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To: ECOWAS Commission, Member Governments and Citizens: Let us work together toward peace and security across West Africa for development and poverty reduction measures to take hold.

We of the United States-West Africa Group call on the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to deploy a comprehensive security umbrella over the entire sub-region as a matter of urgency and a precondition for development to which citizens, entrepreneurs, investors and governments aspire.

We note with great admiration and appreciation the role of ECOWAS Commission and member governments through the valor of ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), external forces and treasure, and other instruments in bringing to an end the major civil conflicts that plagued the sub-region in the past. The holding of national elections in Cote d'Ivoire is further manifestation that West Africa has turned away from the acts that branded the sub-region as one of the world's hotspots for conflicts and civil wars.

We join with others in expressing our hope for a sub-region that meets the needs of its people and their yearning for human dignity through economic security, good governance, social cohesion and prosperity.

The ECOWAS region is poised for economic growth and bright future for its people if its rich natural resources can be harnessed peacefully. The recent discoveries of major oil and gas deposits in member states at a time of global thirst for these resources must bode well.

We note with sadness, however, the savagery that has accompanied exploitation of these and other natural resources with which the sub-region is endowed to date, most recently the manifestation of a new form of violence even as Nigeria marked its 50th anniversary of independence (our condolences to the bereaved), and threats emanating from other gangs even before Ghana had its first barrel of oil reach its shores. These incidences should not become a new trend even as the sub-region has shed its image of violence and associated deaths, destruction, depravity, deprivation and displacement.

We also point to the increasing insecurity due to criminal gangs that are causing panic among populations, whether on rural roads or in urban homes, targeting poor and rich, weak and powerful.

These dangerous occurrences must be stopped through appropriate security and intelligence instruments and within the framework of rule of law and good governance. This is because citizens have made enough sacrifices in the two decades or so when the region was branded as "one of the hotspots for violent conflicts in the world, with civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal, Niger and Guinea" and various levels of insecurity in Togo, parts of Nigeria and Ghana, among others.

We call for a new form of ECOWAS security framework that is based on supra-national arrangements to dispense justice to the aggrieved, whether real or perceived. In this regard, we call for strong intelligence gathering, citizen education and consensus building, mechanisms for conflict aversion and resolution and a rapid deployment of elite forces to protect life, property and other assets that are required to exude confidence in economic investments by citizens and foreign capitalists.

As Africans, we are quick to emphasize home-grown democratic values. In this regard, the indigenous African wisdom of dispute settlement must be applied to conflicts between the state and citizen groups - that is, using the clan head or supra-national mechanism of ECOWAS in dispensing justice about grievances whether real or perceived. It is about time issues such as the Niger Delta Crisis ceased to be left to national institutions alone to resolve as they have sub-regional implications.

We call for supra-national mechanisms under ECOWAS to be institutionalized for citizen groups and communities to receive justice in matters of genuine grievances while public information and education campaigns build greater understanding on perceived injustices.

Citizens must be reassured of the promise of prosperity that ushered in independence five decades ago. While governments and international capital and investors pursue large private sector projects especially in mining and the extractive sectors, tangible tools and means must be made accessible at the community level in rural and poor urban areas; these include education, skills development, micro-finance and market opportunities for rural occupations and urban artisanal products and services.

In building a formidable security intelligence and asset base, we call on ECOWAS to engage citizens in discussions and deployment of the necessary tools. We point to potential contributions of Africans abroad in the form of information technology and intelligence analysis, investments in the sector, training of security and intelligence personnel on data mining, and so on, toward such an initiative

ECOWAS must also not hesitate in requesting assistance from friendly forces, including AFRICOM, to build the necessary capacity for addressing the expressed needs. Intelligence sharing is indeed now a global partnership, and West African states must be integrated in that security and intelligence apparatus for crime prevention.

Finally, we call on ECOWAS to accelerate the pace of real integration across the sub-region, including on governance matters. National governments must be accountable to a higher body, just as the European Union has a role in garbage disposal issues in Naples, Italy or expulsion of the Roma from France, apart from national fiscal policies. Citizens must be engaged even at the community level in discussing security and intelligence instruments, and regional integration because these would involve some compromises: democratic values around the world now recognize the need for citizens to endue limited degrees of inconveniences for the greater good. Regional integration would also entail redefining sovereignty of the nation-state as currently constituted.