An official of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said the sub-regional group has made enormous progress since its founding 37 years ago.
But, Abdel Fatau Musah, ECOWAS director for external relations, said today’s challenges of Mali and Guinea-Bissau are an aberration that ECOWAS is determined to nip in the bud.
ECOWAS was founded on May 28, 1975 to promote economic integration in all fields. Musah said West Africa has seen impressive economic growth rate, even in the face of worldwide economic downturn, and democracy has taken root.
But, he says ECOWAS is still a work in progress.
“We just have to cast our minds back to the 1960s, to the 1970s and even the early 80s. West Africa was a region of coup d’états, of violation of human rights and underdevelopment. Since then, ECOWAS has come in leaps and bounds. The economic growth rate in West Africa today is averaging around 6.5 to 7 percent, and democracy is taking root in the region,” he said.
Musah said the region’s immediate challenges are the security crises in Guinea-Bissau and Mali, where the military seized power in recent months.
ECOWAS Commission President Kadre Desire Ouedraogo held talks over the weekend with Malian transitional government officials in Bamako.
Musah said the regional group’s position on the Malian crisis remains unwavering.
“ECOWAS has a very clear position on the situation in Mali. Number one, everyone has agreed to a transitional process, including the military led by Captain Amadou Sanogo, that we are going to have a 12-month transition leading to the restoration of constitutional order in the country,” Musa said.
Tuareg rebels and a militant Islamic sect announced Saturday that they have joined forces to create an independent, Islamic state in northern Mali.
The new alliance is made up of Tuaregs with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and members of the al-Qaida-linked extremist group Ansar Dine.
Musa said another principal position of ECOWAS is that the territorial integrity of Mali is non-negotiable.
He said the situation in northern Mali should be of concern not only to ECOWAS, but also the entire international community.
“This is a place of lawlessness where the al-Qaida movement has re-located. There are so many organizations engaged in international organized crime that are operating in the region. If that is not stopped, that is going to be place for terrorism from which they will launch attacks everywhere in the world,” Musa said.
The last group of a 600-strong ECOWAS military peacekeeping force arrived in Guinea-Bissau Sunday. They are charged with restoring stability following a military coup last April.
Musa said the situation in Guinea-Bissau is stabilizing rapidly.
“Number one, the military junta has moved out to barracks, as ECOWAS and the international community have demanded. They have handed over power to a transitional government led by leaders, who were chosen through the provisions of the constitution of Guinea-Bissau,” he said.
He said the job of ECOWAS troops is to secure the transition, initiate work on the defense and security sector reform in the country, and then lead the country, within the next 12 months, to a new constitutional order where presidential elections will be held.