Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

ECOWAS and its First Decade, 1975-1985: A Review (part 1)

Kwadwo Pobbi-Asamani

Dr Kwadwo Pobbi-Asamani did a comprehensive study of various aspects of the West African sub-region for his London School of Economics (LSE) doctoral thesis. He has recently taken a look at ECOWAS, the regional economic grouping established in 1975.

In the following article, Dr Pobbi-Asamani provides a review of a decade of ECOWAS. He is, currently, an Adjunct Professor of Political Science at the University of the District of Columbia in Washington, D.C., U.S.A.
THE PAST THREE decades have seen a remarkable increase in co-operative activities in all fields of human activity, and in the action and interaction of nations. In less than thirty years, about one hundred nations have achieved sovereignty. In 1945, the San Francisco Charter of the United Nations was signed by fifty-one states; today, this world organization has a membership of one hundred and sixty nations.

This process is characterised by two phenomena, which at first sight appear divergent, but which are, in reality, convergent. The first is the desire for national differentiation. A nation struggles to achieve national identity, distinguishing itself from other nations, and rejecting assimilation or subordination. This desire occurs, whatever ground might have pro- claimed to justify a subordinate position in the past, or to try to perpetuate it in the present.

In earlier times, such justifications of subordination have been promul- gated on religious, cultural, racial or centuries-old political links. At present, sub-subordination is based on scientific or technological supremacy, military or economic power differentials.

A second phenomenon is the awareness of the need for economic co-operation and integration. Nations have come to realise, concomitantly at the time of the achievement of independence, that their interests are convergent with their immediate neighbouring states; and that they are complementary not only in their similarities, but also in their differences. Even more strongly, they are seeing that there is a logical possibility of eventually harmonising and integrating the interest of strong states and weak states on some basis other than dependence.

The present study is, therefore, concerned not with the first phenomenon, that of national differentiation and the achievement of independence. Instead, it is concerned with the second, with the efforts at economic co-operation and integration by nations, through which, over the past 20 to 30 years, some of them have tried to associate beneficially with each other through negotiations and agreements. They thus hope to lay down specific objectives and institutional structures.

The process of economic co-operation and integration has not been so successful in all the attempts that have been made. Many integration attempts have been either complete or partial failures. Still, there are a few that are holding their ground steadily. Developing countries are increasingly becoming aware from experience that while a narrow and temporary margin of profit can be obtained from policies that seek unilateral advantages at the expense of other nations, such policies are self-destructive in the long run.

More lasting and much broader successes are attainable by a deliberate and articulate association of common interests.

Indeed, nations are increasingly discovering that collective self-reliance can only be achieved by mutually fruitful agreements which strengthen the economic progress of all concerned countries. These mutually strengthening activities work through the development of common functionally linked projects involving co-ordinated development, co-operation, and the expansion of joint markets.

The amount of interest in economic co-operation and integration is reflected in the United Nations' General Assembly Resolution 3177 of December, 1973. This resolution delineated the bases for economic co-operation between developing countries. It indicated, inter alia, the steps required for the expansion of co-operation at the sub-regional, regional, and inter-regional levels. In May, 1974, at a special session of the UN General Assembly, a program of action was approved for the establishment of the New International Economic Order (General Assembly Resolution 3202 (S-VI)). Section VII of this program is devoted to the promotion of co-operation between developing countries and the establishment and strengthening of economic cooperation and integration at the regional and sub-regional levels.

According to the planned program, collective self-reliance and co operation among developing countries will further strengthen their roles in the New International Economic Order.

Economic co-operation and integration in the sub-region of West Africa, which was promoted by the United Nations Economic Commission (ECA) for Africa, gained momentum, and, on May 28, 1975, the Heads of State and the representatives of fifteen countries of West Africa, by treaty, chose as a policy-objective to jointly plan, co-ordinate, and integrate their economies for the development and benefit of their people.

Their minimal goals were to, at least, work together to obtain the basic human needs (clean environment, food, water and shelter) for all their people.

