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ECOWAS regional integration week opens in Ziguinchor

May 27, 2016, 11:21 AM | Article By: Abdoulie Nyockeh in Ziguinchor

The ECOWAS Regional Integration Week commenced in earnest on 25 May 2016 at the Senegalese region of Ziguinchor, the regional capital of Casamance.

The ECOWAS Week aims at providing operators from Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau and other countries in West Africa mobilisation space to exchange ideas on regional integration.

The forum also aims at providing a framework for a multi-stakeholders dialogue to assess progress, stakes and challenges of regional integration policies; debating the opportunities offered by the region to facilitate the search for peace, accelerated emergence and creation of wealth.

The regional week forum is also conducted for mobilising regional stakeholders on cross-border cultural and sporting activities; ensuring ECOWAS visibility by displaying its sign and symbols to bring them closer to the populations.

The meeting looks at issues of training and education, as well as truck drivers in the Dakar-Banjul-Bissau corridor on the ECOWAS plans relating to the movement of goods and people.

In his speech at the opening of the forum, the Director of ENDA-CACID, Dr Cheikh Tidiane Diey, said regional integration is a powerful development factor that could promote the expansion of markets, competitiveness and innovation.

He said it makes life easier for citizens and guarantees them both welfare and better living conditions.

Regional integration is also a factor for peace between states as it facilitates cross-border cooperation, peaceful resolution of conflicts through the development of local grassroots initiatives, he said, adding that it builds solidarity spaces and co-prosperity between people, he added.

According to him, in West Africa, awareness of the importance of integration had led regional leaders, in 1975, to establish the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a supranational structure whose purpose is to build the institutional framework of regional integration.

Dr Diey further stated that with a population estimated at about 308 million in 2012, ECOWAS includes 15 countries and is part of the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) recognised by the African Union for the implementation of the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA).

He said that since 1 January 2015, with the entry into force of the Common External Tariff (CET), ECOWAS had theoretically become a customs union.

He said due to the persistence of obstacles to the free movement of persons and goods, the ineffectiveness of the CET in some member states “is an imperfect Free Trade Zone, still in construction”.

Dr Diey also stated that the project, aimed at promoting and achieving the free movement of people and goods, made “no significant progress and is still fragmented and subject to recurrent blockages” in the member states with often violation of ECOWAS legal texts.

According to him, trade in ECOWAS remains “very low”, despite the existence of an ambitious Trade Liberalization Scheme (TLS).

He added that the informal transactions remain important due to the continuing fragmentation of economic, monetary and trade policies.

“Member states do not sufficiently rely on them and rather bet on other less accessible markets,” he said, adding that globally, despite its potential, West Africa occupies 25th place in the ranking of economies, with 4.2 per cent of the world population and 0.5 per cent of international trade.

However, he added, significant efforts have been made in recent years in the ECOWAS region to ensure that community citizens enjoy freedom of entry, residence and establishment.

These effort, he said, are illustrated, among others, by the abolition of visas between member states, the adoption of an ECOWAS passport and an ECOWAS Biometric Identity card that had as a corollary the removal of the residence permit.

The “House of ECOWAS Citizen” based in Ziguinchor now carries forward the initiatives to organise the annual ECOWAS Week, he noted.

He said organising the ECOWAS Week is a legal requirement that few countries have fulfilled so far under the decision A/DEC of 10 May 1982 on the application of the protocol on free movement of people and goods and the public information programme.

ECOWAS requires its member states to inform and educate community citizens on the activities, protocol, policies as well as the rights granted to them in all 15 member states, he added.

He said the second edition of the ECOWAS Week in Ziguinchor takes place in a particular context that gives greater meaning to the effort to promote integration from below and bringing the people of the region closer.

He further stated that proof of the commitment of West African people to integration and living together are the efforts of citizens and economic stakeholders, as well as a lot of goodwill from traditional leaders, religious leaders and community-based organisations living on both sides of the borders for the lifting of the blockage and the restoration of the right to free movement of people and goods.