Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Being...West African

I don't know about you, but since I came back home in 2004, I have regularly blogged about feeling this lack of feeling West African. Let me preface it all by saying that I am a great aficionado not just of ECOWAS, but also of regional integration and what it means for Africa.

I have been maintaining a blog since August 2006, which I resuscitated in 2007 to blog about regional integration initiatives worldwide. Last December, I took a step further by buying a domain name for that blog, which you can now reach at http://www.critiquing-regionalism.org.

All that said, let me be clear that this is less about me marketing my other blog--and more about the consistent and sometimes-truly unbearable sense of being West African. I mean, come on, if you look at the picture above, you will see EU Commissioner for Information Society Viviane Reding probably jubilating that the ".eu" domain reached its three millionth mark the week of 12th January.

I cannot help but wonder, as I wrote in my Sunday World column on technology for this week's edition, whether there would be any takers for an ".au" domain representing the African Union.

Some would like to viscerally respond that that idea is a pipe dream; I like to think it could be a reality some day!


Where's that ECOWAS passport?
But to move swiftly to the second reason why I don't feel I can call myself an "ECOWAS-ian" is to do with the passport. Despite the fact that the ECOWAS passport has been around for a while, it is still only operational in Benin; Mali; Nigeria and Senegal! Ghana made a lot of noise that by 2007 it would start operating it alongside the traditional ones.

It never happened.

Yet here we have the 14-member CARICOM that very recently launched the CARICOM passport for all members of the community. It quickly raises the question of when the fourteen other members of ECOWAS will get their acts together to create a regional identity to the world that they feel and are proud of being West African?!

French thoughts on the way home
Finally, as a neighbour took me home last evening after meeting me at GOIL shop, I caught a glimpse of a French dictionary on her seat. Asking her whether she was learning the language, she explained that she was following a course at work--to which I quickly recommended Radio France Internationale, which Ghanaians can catch on the 89.5fm band.

Like Abby, since 2007, I have become a staunch and inveterate BBC [101.3FM] worldservice buff, but at work, I tune in at least for thirty minutes during the day to RFI.

That we are surrounded by francophone countries (Cote d'Ivoire to the West of Ghana; Burkina Faso to the North; Togo to the East) perhaps behooves, at best, a policy by the Ministry of Education on making French compulsory; and at worst, every single Ghanaian making the effort to follow the language of our close neighbours!

For good measure, let me just leave you with a mini-transcript of a radio discussion on Radio Gold (90.5fm) about my conception of regional integration in Africa , which I have at my disposal:


MATULI: That was the voice of Osagyefo Dr.Kwame Nkrumah, and I think that the insert is germane to the discussion we are having this evening on Platform Africa. The Grand Debate of the Union Govt for Africa: Perspectives of the Youth. I'd like to say, gentlemen, welcome to the programme. Let me start with you Emmanuel. When mention is made of the Union govt for Africa, what comes to mind?

EKB: What I see when there is mention of the Union Govt of Africa is an Africa that comprises five main regional blocs, because I think it is important we don't forget that in conceiving of a United Nations of Africa, to include the regional economic communitites. They are so critical to that development. Already the African Economic Community--the main charter--the basis upon which AU govt is supposed to be established has set five main regional blocs--ECOWAS in West Africa; SADC in South Africa; ECCAS; IGAD; Arab Maghreb Union. However, because there is a plethora of regional economic communities--mostly now eight--there is some talk of rationalising--there is ongoing research in Nairobi on rationalising some of tehse RECS so that it is important to look at the overlap --or lack thereof -- of these RECs. When I talk of overlap, it's about some countries belonging to two or more RECS. When we begin to talk about union govt and we exclude this fact, I do not think we are going anywhere.

MATULI: So you think union govt is possible through these five or eight regional blocs?

EK: I really do think that is possible, but it is important also for there to be information strategies/information sharing on these regional economic communities, because a lot of africans--at least some of those who I have talked to... in this country and beyond -- have no idea. Even ECOWAS, I meet a number of Ghanaians who know there is ECOWAS, because you go to the border of Togo--it's French-speaking and you can pass with your passport. But beyond that, ECOWAS is something --an idea that is very difficult to comprehend in their mind, and I think the problem is because it has not been broken down by our policy-makers sufficiently for them to understand the value of, let's say, being West African.

MATULI:To you, what is the union government of Africa?

EK: The union govt of Africa would be decentralised:I would see an AU commission--we already know there is an AU Commission headed by Alpha Kounare--with these RECS linking/liaising with main AU commission in Addis Ababa, taking instructions from there, on how to manage their regional economic communities. Because I think West Africa and Southern Africa and Eastern Africa, there are differing levels of development.



So, supposing in West Africa, ECOWAS remained the main regional organisation -- instead of UEMOA or smaller regional RECS-- we would take instructions from the AU Commission in Addis, and we would look at our political, economic, and social institutions that are there--including our health, through the West African Health Organisation-. All the institutions that are important need to be strengthened so that it would make more sense, rather than trying to devolve all the power to the AU, because it's big. Already, the AU is under-staffed; it has some 500 members of staff-- as compared to the EU, which has about 20,000 members of staff at its commission in Brussels. So already, we are seeing a problem with finances.



I am working on the transcipt, but in the meantime, let me just say that my major contribution for that got me on the programme involved three simple points.

First, there needs to be identification of imperatives of each region. Simply put, what is unique about a particular region that that region can capitalise on to bring to bear in the conception of an AU government? So, we can say, for example, that ECOWAS's sub-regional imperative is that of conflict prevention/resolution /management, given its experience with Liberia/Sierra Leone/and the instrumentality of ECOMOG. SADC's might be a different one; the EAC's might be on, say, regional infrastructure. For example, § A paper from UNU-CRIS cites that: “the AU has been the first regional organization to establish a clear relationship with the UN as it is consciously aspiring to closely coordinate, if not integrate, its mission planning and execution of peace and security action with the prevailing structures/plans of the UN”.


Secondly, there needs to be comparative approaches. By this I mean what best practices are there from each of these regional communities that can best be put to good use in any conception of an AU government? This means that ECOWAS's peacekeeping/peace enforcement wing ECOMOG could be analysed for use in a regional organisation like SAARC that has experienced problems over Kashmir/India and Pakistan. What is it that ECOMOG has been able to do in enforcing peace that SAARC can learn from?

Thirdly, there needs to be collaboration, as exemplified by the donation of $1m by the Arab League to the African Union's peacekeeping forces.

I have further arguments that can be elaborated on in later entries, but for now, these three points remain the crux of my personal vision of an AU government. Even then, ramifications of these elements remain, and can be very much expounded upon.





Let's keep remembering to keep ECOWAS real!


*EK & EKB are yours truly;-)
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