ECOWAS chairman hails progress, but warns of new threats

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- The outgoing chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has hailed grounds covered 25 years on by the sub regional concert, but warned of new challenges from globalisation and international terrorism.
At the opening Thursday of the 25th Summit of ECOWAS Heads of State and Government holding in Dakar President Alpha Oumar Konare of Mali said the organisation had accelerated the pace of regional integration, and was forging a sense of supranational sovereignty.
Konare spoke of a shared vision in which ECOWAS member states were surmounting "artificial hurdles" such as national boundaries and linguistic differences.
He said countries within the bloc now perceived each other not as big or small economies but rather as complementary, interdependent entities.
The outgoing chairman cited among the achievements of the 15- member organisation several instruments aimed at promoting political integration alongside a harmonisation of economic and monetary policies across West Africa.
He mentioned in particular, enabling instruments for the liberalisation of trade, including free movement of persons (notably the introduction of an ECOWAS passport already effective in Benin and about done in Mali).
Konare equally cited the creation of a second monetary zone - the Accra-based West Africa Monetary Institution - for ECOWAS member states outside the West African Monetary and Economic Union (UEMOA).
He also saluted efforts towards a common customs union, studies towards a common agricultural policy, and a pilot plan for the energy sector.
On the political plane, the outgoing chairman acknowledged progress towards actualising ECOWAS' legislative and judiciary organs - a 7-strong Court of Justice currently headed Justice Hassine Donli of Nigeria, and a 120-member Parliament with Mali's Ali Nouhoum Diallo as Speaker.
Equally hailed was the ECOWAS mechanism for pre-empting and managing conflicts.
Conceding that security remained a central preoccupation of the bloc, Konare noted that the persistence of conflicts in some areas had led cynics into branding ECOWAS an organisation with no other vocation than conflict resolution and peacekeeping.
He nonetheless praised the just-ended national reconciliation forum in Cote d'Ivoire and efforts, however timid, towards restoring stability within the Mano River Union comprising Sierra Leone, and Guinea (Conakry).
It was against the backdrop of such internal crisis that Konare found the challenge of West Africa's political integration even more daunting.
He enjoined the West African community to eschew war and take the path of dialogue and negotiation.
Beyond that, Konare challenged ECOWAS member states to give fuller expression to the integration drive by evolving from chauvinism to a shared sovereignty with overlapping border towns in which people on both sides interact freely.
Positive about prospects in the integration enterprise, Konare asserted that ECOWAS member states were more than ever before determined to take charge of their destiny, and have their peoples live as in one vast West African state.
Boasting that ECOWAS was a forerunner, par excellence, of the African Union, the outgoing chairman said the challenge now was for the vision among its leadership to transcend the political class and civil society across West Africa.
He urged for a mobilisation of communities right down the grassroots towards regional integration.
In spite of his optimism, Konare warned that the challenge of integration and development in the sub region was now further compounded by a deteriorating international order.
"Since 11 September the international scene has changed profoundly, with the world coming under the grip of doubt and fear," he noted.
He further warned of the implications for the weak economies of African countries, which also have to cope with poverty and the HIV/AIDS scourge.
Konare opined that, 25 years down the road, ECOWAS was now entering a crucial phase, in the light of the emerging challenges.
The same concerns were earlier raised when host President Abdoulaye Wade welcomed his peers to the Dakar Summit.
Wade said that at a time when ECOWAS had to mobilise efforts even if only to consolidate its achievements, it now faced new threats from terrorism and money laundering.
Alluding to the 11 September terror strikes in America, Wade urged that in the clash between democracy and totalitarianism, "we must demonstrate a sense of cohesion.
" Also intimating a link between terrorism and money laundering, Wade said that the latter was a viable source of financing for terrorist networks.
He enjoined member states to ratify all international instruments against terrorism, including those of the OAU.
Other speakers at the opening ceremony included a UN envoy who, in a message from Secretary General Kofi Annan, noted that the exigencies of globalisation only made countries around the world increasingly aware of their interdependence.
Hence the raison d'être of regional groupings like ECOWAS.
Annan said the UN was well disposed to help in the effective take-off of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), by mobilising international support for the initiative.
He also announced the setting up of a UN bureau in Dakar to liaise with West African sub regional groupings, including ECOWAS.
Others guest speakers were OAU secretary general Amara Essy and FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.
Some eight leaders attended the opening of the Summit, including besides the host Abdoulaye Wade, Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, John Kufuor of Ghana, Kumba Yala of Guinea-Bissau, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso and Alpha Oumar Konare of Mali.

20 december 2001 19:29:00

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