The 49th Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) opened Saturday in the Senegalese capital, Dakar. Leaders got together to discuss pertinent sub-regional issues key among them the political situations in many countries, peace and security, pre and post election violence and The Gambia-Senegal routine border issue among others.
All West African Heads of States are attending the summit except Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, José Mário Vaz of Guinea Bissau, Muhammadou Buhari of Nigeria and Faure Essozimna Gnassingbé of Togo.
Welcoming delegates at the summit, President Macky Sall of Senegal congratulated the new president of the commission, the vice president and the seven other commissioners who assumed duties and assured them of all Heads of State and Government support.
He implored on them to work harder towards achieving the goal of ECOIWAS of the people and ensure a more integrated, peaceful and prosperous West Africa. He also paid tribute to former Commission president Kadré Désiré Ouedraogo for the valuable work he has done for the entire community. He said over the years, ECOWAS has patiently forged its integration tools, as evidenced by the entry into force on January 1, 2015, of the Common External Tariff (ECOWAS-CET), currently been implemented by nine member states. He called on the remaining six countries to support the aim of the commission in fulfilling this essential formality for the establishment of the large West African market.
This according to President Sall, will help in the realization of the liberalization of intra-community trade. He quickly urged the Task Force on Free Movement of People and Goods that was established by the commission to urgently work towards the lifting of many barriers within member states which is affecting the mobility of people and goods in the region. “We will achieve our goal of integration when every citizen of the community can move freely and go about his or her dail business. This is the very purpose of the ECOWAS biometric identity card whose circulation is expected to start this year. In Senegal, we have begun the process with the adoption of the law establishing this card” HE SAID.
On the signing of the Memorandum on the Economic Partnership Agreement between West Africa and the European Union – WA-EU EPA which is still unfinished, President Sall reminded member states of the deadline of October 1, 2016 which is fast approaching. He called on member states to work towards meeting the deadline saying in order to preserve the assets and maintain cohesion and solidarity of the community, it is highly important that all member states support the agreement.
On political issues in the region, President Sall congratulated the elected and re-elected leaders after recent electoral polls across the region. He said during his mandate as chairman of the ECOWAS Commission, he has been closely monitoring developments especially in the Republic of Guinea Bissau and called on politicians there to show restrain and preserve the democratic gains of the country and to avoid any uncertain future.
On the security front, President Sall welcomed the significant progress made by the Republic of Nigeria in the fight against the terrorist group Boko Haram, thanks to the unwavering determination of President Muhammadu Buhari. “To him and to all the colleagues involved in the daily fight against terrorism, I renew our solidarity and support” President Sall said. Despite these successes, President Sall said the attacks in northern Mali, the Splendid Hotel attacks in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso and Grand Bassam in Ivory Coast clearly show that the treat of terrorist remains a major concern to the sub-region. According to him, to face and eliminate these deadly groups, member states must combine all resources and efforts in a comprehensive long term perspective. “We must at the same time raise the confusion in the terminology used to name these terrorist groups. Islam has nothing to do with terrorism and its murderous folly.
There is no Islamic State supporting Boko Harama or any group” he said. He said the political, security and economical challenges facing the region shows the magnitude and ever increasing challenges the sub-regional bloc has and needs to do more in meeting its goals. He quickly reminded member states that all efforts will prove futile without the mobilization of resources required and reiterated his appeal to all member states to fulfill their obligations by paying their subvention to the commission in full and on time. He also called on the Commission to continue streamlining its structures and expenses and refocusing its strategic objectives by better defining the priorities of the Community.
He welcomed the steps already taken by the President of the Commission in this direction and further called on the Commission and all the institutions to spend strategically in their operation and financing development projects so as to respond more to meet the goal of the common vision of ECOWAS of the people. President Sall then thanked member states and the commission for the support during his one-year mandate as chairman of the sub-regional bloc saying he has done his best over the past year to keep alive the objective of the founding fathers.
The new ECOWAS Commission President Marcel A. de Souza who was sworn-in at the start of the summit thanked member states for the trust and confidence bestowed upon him. He appealed for support in meeting the objectives of the sub-regional bloc. He assumed duties since April 8th, 2016 after a handing over ceremony at the Commission headquarters in Abuja.
Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the chairperson of the African Union Commission and the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General in West Africa and the Sahel, Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas also address the summit.
After the opening ceremony and inauguration of the head of the executive organ of the commission, West African leaders headed straight to business to review the Memorandum on the Status of negotiations of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between West Africa and the European Union, as well as the signed Memorandum of understanding (MOU) between ECOWAS and Turkey. The will also adopt the reports of the 76th Ordinary Meeting of the ECOWAS Council of Ministers and the 36th ordinary session of the Mediation and Security Council of the regional organization held recently.
Leaders are expected to conclude the summit with the election of new chairman as current holder Senegalese President Macky Sall’s term has ended, before setting the date and venue of the 50th Summit to be followed by an official communiqué.
By Alhagie Jobe in Dakar