The signatories of the treaty declared, among other things, that:
"...They were conscious of the overriding need to accelerate, foster, and promote economic co-operation and integration in the development process of West Africa; in order to improve the economic, cultural and political conditions in the various states of the community for a population of about 150 million, in an area of approximately 6 million square kilometers."
These leaders were convinced that the promotion of harmonious economic development of the sub-region of West Africa called for the following:

1) Effective planning by a determined and concerted effort;

2) The assessment of economic potential in each state;

3) The equitable distribution of the benefits of economic co-operation and integration through the development of functionally linked projects such as solar energy systems, communications, hydroelectric plants, and transportation;

4) The abolition between member states of the obstacles to the free movement of persons, services and capital;

5) Harmonization of agricultural policies, and the promotion of common projects in the member states, notably in the fields of marketing, re search, and agro-industrial enterprises;

6) The implementation of schemes of joint development of transportation, communications, energy, and other infrastructural facilities, as well as the evolution of a common policy in these fields;

7) The harmonisation of the economic and industrial policies of the member states;

8) The harmonisation required for the proper functioning of the comm- unity, and the monetary policies of the member states; and

9) The establishment of a fund for co-operation, compensation and development. In addition, they believed that economic development in the states of West Africa could be jointly achieved to sustain the people of the sub-region of these West African States.

However, since 1975, the sub-region could be characterised as a mass of fragmented countries, still existing in isolation from each other. It continues to be a field of operation for multi- national corporations and their neocolonial agents or comparadors, as well as numerous developmentalists, who have been promoting global elitism, instead of development by the people.

The process of economic co-operation and integration has not been so successful in all the attempts that have been made. Many integration attempts have been either complete or partial failures. Still, there are a few that are holding their ground steadily.

The picture presented is, therefore, the result of colonialism and imperialism. This legacy left West Africa the most balkanized and divided part of the continent. Upon being independent, each political unit became a sovereign state, but with an open economic system which is vulnerable to external as well as internal destabilisation.

A comparative perspective for the assessment of the Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS) is provided by the empirical and theoretical studies of a wide range of integration schemes around the world. These include the European Economic Community (EEC), the now defunct European Free Trade Area (EFTA), the Council for Mutual Economic Association (COMECON), the Latin American Free Trade Area (LAFTA), the Central American Common Market (CACM), the Andean Group (ANCOM), the Caribbean Economic Community (CARICOM), the Eastern Caribbean Market (ECCM), the l'Union Douniere l'economique de l'Afrique Centrale (UDEAC), and the now defunct East African Economic Community (EACM).

Since the European Economic Community (EEC) has been the most successful of these economic co-operation and integration schemes, it has been the model most studied and copied (adopted) of all these integration schemes. However, it is now realised belatedly that this model (the EEC model) of the traditional trade-creating and trade-diverting models is the least appropriate or applicable, or even least relevant to developing regions in general, and West Africa in particular.

The original goals of European economic integration efforts were peace and security through cooperation, based on the traditional customs union theory, (as discussed in a 1962 book by Viner, et al). This model does not apply to attempts at economic co-operation and integration among developing areas whose main goals and objectives centre around development. Developing countries also strive to bring about a higher level of economic, political, cultural, or social conditions, as well as the creation of a quality of life more satisfying to the people of these regions.

Most of the regional integration schemes in the developing areas are based on the establishment of a free trade zone/area, or a customs union. However, this trade liberalization approach no longer reflects the major thrust of regional economic co-operation and integration. This is most evident in the Andean Group (ANCOM), which has gone further to wards a system of sectional programming and, subsequently, provides an example of economic integration policy adopted to solve problems of development.

There is also the example of the Asian Group (ASEAN) which has undertaken sectional programming without undertaking trade liberalization.

In addition to the above limitation of the feasibility of the adoption of the European Economic Community model in the Third World, in general, and the West in particular, some of the countries in the sub-region of ECOWAS have neither diplomatic nor trade links with each other. The official inter-state trade activity is about one percent between some countries, while at the same time, smuggling across the borders flourishes as a lucrative activity.

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