[BLOG] “The Accidental Ecowas & AU Citizen”: Towards an ECOWAS-ECCAS Collaborative Framework?
Given the unfolding events in Mali and the Sahel region, it is probably too early and a tad premature to emphatically-speak of a collaboration that sees West and Central Africa joining hands on matters of mutual concern. However, without a shadow of a doubt, there are recent developments significant enough to speak to an emerging framework that merits consideration. In my estimation, there are no less than five factors that speak to an emergent West and Central Africa collaboration.
First, there is the ECOWAS-ECCAS meeting to fight piracy; robbery at sea, and illegal maritime activities. In late March, more than 250 representatives from more than 20 countries attended the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) and ECOWAS conference. Other guests included the UN; the AU; EU and the US. The meeting concluded with ECOWAS and ECCAS signing a communiqué agreeing on a submission of a draft Memorandum of Understanding and Operational Agreement to the respective secretariats of ECCAS and ECOWAS.
Fighting Piracy on the Seas—ECOWAS & ECCAS-style
Given that there have been no less than 58 incidents of maritime crime in the first 10 months of 2011, plus the fact that the West African sub-region is rated in the top ten of piracy hotspots in the world, it was timely for the two regional economic communities to hold this meeting. One official at the meeting claimed the ECOWAS-ECCAS collaboration “will make our maritime domain safe and secure, because its benefits come with economic growth and national development.” He went on to say that “without security we cannot talk about development, so maritime security should be a concern for any nation that is being disturbed by the activities of pirates and sea-borne criminals.”
It might be easy for us to assume that West and Central Africa have united only to combat the maritime menace of piracy. This is only half-true for the truth is that West and Central Africa have been uniting since 1975 on maritime affairs.
ECOWAS was born in the same month and year—May 1975—as the Maritime Organisation for the West and Central Africa (MOWCA). Originally-established as the Ministerial Conference of West and Central African States on Maritime Transport (MINCONMAR), the name was changed to MOWCA as part of reforms adopted by the General Assembly of Ministers of Transport, at an extraordinary session of the Organisation held in Abidjan in the Republic of Cote d'Ivoire from 4-6 August 1999.
One of the major objectives of MOWCA is “to serve the regional and international community for handling all maritime matters that are regional in character”. MOWCA unifies 25 countries on the West and Central African shipping range (inclusive of five landlocked countries). These countries comprise 20 coastal states bordering the North and South Atlantic Ocean, and “to explain the maritime link for landlocked countries the ports of the Ocean interfacing countries provide the seaborne trade of those that are landlocked”. It includes Ghana; Chad; Nigeria; Niger; Mali; and Guinea-Bissau. In reality, it comprises member countries from ECOWAS and ECCAS, which includes Gabon; Cameroon; and Equatorial Guinea.
Boko Haram in Cameroon, Chad in ECOWAS?
The second factor relates to CEMAC/ECCAS members Chad and Cameroon. Chad is a Central African country and a member of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). Some wonder why it should not also become a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)? According to one Elvis Kodjo, writing in fratmat.info, ‘although the idea has not been officially announced, the spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Moussa Mahamat Dago indicated on 19 January 2012 in Abidjan during a celebration of Chad’s 50th anniversary that the issue was currently being considered.”
The idea for joining rests with the fact that Chad has emerged from several decades of unrest, and understands “more than any other African country that “African integration is necessary for its development”.
The fact is that since the start of oil production in 2005, “Chad has become the ninth largest African oil producer and has improved its network of roads, which has expanded from 200 to more than 3 000 km. Plans for a new, ultramodern airport are underway, and a railroad linking the country to Cameroon will soon be constructed”. Kodjo maintains that “while being a veritable construction site, Chad also has forty million hectors of arable land”.
In order to encourage the effective use of this land, the Ministry Of Foreign Affairs spokesman Mahamat has said that the country “has equipped itself with a particularly attractive investment code” and is looking to secure the best opportunities for itself by diversifying its economic partners in both Central and West Africa.
In March 2011, Chad was, in fact, granted observer status of ECOWAS and my monitoring of Chad’s wooing suggests that Chadian President Idris Deby is still keen on sweet-talking Jonathon—in his capacity as leader of the regional hegemon, Nigeria—to accept Chad as a full member of ECOWAS. One can speculate that it is unlikely to happen soon, given the instability in the Sahel region and the headaches of Mali and Guinea-Bissau. All that can be said for now is for observers to keep a keen eye on Chad making “incursions” into ECOWAS sooner than later.
As for the bilingual Cameroon, it has never made any claims of wanting to join ECOWAS. It is rather the regional hegemon, Nigeria, which has sought its assistance off-late to counter the threat of Boko Haram. Relatively successful has the dalliance between the two neighbours been that on 28 Feb 2012, Cameroon signed an agreement—a Transborder Security Committee— to undertake a joint Border surveillance to ensure Boko Haram is contained. There is speculation that because of the porous borders that defines ECOWAS and ensures free movement for its citizens, Boko Haram elements are most likely taking advantage to cross the border into Cameroon to prepare their attacks. That Nigeria and Cameroon are bound by history and geography, notably by a 2000 km long common land and maritime border complicates the security challenge. However, a security committee like this would help contain the problem in the way that Joint Border patrols between ECOWAS member states, such as Ghana and Togo, are helping contain cross-border crime.
