President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has expressed optimism about the integration and economic freedom of West Africa.
He pointed out, however, that it could happen only if the new crop of leaders emerging on the continent summoned the political will to take the decisions that mattered.
He said a true and proper integration of the continent would provide the required market to speed up the growth and development needs of the sub-region.
Delivering an address on the occasion of the 42nd anniversary of ECOWAS Day in Accra, President Akufo-Addo said a functioning, common regional market in ECOWAS had, therefore, to be a very fundamental objective of Ghanaians and of all the people and governments of West Africa.
“The European Union (EU) took off because the political leadership of France and Germany decided to make it work. Once the political will is evident, we can then work together to make ECOWAS a true regional market,” he said.
The President noted that as empowered Ghanaian businesses became stronger and more successful, they would need bigger markets.
He said West Africa currently had a population of 350 million that could increase to 500 million people in 20 years to provide the much needed larger market for the sub-region.
“This means that a genuine regional market in West Africa should be in our economic interest, for it will present immense opportunities to bring prosperity to the people in our region with hard work, creativity and enterprise. The time for West African integration is now,” he stressed.
President Akufo-Addo said his programme for Ghana’s social and economic transformation was spurred on by a monetary policy that would stabilise the currency and reduce significantly the cost of borrowing, the introduction of a raft of tax cuts and the shifting of the focus of the country’s economy from taxation to production.
He, therefore, urged all “who believe in regional integration to support community decisions and inspire confidence and integrity in the structural organs of ECOWAS. Our people deserve no less and the dream of prosperity will be within our grasp”.
Case of the EU
Making a comparison with the EU, the President said the single currency in the EU, the Euro, had increased efficiency, lowered the cost of doing business and improved transparency in pricing.
The overall effect, he said, had been to make Europe a much stronger economic and political player on the world stage.
But in the case of the ECOWAS, he said, it was established in 1975 to boost inter-regional commerce and co-operation, with the clear recognition that the countries of West Africa would be a more effective economic bloc and have a stronger political voice if they came together.
“Today, however, while the EU is central to the lives of Europeans, the ECOWAS is somewhat peripheral to the lives of most West Africans. And it is not for the lack of plans or even rules and regulations; it is simply that the political will to make integration real has been less evident than in Europe,” he pointed out.
He cited the non-implementation of policies such as the introduction of a common currency, a common agricultural policy, the West African Power Pool, and a common tariff regime, among others, as examples of good policies which were yet to be put into effect.
The new crop of West African leaders, he noted, “are determined to free their people from a mindset of dependence, aid, charity and hand-outs; bent on mobilising Africa’s own immeasurable resources to resolve Africa’s problems and recognise the connectedness of their people and economies to those of their neighbours”.
However, President Akufo-Addo said, it was important that the integration process became part of the national conversation in each of the member countries of ECOWAS, “and not just a matter just to be dealt with by officials and Heads of State at meetings and proceedings of ECOWAS”.