Things are beginning to look up for the 290 million citizens of ECOWAS, with the regional economy turning the corner due mainly to improving macro-economic management, improving governance and security situations and high commodity prices, according to ECOWAS Commission President Mohamed Ibn Chambas.
Dr. Chambas, who spoke at a landmark media session as part of activities marking the 33rd anniversary of the organisation, also cited improved donor assistance and the discovery of oil in commercial quantities in some member states to support his positive outlook.
“After years of virtual stagnation largely occasioned by the instability in market for primary products, the mainstay of most countries in the region, and distraction of more than a decade of conflicts, the prognosis looks better,” the ECOWAS Commission said.
He said the fact that the regional economy was turning the corner had already manifested in improvements in the regional GDP – from US$141.9 billion in 2005 to US$170.1 billion in 2006 and US$199.1 billion
“The prospects for 2008 appear favourable, with growth rate expected to remain above 5%,” Dr. Chambas said.
His comments will sure delight many in the region, which is home to 11 of the world’s Least Developed Countries and four others classified as non-LDC.
According to the latest UNDP, 12 of the 15 ECOWAS member states are among 31 of the countries with low human development based on the minimum indices of development.
Ironically, Dr. Chambas said, it was the same ‘development deficit’ that ECOWAS has sought to reverse since it was established in 1975, “acting as the engine to achieve a single regional economic community that will enable the region harness its resource endowments to promote the development of the region and reap the concomitant economies of scale”.
Despite his favourable assessment of the regional economy, the ECOWAS Commission President has warned that two ”exogenous factors” could imperil the momentum that had been generated.
Dr. Chambas listed the factors as persistent high prices of oil which, he said, could stifle growth and macro-economic stability, and the spiralling cost of basic food items.
To mitigate the problem of high oil prices, he said ECOWAS had asked oil produci ng member states to support the net importing states, while noting that the provision of minimum food support for the 4.4 million citizens of the region categorised as living in abject poverty remained a major challenge..
Looking ahead into the future, the ECOWAS Commission President believes the vision 2020 project embarked upon by his commission, as part of the transformation from Executive Secretariat to ECOWAS Commission last year, would help achieve sustainable development, the eradication of poverty and the promotion of regional peace and security.
He said the objective of the vision 2020 project of the 15-member bloc, which has been hailed world-wide for its pace-setting achievements, would be the realisation of its founding fathers’ dream of a common market and creation of an effective e conomic and monetary union – all geared towards ensuring a ”people-centred ECOWAS, thereby moving from an ECOWAS of States to an ECOWAS of people”.
“Ultimately, this should lead us to the creation of a zone which is an integrated part of the African continental space in a global village, where all human beings live in mutual respect, solidarity and fair trade,” he said. Panapress .