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Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was created on May 28, 1975 in Lagos, Nigeria. ECOWAS was established to promote cooperation and integration in order to create an economic and monetary union for promoting economic growth and development in West Africa. ECOWAS has encountered many problems in the process of regionally integrating West Africa, including: political instability and lack of good governance that has plagued many member countries; the insufficient diversification of national economies; the absence of reliable infrastructure; and the multiplicity of organizations for regional integration with the same objectives. Several ECOWAS-member countries are currently part of the West African Monetary Union (UEMOA), a regional economic and monetary union which shares a common currency (the CFA Franc). The Francophone-countries of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo, with Guinea Bissau (Lusophone), comprise UEMOA.

In April 2002, the ECOWAS Council of Ministers (COM) approved a new procedure for the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (TLS). The TLS entitles the manufacturers of approved products to customs duty exemption within ECOWAS member states. The new procedure will consist of National Approval Committees, which are to be set up by member states, to handle the approval of products to be granted exemption under TLS. The decision by COM, abrogates the decision of 1988 granting the COM the monopoly for approving applications for such exemptions. It followed the harmonization of the ECOWAS procedure with that of the UEMOA, which already operates under this procedure.

Contrary to the OAU and the UN, whose charters include a clause relating to non-intervention in internal affairs, ECOWAS has a duty to intervene inside the borders of the 15 member States if the peace and security of the Community is threatened by a conflict within a State. West Africa is experiencing, or has experienced recently, conflicts particularly affecting Mali, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Casamance and the Ivory Coast. The countries most concerned by the terrorist threat - Mauritania, Mali and Niger - must permanently establish their authority over the whole of their territories.

In the name of this principle, it has intervened in Liberia since 1990. It set up ECOMOG (Economic Community of West Africa Monitoring Group, a group of military observers) that intervened in Liberia then in Sierra Leone in July 1997. Today it has become the intervention force of the Community. The Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security, created in 1999, has permitted interventions into Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Ivory Coast. It should be recognized, however, that this mechanism does not take on the fundamental causes of conflicts, as the late General Cheick Oumar Diarra noted, then Deputy Executive Secretary of Political Affairs, Defense and Security of ECOWAS.

Senegal announced in November 2002 that it was to boost its contribution to the ECOWAS military mission to Cote d'Ivoire and provide the Force Commander. Five countries -- Benin, Ghana, Niger, Senegal and Togo -- were contributing the 1,264 troops for the first phase of the mission. The force was set to take over from French troops who were monitoring the October 17, 2002 agreement for the cessation of hostilities under an agreement involving ECOWAS, France and the government of Cote d'Ivoire. Nigeria also participated in the mission and it pledged to provide medical and signal teams as its contribution. Talks continue with representatives of the Patriotic Movement for Cote d'Ivoire (MPCI), the rebel group which had taken control of several cities in the northern portion of the country.

ECOWAS sought international support to enable it train and equip the 15 battalions of troops pledged by member states as standby units for its peacekeeping force, ECOMOG. The training of the composite units will facilitate their effectiveness in peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance and other missions for which they could be deployed. ECOMOG forces have been deployed previously in civil conflicts in Sierra Leone and Liberia.

For the purpose of acting on the structural causes, ECOWAS supplemented its Mechanism by the adoption of a Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance signed by 14 member countries in December 2001 and ratified by 9 of them, which henceforth makes it applicable to all.

While the political dimension of integration is taken on by ECOWAS, how can the regional instruments that are imposed on the member States be effectively expressed and implemented? An effort supporting this prospect would contribute to lasting political stability based on a much more effective involvement of the regions social, political and institutional actors in the regulations, values and codes of democracy and good governance that they have provided for themselves at the regional level.

The struggle against the illicit spread of small arms and light weapons (SALW) that it is undertaking through its ECOSAF (ECOWAS Standby Force) program, worked out and monitored by the UNDP (UN Development Program). In fact, only a regional approach can bring pragmatism into commitments. The moratorium proclaimed by ECOWAS in 1998 on the export, import and manufacture of small arms and light weapons supplements the program.

The question of fragile States, or countries in great difficulty, is omnipresent on the international scene, and directly involves a hundred million of the worlds people, even more depending upon the definition given to this notion. But regardless of the definition, the fragility of developing countries is almost always primarily considered to be internal to their borders: States in acute crisis, even at war, collapse of the administration, or only the inability of the State to carry out minimal public services. There is, however, another dimension that has an impact on States because of their interconnection with the surrounding context: the regional dimension.




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