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Regional Infrastructure Tops Agenda at West African Summit

The development of regional infrastructure, particularly transport and energy, to facilitate the economic integration process in West Africa is the main issues being considered at a regional summit underway in Abuja, Nigeria.

The one-day summit is reviewing plans drawn up the presidents of Ivory Coast and Guinea Bissau for upgrading infrastructure in West Africa, the poorest region of the continent.

Experts say the economic integration process in West Africa has been impeded by poor infrastructure. Existing road, railway, port networks were mainly built during the colonial era and are not well connected. Poor infrastructure has blocked the quick movement of goods and people in the region and pushed up transports costs.

ECOWAS President Mohammed Ibn Chambas emphasized the urgent need to strengthen regional mechanisms to promote integration and development in the context of the global financial crisis.

"A regional common market of nearly 300 million with an effective ECOWAS trade liberalization scheme in which there is free movement of persons and goods can compensate for the loss of foreign markets for our goods caused by shrinking global demand," he said.

For his part, outgoing Ghanaian president John Kuffour said the region has made commendable progress in the past few years and stated that the region was on a path to long-term success.

"As I prepare to leave office, I can say that I do so with a lot of optimism for the future because from whatever angle one may look at it, our region is moving forward while effectively responding to the challenges of change coming from within and outside the continent," said Chambas.

Leaders of the 15-member bloc are also considering political and security issues, including drug trafficking and organized crime.

The head of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping and the president of the Africa Development Bank are also attending the Abuja summit. A new chairman is expected to be elected to head ECOWAS for the next 12 months.