ECOWAS At 49: Not Yet Uhuru!

By Dr John Idumange
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Dr John Idumange

Spearheaded by Nigeria and Togo, the the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS was founded in 1975. The overriding aim was economic integration and collective security among West African countries. Other objectives include:

**To provide economic co-operation among West African states in specialized fields such as transport, communication, agriculture, trade industry etc.

**To liberalize trade between member states.
**To improve relations between the member states.
**To improve living standards of people in the member states.

**To create a customs union in the region.
**To promote industrial development among member states.

**To promote cultural interaction among the member states among others.

These objectives remain largely not achieved.
Recently, following military coups in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, these countries have withdrawn their membership of the 49 years old Community. Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso had in September, 2023 formed the Alliance des États du Sahel, AES-

Earlier in August, 2023, a joint statement from Mali and Burkina Faso, warned ECOWAS against any further interventions that would “jeopardise the spirit of Pan-Africanism” and threatened a withdrawal from the regional bloc.Let it be noted that one of the principles of the body is non-interference in the internal affairs of member nations. The statement said the countries expressed their fraternal solidarity with the Nigerian people “who have decided in full responsibility to take their destiny into their own hands and to assume before history the fullness of their sovereignty”.

These three countries are some of the poorest in the world. Niger is a uranium rich country, and France was exploiting the countries Uranium. The French group Orano depended on Niger's uranium for France's energy needs. The military junta promptly severed diplomatic relations with France and established control over the mining industry.

Coincidentally, President Tinubu of Nigeria became Chairman of ECOWAS and tried to rally ECOWAS nations to impose sanctions on Niger. In diplomatic circles, Nigeria's action may be in furtherance of her concentric cycle theory. Nigeria's concentric cycle principle posits that her security and stability can best be guaranteed if there is cordial relationship between Nigeria and her contiguous states on one hand and the West African sub-region. But Nigeria has no clear-cut borders with Niger.

The countries also said any military intervention against Niger would force them to also adopt “self-defense measures” in support of the “brotherly” armed forces and the people of Niger. The only visible achievement was the formation of the ECOWAS Monitoring Group under General Babangida. ECOMOG restored peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone and organized transition to democratic rule.

I am surprised why any country will still stay in an unprogressive organization like ECOWAS. The trans-regional highway to connect West African Countries has not been fulfilled. ECOWAS is ineffective because it cannot o prevent wars or military intervention. As if the tussle between the Anglophone and Francophone countries is not enough, the push for a single currency still remains a good intention.

ECOWAS nations are the poorest countries in Africa. All ECOWAS nations are rentier countries, they produce raw materials which are exploited by the more advanced nations. ECOWAS does not have the capacity to stop over-dependence on the Western nations. Therefore the proposal for economic integration is utopian.

ECOWAS has no capacity to stop insurgency and terrorism in West Africa. Nigeria, Ghana and other West African countries are fantastically corrupt. They lack the capacity to deliver good governance. Their diplomacy is purely Eurocentric, sacrificing Africa's national interest because of borrowings from international financial institutions. ECOWAS countries cannot industrialize amidst suffocating economic statistics such as high unemployment, stagflation, unimaginably low Foreign Direct Investment, less than edifying human capital development, acute hunger and poverty. From all indications, ECOWAS has outlived it's usefulness.

ECOWAS nations are now a hot bed of insurgency and terrorism. In Nigeria, Boko Haram and banditry. TWJWA, also known as the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), was founded in late 2011 as an offshoot of AQIM and has coordinated terrorist attacks across West Africa. ECOWAS is helpless in the face of terrorism.

Since the French-led intervention in Mali began in mid-January 2013, TWJWA has conducted a majority of the attacks targeting French and African forces in the vicinity of Gao and Kidal, using suicide bombings, vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, and landmines. Al-Murabitun, an Arabic phrase meaning “The Sentinels,” invokes a medieval dynasty of the same name—known in English as the Almoravids—that originated as a religious and military movement and whose nomadic founders emerged from present-day Western Sahara.

In the foreseeable future, more countries are likely to withdraw from ECOWAS. Trade liberalization, which is one of the aims of the body has not happened. It is true that ECOWAS has improved relations between member states. the living standards of the people of member states is worsening.

ECOWAS is being transformed into a group of poor nations, lacking in good governance, dwarfed by corruption, with no developed financial system promoting a street-beggar economy, where the leaders surrender national sovereignty in favour of dead-weight debt. ECOWAS was founded 49 years ago but it is not dynamic enough to meet the needs of a fast changing international world order. ECOWAS is not yet Uhuru.