The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) celebrates 34 years of its founding Thursday. The region's 15-member countries founded ECOWAS on May 28, 1975 in Lagos, Nigeria to coordinate and accelerate economic development and promote the free movement of its citizens among other goals.
The theme for this year's anniversary celebration is "Fostering Regional Integration and Celebrating 30 years of Free Movement in the sub-region."
ECOWAS Executive Secretary Mohamed Ibn Chambas said the sub-region has made progress in the area of integration.
"I must say at 34 years, our organization is maturing, and every day we see a stronger commitment on the part of the region to integration. And this event is coming at a time when we see each of the leadership of ECOWAS show more commitment," he said.
Chambas said ordinary ECOWAS citizens also want to see a deeper integration.
"They want to see a borderless West Africa so that the population can move around and do business, and visit families who often have cut apart by artificial borders," Chambas said.
He said regional integration had been hampered by the sub-region's history of instability,
"On the one hand you had the problem of political instability from the mid-60s on – the coup d'etats and counter coup d'etats, the military interventions led to a period of instability. And this culminated in the democratic process of the 90s. But then that also unleashed the kind of civil wars that we saw in some of our countries, particularly in Liberia and Sierra Leone," he said.
Chambas said West Africa's fragile economies also played a key role in delaying integration.
"The second drawback has been the fragility of the economies and the pressure of the populations to have their immediate concerns addressed by governments have often given the false impression to governments that they need to concentrate only on solving their national problems within national boundaries. But of course experience from around the world indicates that integration and cross-border cooperation and trade…have in fact boosted growth overall both for big and small countries. And I think this realization is now dawning upon many of our member states that they cannot by themselves standing alone solve their problems," Chambas said.
Chambas said the West Africa sub-region has also made progress in the area of democratization although there was still fragility.
"The truth is that democratization is deepening and spreading across the region, but there is still fragility in the peace and security environment. And what happened in Guinea Bissau, what happened in Guinea is a reflection of this fragility," Chambas said.
On the other hand, to show that ECOWAS is maturing, Chambas said citizens in both Guinea and Guinea Bissau put on a uniform regional response condemning coup d'etats and insisting on a speedy restoration of democratic governance," Chambas said.
He said ECOWAS was pleased with the democratic developments in the Ivory Coast with the announcement that the long-delayed election would take place on November 29 this year.
Chambas said ECOWAS would work closely with the government of the Ivory Coast by providing election observers to ensure a credible and transparent election.