Africa through a robust integration agenda.
This newspaper, the Daily Observer, holds the view that because of these many constructive and wholesome interventions and integrative programs, ECOWAS deserves praises and needs the collective, full and unflinching support of all member states, to ensure that the Organization continues to grow from strength to strength.
It is because of ECOWAS’ bold and measured interventions in the sub-region that we now see an end to the terrible and debilitating syndrome of African leaders perpetuating themselves in power by tampering with constitutions and using a country’s military against the citizens. We may assume that it was a lesson learnt from ECOWAS’ strength of character and power that former Burkina Faso President Blaise Campaorè could not use his loyalists against citizens of that country, but rather, bowed out peacefully to live in Cote d’Ivoire.
We hope and pray that the on-going meetings in Liberia, under the astute leadership of ECOWAS Commission President de Souza and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is also Chairperson of the Authority of ECOWAS Heads of State, will yield the best of fruits that will unify West Africans to foster collectively their development agenda and engender a decisive end to all activities of terrorism and violence in the sub-region.