Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

How 'West African' are West Africans?

By Ato Imbeah

Perceptions held by the various West Africans of one another have been incubated not only by a collection of national prides and prejudices but also by some unpopular actions taken by some governments
With the realization that a total unification of the African continent, under the banner of Pan Africanism could not be effected immediately due to differences of ideologies and national interests pursued by the various African governments, regional groupings have sprung up in the various sub-regions of Africa to cater for their immediate interests. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is one of such regional groupings.

ECOWAS, as a supranational organization was envisaged to help develop a new political and economic order of immense importance. The political roots of ECOWAS are attributable to the ineffectiveness of the OAU of recent years, due to frequent boycotts by some member states, to tackle some political issues in Africa in general and West Africa in particular. The Chadian issue is a typical case in point. Prior to its formation, the East African Community and the Arab League catered for the immediate political problems confronting those countries of East and North Africa respectively, and this formalized the identity of West Africa as a distinctive political arena.

The economic roots of ECOWAS are generally attributed to economic imperatives stemming from the internationalization of capital, the need for wider markets, the harnessing of international investment potential of the various countries, and the need for proper mobility of labour and capital.

Despite the fact that Nigeria which makes claim to the leadership in Africa, due to its size and wealth, is a member state of this supranational organization, many smaller states like Benin Republic, Togo, Gambia and Burkina see that their main hope of self-assertion, even survival, lie in this integration, and are always quick to appreciate their subordinate positions as peripheral regions because of their economic backwardness and give posed decisive recognition to their rich neighbours or the core regions like Nigeria and Ivory Coast.

But how "West African" are West Africans? How ready and willing are the people to pull together, to cooperate irrespective of national aspirations to make ECOWAS work for them? The primary objective of ECOWAS is to effect a free flow of peoples and goods in the sub-region, thus creating an atmosphere in which people would be more trusting of their fellows, where the Nigerian would not look upon the Ghanaian as wasting a always wanting to live like an European, and the Togolese seeing the Nigerian as a 20th century Croesus floating about in his "agbada" and not knowing what to do with his riches, nor the Ghanaian thinking that the only place to look up for a Liberian is where rice is sold.

Such perceptions held by the various West Africans of one another have been incubated not only by a collection of national prides and prejudices but also by some unpopular actions taken by some governments.

When the Europeans carved the region into nation states in later years, it was to foster economic, social and political developments and competitiveness within the system provided on incentive for national identity

It is true that Ghanaians will continue to think of themselves as the most gifted soccer players in Africa, Ivorians as the ones with the most stable form of government and Nigerians as rich and powerful, but it is the elite opinion in general that would make the goals of ECOWAS, attainable, as mass opinion would be pulled along by elite attitudes.

A notable failure to the effectiveness of the elite opinion, that is, the opinion held by academicians, journalists and businessmen, and also one that has a dangerous problem for ECOWAS is the expulsion of immigrants en masse from some countries, recently from Nigeria, and with its new military government giving the immigrants another deadline to leave the country.

As such action tends to remind the whole world of the abhorred Nazi policy of 1933 which forced larger numbers of Jews and political opponents out of Germany, it also gives official stamp to the xenophobic attitudes of the peoples concerned, thus defeating the objective of ECOWAS wanting to create an atmosphere conducive for the free flow of peoples and goods.

Movement of people and goods within the region dates back to time immemorial, becoming brisk during the period of the three empires, Ghana, Mali and Songhai. This helped to facilitate trading between the coast and the hinterland. Even in later years, whole people of towns and cities used to migrate to new places when they could not stand some of the atrocities perpetrated on them by their conquerors. A case in point is that of the people of Ile Ife in Nigeria migrating to Accra, now the capital of Ghana.

When the Europeans carved the region into nation states in later years, it was to foster economic, social and political developments, and competitiveness within the system provided an incentive for national identity.

Although the nationalism at a certain point fostered xenophobia and jingoism to the point of habit, some common institutions existed among the British and French colonies prior to their independence. Institutions like the West African Frontier Forces, West African Court of Appeal and common currencies.

Then after independence Dr Kwame Nkrumah and those he led after 1949 fostered some ideas, plans and perspectives which they believed to be successful keys not only for Africa to escape from the grip of classical colonialism but also to unite them to form a single political entity. What came out of their efforts, the Organization of African Unity, has rather left a people without unity, direction of any sense of having solutions to problems, although some of the people their continental who led the continent from one success to another under its banner still managed to be cheerful in their troubles and contortions.

So a regional organization like ECOWAS, which is one of the m representative regional groupings and most established in Africa, has a very important responsibility not only for the future of West Africa but also for the whole of Africa.

All the countries must feel bound by the essential dispositions of the treaty setting up the organization. Reality needs to replace rhetorics.

It is an accepted fact that where the increase of population of a country threatens to outstrip its resources at an ever-increasing rate, a solution needs to be found.

But Nigeria, the big brother of ECOWAS, and also in view of its role in African affairs, needs to choose carefully the action to adopt to bring a solution to such a problem, keeping in mind the primary objective of ECOWAS.

For the Economic Community of West African States to emphasise the concept of community identity a amongst its members vigorous interests in a lingua franca, in folk traditions and also the dissemination of the goings-on in the community through printing need be stepped up. Thoughtful leaders must consider the reasons for the evident growth in wealth, stability and power of other supranational organizations. Priority must be given also to political education to foster a social conscience and a sense of communal welfare, otherwise, instead of ECOWAS building bridges for integration, it would be seen that it has rather widened the gap of contact existing before it was conceived.



Africa is today facing starvation of two kinds - food starvation and freedom starvation.

Most African countries are under military tyranny. The people have no choice and have no voice. We thank the rest of the world for coming to our aid with grains to combat the problem of food shortage caused by drought.

We ask the same world community which believes in human liberty and freedom to come to our aid in restoring the supremacy of the will of the people and tackling the problem of military imposition and tyranny.

Of course, when scarce resources are devoured by the military establishing themselves and in paying for unnecessary military equipment, hunger is but a logical consequence.

But the people under such regimes have no say and no way.

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