ECOWAS is supposed to have overgrown its teething problems. Over four decades after it was founded, unfortunately, the Economic Community of West African States is grappling with failed regional integration, single currency deadlock, unemployment, insecurity and widespread poverty among its citizens. Who will bell the cat? Mansourou El-Moumin Radji has great ideas on how to get out of the woods.
His book, The Future of ECOWAS: Critical Perspectives, is concerned with how the rain started the subregional body, nay, how it can redirect its energy to delivering the dividends of democracy to its citizens. Radji’s offering runs in five major parts. Emphasis is focused on ECOWAS as a regional economic integration in the opening chapter, as he traces the source of its political dysfunction, its decaying societies and economies, the bleakness of the future, as well as practical ways to turn the tide in subsequent chapters. Radji writes from the perspective of a scholar anguished by the regional body’s inability to reach the expected height, despite its human and natural resources.
Created in 1975, the author writes in the opening chapter, ECOWAS’ primary objective was promoting cooperation and integration, fostering the establishment of economic and monetary union in West Africa in order to raise the standards of people and contribute in the progress and development of the African continent. But, “over four decades after its launch, the regional organisation is at pains to produce any meaningful results”.
For ECOWAS to stand on its feet, Nigeria must be a bulwark, a country that accounts for 70 percent of the subregion’s GDP. Radji is, however, cognizant of some built-in contradictions in ECOWAS militating against it. He adds: “Apart from Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Senegal, almost every other country in the region has a weak manufacturing sector (or lacks one altogether)”.
This has, therefore, resulted in a deindustrialised West African economy and dependency on the flow of international capital. Sadly, the liberalisation of the West African economy, rather bring legitimate expectations, says the author, deepened the subregion’s dependence on financial investors, and it “is simply a shocking reality that the aggregate trade flows within ECOWAS is poor”. So, unless this is addressed, West Africa will still languish in poverty. Radji is flummoxed that ECOWAS has become a singular creature, predictably, struggling with collective action.
In the second part of the book, he enlightens us that the seed of ECOWAS’ destruction was sown deep within its political institutions. According to him, “West Africa still has a lot to do in terms of good governance and the validity of election results”, yet it remains “a region of the poor, the hungry, the starved, and the defenceless.” Under President Thomas Yayi of Benin and President Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria, the author says corruption flourished with social inequalities increasing rapidly, adding that West Africa’s inequalities have more to do with governance than the rich.
The author details the political and institutional crises in many West African countries, from Guinea Bissau, one of the poorest countries in West Africa, to Benin. The reader is also kept abreast of the constitutional crisis in Togo following Eyadema’s exit. He, in addition, x-rays the endless political and security issues in Mali, including the jihadist insurrection in the centre and western borders and the Taureg rebellion and quest for Azawad nationhood.
Despite the ease of transition in Benin, he regrets that lawmakers in Benin have turned to lawbreakers, “using political immunity to inhibit the judiciary, thus criminality and corruption are deeply entrenched in Benin’s democracy.”
In the third part of the book, the author focuses on ECOWAS and its decaying societies and economies. He laments: “Democratic principles are in retreat, with various West African governments ignoring term limits and disabling the opposition… ECOWAS, generally a staunch advocate of democratic norms, has shown signs of weakness when member states exploit dodgy laws to limit freedom of expression, which is usually a key feature in public life in a democracy.”
Radji contends that ECOWAS must have a robust and clear policy framework in place and should be prepared to intervene whenever a member state threatens democratic principles. The book tells us that ECOWAS political issues include flawed elections and political problems in Senegal, Benin, Mali, Guinea, Ivory Coast and even Nigeria. Again, member states hardly comply with regional tribunal rulings. Radji is disenchanted that the ECOWAS intervention in the Ivorian and Guinean political crises was amorphous and lacked substance. Therefore, it should stop pampering heads of states who refuse to abide by the law.
While the regional body has been successful in security and crisis prevention, an assessment of ECOWAS’ economic integration by the author shows a failure, as the percentage of each other’s exports to each regional zone member country is too low, yet West Africa’s agonising wait for a single currency hasn’t materialised thirty years after. As a means of fostering regional financial integration in West Africa, Radji advises that the ECOWAS bloc needs rules and regulations. The book offers five steps that are necessary for achieving regional financial integration.
Radji, in the fourth part of the book, echoes that the future is bleak for ECOWAS, which is why efforts should be made to address its myriad of challenges. He also reviews Morocco’s controversial application to join ECOWAS in 2017 and the arguments for and against it. However, he isn’t totally satisfied with the Chinese domination of West Africa’s economy. More disturbing is the fact that “West Africans adore fake products, a habit that plays into the hands of Chinese conmen.”
In the concluding part of this informative book, the author takes a look at how ECOWAS has been working to turn the tide, as it is now in its longest period of expansion, while making attempts to tackle social inequalities.
Nevertheless, there are hopes and prospects for the subregion, says the author; the first being repaying the IMF and “China’s killer loans”, and starting the pushback. He cautions against the third-term pandemic sweeping across the subregion, while lamenting the mindless killings from Conakry, Bamako to Lagos, with their overt economic implications for the subregion.
The author believes that the change the West African public is calling for will require a lot of heavy lifting from all of them. This compelling read on ECOWAS highly recommended to policymakers and citizens of the subregion.
•Radji welcomes enquiries at: [email protected]