Exit of Kouyate ends an era at ECOWAS

Dakar- Senegal (PANA) -- When Guinean diplomat Lansana Kouyate assumed office in September 1997 as the fifth Executive Secretary of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the sub-regional organisation was counting its losses from prolonged military intervention in Liberia.
The effects of the Liberian bloody seven-year civil war, triggered by the December 1989 rebellion by former warlord-turned President Charles Taylor, had survived Kouyate's two predecessors in office -- Abass Bundu of Sierra Leone (1989-93) and another Guinean, Edouard Benjamin, who could not complete his tenure because of ill-health.
The ECOWAS military intervention in Liberia, originally started by former Nigerian military ruler, General Ibrahim Babangida, in what critics labelled a campaign to save his friend, President Samuel Doe, (who died in the conflict), later turned out to be an exemplary success, that brought commendations from the international community.
But by the time the West African peace monitoring group, ECOMOG, ended the Liberian war to pave way for post-war presidential elections that Taylor won in July 1997, ECOWAS Member States, especially contributors to ECOMOG troops, had suffered huge material and human losses.
The campaign also dealt a telling blow on the primary goal of economic integration, for which ECOWAS was set up in 1975.
Kouyate as Executive Secretary was to pick up the pieces.
From the encomiums showered on him by ECOWAS leaders at their just-ended 25th ordinary Summit in Dakar, Senegal, the Guinean administrator-cum-diplomat has every reason to hold his head high.
The regional leaders expressed their "sincere appreciation to the out-going Executive Secretary.
for the invaluable work accomplished by him during his four years at the head of the Executive Secretariat.
" They also paid tribute to Kouyate's "faith and determination to share the vision of the Heads of State and to implement their decisions, expressing the view that this commitment had contributed incalculably to the acceleration of the West African integration process.
" ECOWAS observers have credited Kouyate with notable achievements, especially for bringing much visibility to an organisation, whose progress, failures and constraints before his time, had remained largely obscure.
The "fast-track" approach during Kouyate's tenure has seen the issuance of ECOWAS Passport to complement the free movement of persons protocol, inauguration of Community Parliament and Court of Justice, progress on the West African Energy Pool and Gas projects, and the Moratorium on small arms.
Small arms are blamed for fuelling conflicts in the sub-region.
There has also been progress on the transportation and telecommunications sectors, with the formation of ECOAIR and ECOMARINE to name but a few landmark achievements.
The former Guinean Permanent Representative to the UN, Acting UN Assistant Secretary General for Political Affairs (Africa, Western Asia and the Middle East), and Special UN Secretary General's envoy to Somalia, certainly brought his experience in conflict management to bear on his ECOWAS job.
As a friend of the media, ever willing to discuss ECOWAS, Kouyate's re-organisation of the Secretariat gave a deserving prominence to information management and dissemination.
Reflecting on his tenure in an interview with PANA after the Dakar Summit, Kouyate said his greatest achievement was "bringing a sense of belonging" to the Community's estimated 230 million people.
"For the programmes designed by our political leaders to succeed, they must enjoy the support, understanding and commitment of the citizens," he explained.
Kouyate attributes the achievements during his tenure to the support and co-operation he received from the Community leaders, ECOWAS staff and the citizens.
According to him, with the restoration of confidence, the outside world is willing to go into beneficial partnership with ECOWAS.
However, he said the lack of political will by some leaders and the non-implementation of its many Protocols, decisions and programmes remained a major drawback for ECOWAS.
Kouyate's unenviable job had involved trouble-shooting diplomatic shuttles across volatile countries in the restive sub-region.
His word of advice for his successor, Mohammed Ibn Chambas of Ghana, who assumes office in February 2002, is to be cautious in achieving and maintaining a delicate balance between the often- conflicting interests between the "two governments in every African country.
" According to Kouyate, "there are members of the cabinet in government and the bureaucrats or civil servants, to contend with," before desired results could be achieved.
"After convincing the Heads of State and Ministers, I usually went to the civil servants to get their own support, otherwise a decision, no matter how important or critical, may never see the light of day," the out-going Executive Secretary counselled.
Kouyate said the difficult moments during his tenure, included peace negotiations in Guinea Bissau, which has seen several military mutinies, and the lingering conflicts in the Mano River Union countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
His only regret, he says, is not being around to see the ECOWAS monetary Union implemented.
"I was deeply involved in this project, which is key to sub- regional integration, and it would have been fulfilling to see it materialise," he told PANA.
The ECOWAS single monetary union has been reprogrammed for 2004, after missing the original target of 2000.
Like every human being, Kouyate had his faults, and it was not all-smooth sailing for him during a tenure that saw the withdrawal of Mauritania in 2000, thus reducing the ECOWAS membership from 16 to 15 countries.
Mauritania cited the decision for a single monetary union as reason, but observers say Nouakchott, which was notorious for non-fulfilment of its financial obligations to ECOWAS, has everything to loose by opting out of the organisation.
Also, Guinea-Bissau and the Mano River Union countries remain restive, with Liberia serving punishment of UN sanctions for alleged arms-for-diamond trade with Sierra Leone's rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF).
While some critics saw Kouyate as pushing and uncompromising in principle, his admirers say the achievements recorded during his tenure at ECOWAS could not have been possible without such traits.
A recipient of three National honours from France, Togo and Liberia, the highpoints of Kouyate's tenure were arguably during the last two years when he enjoyed the confidence and maximum support of out-going ECOWAS chair and Malian President Alpha Oumar Konare, a great integrationist.
On his future after the ECOWAS job, 51-year-old Kouyate, who was educated in his native Guinea, Belgium, Italy and the US, says: "I have some (job) offers, but I need to take a good rest first and then decide what to do next.
" Meanwhile, his successor, Chambas, has briefly hinted that priority would be "implementation" of the ECOWAS decisions and programmes.
While Kouyate is vacating the ECOWAS hot seat with mixed feelings, he is bequeathing a huge task to the Ghanaian, who has to render an account of his own stewardship as ECOWAS sixth Executive Secretary after another four years.
The Nigeria-based organisation celebrated its silver jubilee anniversary in 2000 with pomp and ceremony, trumpeting its many achievements, but economic integration remains ever daunting and a challenging dream.

28 december 2001 00:01:00

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