The first National Workshop on ECOWAS Cross Border Cooperation, aimed atstrengthening cross border cooperation in the border regions of The Gambia, is under way at the Baobab Holiday Resort in Bijilo.
Organised by ECOWAS, the two-day meeting brought together parliamentarians, civil society representatives and local government authorities, among others.
Delivering the keynote address at the opening ceremony, the Minister of Local Government and Lands, Pierre Tamba, said the workshop is taking place at a key moment in ECOWAS cross border programmes and initiatives.
He added that most importantly, this was happening at a time when sub-regional integration preoccupies the national agendas of the respectives member states of the organisation.
The Minister said cooperation programmes should be tailored according to particular situation faced by each border region, noting that it was important that more efforts are made to concentrate support on the key priorities in order to ensure economic growth and job creation.
He underlined his Ministry's readiness to partner and work tirelessly with line ministries and stakeholders towards the realisation of the objectives of the cross border programmes and initiatives.
The representative of the ECOWAS Commission, Kinza Jawara-Njai, said the ECOWAS Cross-border Cooperation Programme has been developed by ECOWAS, with the aim of bringing the regional integration process and local populations closer together.
This, she added, is geared towards de-marginalizing border areas, reducing poverty and to achieve rapid socio-economic development and integration in the sub-region through the creation of concrete and feasible joint development projects that are achievable within short time limits.
Mrs Jawara-Njai pointed out that since the introduction of the programme, a series of meetings and exchanges at various levels have taken place.
She noted that the implementation of the programme by the Ministry of Trade, Customs, Industry, Free Movement and Tourism under the Directorate of Free Movement and Tourism, calls for preparation of relevant development projects in all areas of development.
According to Mrs Jawara-Njai, this is geared towards improving the standards of living of the marginalised inhabitants of the common border areas who are strategic partners in development.
She said the meeting is also aimed at sensitizsing participants on the operational modalities and implementation strategies of the programme, as well as inform them of the various cross-border cooperation initiatives undertaken in the pilot operation zones.
She noted that the meeting will identify concrete steps to sustain a strategic partnership.
"As ECOWAS parliamentarians and policy makers in the sub-region, the ECOWAS Commission is of the firm belief that you have a major role to play in the implementation of the programme in the region, and in particular, in your respective zones," she added.
Mrs Jawara-Njai called on ECOWAS parliamentarians to stay committed to the objectives of the programme and sustain the strong political will necessary for the successful implementation of the programme.
Speakers at the opening ceremony included the Minister of Trade and Employment, Baboucarr Jallow, and Mohamadou Abdoul, Coordinator Unit Inter Afriques and representative of Enda Perspective Dialogue Politiques (Enda Diapol).