The West Africa socio-economic development can be accelerated through the promotion of free movement of persons, goods and services.
Since its creation on 28 May 1975, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been promoting economic cooperation and regional integration as a tool for an accelerated development of the West African economy.
Regional integration remains the most viable and appropriate tool for accelerating and achieving the sustainable development of West African countries.
Consequently, the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Governments have reaffirmed its commitment to improve the West Africa integration process and enhance its effectiveness.
However, my encounter with an industrialist during the ECOWAS maiden industrial fare in Accra in July this year, offered me a great opportunity to learn about the ordeals that many local companies and Ghanaians go through in travelling to other countries in West Africa.
Despite the fact that the free movement of people in the sub-region dates back to the pre-colonial era, in post independent West Africa, without the necessary national identity card or passport and entry permits, things may be very difficult for you in some countries.
According to the industrialist, who pleaded anonymity, attempts by him to export his locally manufactured products, which were of international standards were met with strong resistance at both land, air and sea entry points; simple because the authorities in those countries would not let them in.
This sad testimony of the industrialist, is also the testimonies of many companies and people.
The countless number of check points on major roads in most countries are a source of great challenge to the promotion of free trade and regional integration.
One would wonder why in the phase of regional integration and modernity, such a practice would exist in the sub-region.
Quality and high standard goods have been made to go waste at crossing points of borders, simply because, the authorities would not just allow them into their country.
All these show that the ECOWAS’ Vision 2020, aimed at facilitating a transition from ECOWAS Member States so that citizens enjoy the benefits of a borderless, peaceful, prosperous and cohesive region, built on good governance is yet to be achieved.
The Lagos Treaty, signed on May 28, 1975 established the ECOWAS as the basis for the commencement of the process of regional integration process in the sub-region.
Sub-paragraph (d) of paragraph two of Article two of the ECOWAS Treaty urges Member States to ensure by stages the abolition of the obstacles to free movement of persons, services and capital.
Paragraph one of Article 27 of the ECOWAS Treaty confers the status of Community citizenship on the citizens of Member States, and also enjoins Member States to abolish all obstacles to freedom of movement and residence within the Community.
Furthermore, paragraph two of Article 27 of the ECOWAS Treaty calls on Member States to exempt Community citizens from holding visitor’s visa and residence permits and allow them to work and undertake commercial and industrial activities within their territories.
These policies may look beautiful on paper and sound nice to the ear, but in reality, their full implementation may be still way off.
One may ask, why put so much emphasis on freedom of movement, free movement of goods, capital and services?
In fact, the freedom of movement and the free movement of capital, goods and services are pivotal for accelerating the sub-region’s socio-economic development.
Freedom of movement in the sub-region would allow workers to migrate from countries where jobs are scarce to others where jobs are many, and where labour is in short supply.
With the free movement of goods and services, giant local pharmaceutical industries in Ghana such as Tobinco Pharmacy and Ernest Chemist would export their products to other countries within the sub-region, just as Diamond Cement from Togo and Dangote Cement from Nigeria are all now operating in Ghana.
When these Ghanaian companies are also given equal opportunity and access to the markets of other countries, it would enable them create more job opportunities in West Africa and also grow into international conglomerates.
Europeans see freedom of movement as the European Union bloc’s biggest achievement, according to research, with many rating it above peace, the single currency and student exchanges.
Eurostat data from 2012 shows that 14.1 million EU citizens were living in a Member State other than their own in that year.
The ECOWAS bloc must also speed up work in promoting free movement of persons, free movement of goods, capital and services.
The West African Industrial Common Policy objective seeks to diversify and broaden the region’s industrial production base by progressively raising the local raw material processing rates from 15 to 20 per cent to an average of 30 per cent by 2030.
This can easily be attained when there is free movement of people, goods, capital and services.Mr Emmanuel Bombande, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, said, the ECOWAS Heads of State were working to abolish resident permits for the citizens in member states.
He made these remarks in Accra at a media seminar on the theme: “ECOWAS Protocols on Good Governance and Democracy; and its Provisions on Pro-Poor Policies and Economic Redistribution.”
It was organised by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) with support from Oxfam-IBIS, Ghana.
He said the expectation of ECOWAS leaders was that the measures would enable Member-States to create an enlarged market to enhance competitiveness and development.
The Deputy Foreign Minister said the enlarged market would also enable industries and producers to explore the economies of scale and promote market specialisation that would eventually lead to improved terms of trade for the entire sub-region.
Efforts by the 15 -Member ECOWAS bloc in partnership with Oxfam to promote the ratification and domestification of international legal and policy fameworks to guarantee rights-based, pro-poor governance in West Africa, would remain on the drawing board, unless, Member States take steps to address issues of good governance, poverty and susceptibility to diseases.
Civil society organisations (CSOs) like the MFWA and the media can also play critical roles in speeding up the integration of the West Africa sub-region through advocacy, public education and sensitisation.
The revised ECOWAS Treaty called for the broad participation of CSOs and all citizens in the integration process. However, the role of CSOs in regional integration is limited due to inadequate flow of information between CSOs and ECOWAS.
Another major challenge bedevilling the regional integration process is the lack of collaboration among CSOs.
The CSOs and the media must hold leaders and policy makers accountable for the achievement of agreed benchmarks at the sub-regional level.