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ECOWAS: Economic, Socio-Political Integration Top Priority

A new crop of leaders have emerged in West Africa that is focusing on building a culture of democracy, transparency and accountability to achieve sustainable development, according to the regional group ECOWAS. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports from Abuja that the group, at a recent meeting, said its top priority is economic and socio-political integration of the region.

Violence and political instability have long undermined western Africa's development goals and has cost the region critical foreign investment.

At its most recent session, the Economic Community of West African States, also known as ECOWAS, said the region has made great strides to end conflict and instability in the region.

ECOWAS Executive Secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas assured Western diplomats at a meeting in Abuja, that the group was also committed to resolving one of the key conflicts in the region: the crisis in Ivory Coast.

"We are determined to ensure that Resolution 1721[of the UN Security Council] will be the final extension of the mandate in Cote d'Ivoire[Ivory Coast], and that within the coming year we will move towards holding transparent, credible, free and fair elections in Cote d'Ivoire, so that we can put the conflict behind us," Chambas said. "We do indeed see a new crop of leaders emerging in West Africa, very committed to democratic governance. We see that happen country after country and that is very encouraging, dealing with the root causes of the problems in the past; respect for human rights, fighting corruption, we also see reforms on the economic front."

Young West Africans who are escaping poverty and joblessness for a chance at a better life in Europe or elsewhere are now a major concern for the European Union.

Danish Ambassador Messe Knudsen asked ECOWAS to stem the growing problem.

"There are also new issues coming on to your plate and one of these is migration," he said. "I think migration as possibly an ancient phenomenon in West Africa but I think it is coming to resumed focus in the last years and it will be very good for ECOWAS to strengthen its role and try to promote the possibilities of reaping the positive benefits of migration in the region and combat some of the more negative aspects."

West African officials are pushing for better trade deals, increased foreign investment and assistance with the European Union.

They argue that with West Africa strong signs of stability and economic reforms, developed nations now have an opportunity to address poverty and lack of development in the region.