By Ben Adam Shemang
Since the establishment of the Economic community of West African States, ECOWAS, in 1975, America has been an ally of the regional body in terms of physical development. This commitment has been demonstrated in the areas of employment, provision of services and security, among others.
Going down memory lane, the US has provided support for ECOWAS regional projects like the West African power pool and the West African gas pipeline projects. Also just launched is the USAID-West African trade hub put at 102.5 US dollars while the ECOWAS-USA Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) was signed recently. There is the Sahel Initiative which seeks to turn around the dwindling fortunes of the Sahel and Lake Chad region as well.
Specifically, the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement is designed to provide a mechanism for expanding trade and investment both between the United States and the 15 ECOWAS Member States, and across the entire ECOWAS region.
The signing of the TIFA with the 15 countries of the Economic Community of West African States, beyond demonstrating the USA’s commitment to strengthening economic bonds, underscores the need for the world to invest in Africa, and West Africa, as the next generation of economic opportunities.
It was not mere coincidence that the endorsement of the agreement came with the announcement by the White House that major American companies had committed to invest 14 billion dollars in Africa’s future.
No doubt, trade and investment is a critical force for economic growth and it is gratifying to note that ECOWAS nations are taking advantage of this.
For instance, records from the Office of the United States Trade Representative show that ECOWAS’ exports to the US in 2013, under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), totaled eleven billion dollars – up significantly from 5.7 billion dollars in 2001 (the first full year of AGOA trade). This included significant growth in non-oil products such as cocoa powder, cocoa paste, apparel, fruits, nuts, beans, yams, cassava, baskets, and spices.
Among many countries, America is definitely taking the lead in ensuring that West Africa develops fast. What is now left is for the ECOWAS leadership to seize the opportunity and use these available resources for the common good of the region.
ECOWAS leaders must come to the party with a joint resolve to surmount the challenges posed by man-made and natural disasters, including internal conflicts, human trafficking, child labour, drug trafficking, desertification, poverty, and the dreaded Ebola Virus Disease that has been ascribed the potential of undermining global security.
The regional body must ensure that there is no lip service to these programmes. The leaders must wake up, smell the coffee and realize that the time has come to stop the cap-in-hand approach to development, as benevolent nations are already exhibiting signs of donor fatigue.
Ben Adam Shemang is Deputy Director News, Voice of Nigeria Abuja.