How the UN can deliver as one in the ECOWAS-ECCAS subregions
Unbeknownst to casual observers of African integration, there is a third element which relates to the role of the UN and its agencies in delivering a coordinated manner in the two sub-regions. There already exists two UN agencies—the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) that was established in 2005 and the UN office for Central Africa(UNOCA), which was established in 2011—both of which seek to complement sub-regional efforts in ECOWAS and ECCAS/CEMAC respectively. While these institutions may not necessarily be the most visible institutions, as compared to the regional blocs themselves, they are a testament of the UN’s commitment and dedication to qualitatively and positively-impacting integration efforts.
Other UN agencies have played important roles in supporting Africa’s integration. Notable among them are UNCTAD and UNDP – both of which have produced noteworthy publications in the last five years on how regional integration can support Africa. In 2007, UNCTAD published the UNCTAD Trade and Development Report. Entitled “Regional cooperation for development”, the 240-page report outlined how regional integration could offer national space for developing countries. Apart from defining what “new regionalism” is, the report also stressed that trade liberalization is not the end-all and be-all insofar as regionalism is concerned.
In 2009, a five-chaptered UNCTAD EDAR dealt with challenges and opportunities in the context of the experience of regional integration for Africa; expanding intra-African trade for Africa’s growth; intra-African investment; emerging issues in regional trade integration in Africa; and policy recommendations on strengthening regional integration. In July 2011, UNDP published a report entitled “Regional Integration and Human Development: A pathway for Africa”.
This support notwithstanding, other UN agencies have played significant roles – and will continue to do so. In October 2011, a two-day meeting was held in Dakar to ensure they do so more effectively and efficiently. To this end, the establishment of a sub-regional mechanism in West and Central Africa has been envisaged. It comes on the heels of an Sub-Regional Cordinating Mechanism(SRCM) already established in East and Southern Africa in 2010.
This two-day high-level meeting ended in Dakar on 6 October, with a call to ensure the guiding principles of any kind of Sub-Regional Coordination Mechanism for West and Central Africa would be “anchored on deepening regional integration in the two sub-regions”. In this respect, the Dakar meeting emphasized the SRCM should focus its support on the priorities of the Regional Economic Communities.
As was the case in the East and Southern Africa case in 2010, there was a call for the immediate establishment of a multi-agency and multi-stakeholder taskforce (led by the Niger-based UNECA-Sub-Regional Office for West Africa (ECA SRO-WA) ) to draft the framework for the operationalization of the SRCM. It was recommended that the task force should comprise ECA (SRO-WA and SRO-CA), ECOWAS; ECCAS; WHO; UNDG; UNDP; NPCA and the Commission of the African Union.
Architecture of SRCM (clusters, including communication)
The RCM is in effect a framework for coordinating UN support to the AU and its NEPAD programme at the regional levels; it operates at the country level and is based on nine clusters, which you can see from the diagram.
In order to enhance the coordinated response of the United Nations System in support of NEPAD, actions are taken at the regional level, to organize the activities of the agencies and programmes of the system, around thematic clusters covering the priority areas of NEPAD.
An example from the Governance Cluster
The Governance Cluster is coordinated—as the diagram indicates—by the UNDP. As per the RCM process, all clusters and sub-clusters are co-chaired by the African Union Commission (AUC) and a UN organisation. Therefore, this cluster is co-chaired by UNDP, AUC, and Nepad Planning Coordinating Agency (NPCA).
The primary mandate of the Governance cluster as conceived by its members is to coordinate support of cluster members to governance programmes of the AUC, NPCA and RECs with a view to ensuring “coherence, synergy and complimentarity thereby enhancing coordination of the UN system-wide support to regional governance initiatives in Africa.”
In the next article, I will be looking more closely at the dynamics inherent in the proposed free trade area of ECCAS-ECOWAS-CENSAD, as well as more economic-regionalism-related issues, such as the role of the CFA in bringing ECOWAS and ECCAS/CEMAC economies together.
In 2009, in his capacity as a “Do More Talk Less Ambassador” of the 42nd Generation—an NGO that promotes and discusses Pan-Africanism--Emmanuel gave a series of lectures on the role of ECOWAS and the AU in facilitating a Pan-African identity. Emmanuel owns "Critiquing Regionalism" (http://www.critiquing-regionalism.org). Established in 2004 as an initiative to respond to the dearth of knowledge on global regional integration initiatives worldwide, this non-profit blog features regional integration initiatives on MERCOSUR/EU/Africa/Asia and many others. You can reach him on firstname.lastname@example.org / Mobile: 0268.687.653.
This article was originally posted on West Africa Business Communities