Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

ECOWAS - the human dimension

Kwadwo Pobbi-Asamani, Ph.D.

The ECOWAS treaty has been described as one of the most ambitious projects of its kind in the world and by far the most momentous and far reaching economic treaty since the countries in the sub-region won their independence.
The evolution of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was the brainchild of the United Nations Commission for Africa under the able directorship of Dr Robert Gardiner and his successor, Dr J.A. Adedeji. It was in November 1963, some six months after the found- ing of the organisation of African Unity, that, under the auspices of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, the first conference on industrial co-operation in West Africa was held.

It is not the purpose of this paper to give a detailed history of the evolution of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), but after several years of gestation, the treaty establishing the Economic Community of West African States was signed by 15 Heads of States and Governments in West Africa. Eleven heads of states and four heads of governments attended the two-day conference, held at the Federal Palace Hotel in Lagos, Nigeria, on May 27 and 28, 1975.

According to the final communique, the Heads of States and Governments and the plenipotentiaries affirmed their determination to make the community a pragmatic, dynamic and effective institution which will take into account the existence of some inter- governmental organisations. They expressed their determination of the early ratification of the Treaty so that the aims and objectives ... for accelerated economic development within the sub-region could be realized.

The Treaty of ECOWAS, created a common market for about 150 million people spread over area of an 6,500,000 square kilometres. The Treaty has been described as one of the most ambitious projects of its kind in the world; and, by far the most momentous and far reaching economic treaty since the countries in the sub- region won their independence.

The first movement in this direction is the recognition that human beings are not mere statistics in the calculation of economic performance; they are the beneficiaries of it, and the satisfaction of their economic needs should be the real objective of economic activity.

The aims and objectives are set out in Article Two of the Treaty as follows: "It shall be the aim of the community to promote co-operation and develop- ment in all fields of industry, trans- port, telecommunications, energy, agriculture, natural resources, commerce, monetary and financial questions and in social and cultural matters for the purpose of raising the standard of living of its peoples; of increasing and maintaining economic stability, of fostering closer relations among its members and of contribut- ing to progress and development of the African continent..

"In order to achieve these purposes, the community is enjoined to ensure by stages:

(1) The elimination in member-states custom duties and other charges of equivalent effect in respect of the importation and exportation of goods,

(2) The abolition of quantitative and administrative restrictions on trade among member-states;

(3) The establishment of a common customs tariff and a common commercial policy towards countries;

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

(5) The harmonisation of the agri- cultural 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 for the joint development of transport, 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 and the elimination of disparities in the level of development of member-states;

(8) The harmonisation, required for the proper functioning of the community, of the monetary policies of the member-states;

(9) The establishment of a fund for co-operation, compensation and development; and

(10) Each other activities calculated to further the aims of the community as the member-states may from time to time undertake in common.

The above grandiose schemes are supported by a special paragraph in the Treaty... "The ultimate objective is the accelerated and sustained economic development of their states and the creation of a homogeneous society, leading to the unity of countries in West Africa, by the elimination of all types of obstacles to the free movement of goods, capital and persons."

The conceptual frame-work of ECOWAS, according to the Treaty of Lagos on May 27-28, 1975, is to improve the quality of life of citizens of the sub-region, but even a casual observation will indicate that after eight years, very little economic integration has taken place on paper, but not in practical terms.

In short, whatever pretext that the leaders of the Economic Community of the West African States espoused for economic co-operation and integration, they failed to take their people into consideration. There is very little evidence to indicate that the quality of life for the people has improved since operation means co-operation and co- the ratification of the Treaty of Lagos.

There are many approaches to economic development based on historical, as well as theoretical preferences; but recently the Third World, or developing countries, have chosen a model which they feel might provide a short cut; this is known as ECDC (Economic Co-operation between Developing Countries). This is based on the concept of self-reliance, dependence which in simplistic terms means help among the developing countries.

It seems a beautiful idea, but first, the developing countries in business practices, and communication and transportation arrangements should together. upgrade the level of production if they are to meet the demand for these products in the rest of the world. In short, ECDC depends upon the New International Economic Order (NIEO).

Nevertheless, there is a great deal that the developing countries - (including ECOWAS) could do to help each other to make this decade see substantial progress in the area of South/South co-operation. South/South dialogue and coordination between the developing countries of the world, that is, between the Third or developing countries.

Political Economy of Development:

Current efforts of development efforts in ECOWAS and the developing world are focused on ideological classification, structural change to create economic interdependence instead of continued metropolitan (developed countries). In order to achieve this, the developing countries should return to the Political Economy of D. Ricardo; because economics and politics are inextricably bound together.

'Pure' economists would like to find a system of principles and concepts that would be equally applicable in any ideological framework. The practical person, however, sees conflict over ideology as detracting from energy and resources which should be devoted to solve economic problems; unfortunately, the solution of the problem of why to do it, that is the establishment of a framework of objectives and policies within which purposeful action can take place.

The basic goals of a society, and the way in which the society wishes itself organised; have a direct bearing on how production is organised and distributed, but ECOWAS in particular and the developing countries in general would save themselves a lot of trouble if they would stop trying to fit their objectives and priorities and preferences for organisational structure into one or other of the two established moulds (capitalism and socialism), and work out a regional interdependence model which will suit their own people in their development plans.

People as the Objective of Development:

The first movement in this direction is the recognition that human beings are not a mere statistic in the calculation of economic performance.; they are the beneficiaries of it, and the satisfaction of their economic needs should be the real objective of economic activity.

Two well-known measures of the level of economic activity in a country are the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the Gross National Product (GNP). The former Gross Domestic Product represents the total income and product for a geographical area, and the latter, the gross national pro- duct represents the total income and the product of the residents of a nation, the 'nationals' in countries where residents of other nations are in- volved substantially in the ownership and operation of enterprises within the country, that is, where there is con- siderable foreign investment, the Gross National Product will be smaller than the Gross Domestic Product, that is, the income of the 'nationals' will be smaller than the income generated in the country. The converse is also true.

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