Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Unbearable Lightness of Being...ECOWAS-ian & Fighting Crime in ECOWAS/AU Member States


I heard Head of Research, Conflict Prevention Management and Resolution Department (CPMRD) at KAIPTC Dr.Kwesi Ening on Metro TV yesterday talking about drugs, standing behind a podium at British Council against the backdrop of the logo of UNODC.

It was profoundly coincidental he should have been giving that talk, as only last week Thursday, I spent the better half of my lunchtime just perusing, googling, and reading material around crime prevention in AU countries. Specifically, I had been reading one of UNODC’s report on drugs (Eighteenth Meeting of Heads of National Law Enforcement Agencies, which was held in Yamoussoukro from 8-12 September ).

I also read a presentation by one Juliet Ibekaku—a legal expert—who touched on, inter alia, “Trends in illicit drug trafficking in West Africa; “regional trends in the combating of corruption money-laundering and terrorist financing”; “current regional strategies”; “challenges of fighting organized crime in West Africa”.

I was both enlightened and amazed by the material I had at my disposal. Enlightened, because as a great proponent of ECOWAS, and its free movement, I always knew at the back of my mind that open borders were always going to come with challenges of crime, in the sense that policy-makers wanted to ensure that West Africans could move up and down the sub-region freely, but this would necessarily be compromised by those who would exploit it. This would not—and should not—mean that they would stop the integration process, surely?

If they were not, then it meant that drugs would be freely moving within the sub-region—as explained in the report—and therefore ECOWAS would find itself wanting with needing to deal with the challenges of effectively policing ECOWAS without hindering free movement of peoples. That corruption was an element in the astronomical rise of drug trafficking was not really new, but what was was the fact that after all these years since the protocol was established in the late seventies, the Community had not yet considered the establishment of an ECOWAS FBI!
Back in 2001/2002, there had been some talk of a Criminal Intelligence Bureau that would be akin to an ECOWAS police force.

As you might expect, that has failed to materialize. Some web trawling revealed that the West African Police Chiefs Committee Organisation (WAPCCO) comes close to this; I would say it presumes to! Note that WAPCCO is more aligned to the international

police organization INTERPOL, and so it would never be the same thing as it being an ECOWAS organ. It is equally fantastic to read that there is an ECOWAS organ—the Intergovernmental Action Group Against Money-Laundering (GIABA.org)—that deals with white-collar crime. Their website is updated regularly, and they’re based in Senegal.

The irony of all this pussy-footing, in my view, is that ECOWAS’s conflict resolution imperative (in Liberia/Sierra Leone in the nineties, with ECOMOG) is very sound. The Kofi Annan IT Peacekeeping Training Centre here in Accra is a testament to ensuring that ECOWAS’s attempts at conflict prevention and resolution is “regionalized”, by having Nigeria and Mali host similar peace-training institutions. This begs the question: if we can do it for peacekeeping, what are we waiting for on an effective law enforcement mechanism for ECOWAS?

The Europeans established EUROPOL the very moment the Treaty of Maastricht was established. Why did AU member states not equally view law enforcement as an important element in the facilitation of regional integration?

I was very happy to read at the beginning of this week that the UN and the AU have launched a joint initiative to support an AU plan to fight drug trafficking and related crimes over the next five years.. I am also deeply encouraged that the AU has a “Plan of Action on Drug Control and Crime Prevention (2007-2012)”.

In the long run, these protocols are great, and it’s nice to know that ECOWAS is strong on peacekeeping and peace enforcement, but I would rather hope to see not just ECOWAS disposing of a Criminal Intelligence Bureau , but ALL regional economic communities—starting with the more formidable AU!
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