The West African sub-region is beset with a myriad of economic and political problems in its quest to achieve a relatively competitive economic growth that will guarantee self-reliance in the post-COVID -19 era.
It is on this premise that the Parliament of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has restated the need for economic development and regional solidarity in order to ensure security and prosperity of the region.
Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament Dr Sidie Mohamed Tunis during his speech at the opening of the Second Ordinary Session of the ECOWAS Parliament 2023 in Abuja last Wednesday, told parliamentarians and member states that the region can only address the myriad of challenges facing it by working together and investing in economic development.
The Speaker said;”only a foolish neighbour goes to bed when his neighbor’s roof is on fire”, adding that “in a region of interconnected threats and challenges, we can only address our issues effectively through broad, deep, and sustained cooperation among states.”
The most important remark by the Sierra Leonean lawmaker was perharps his warning to member states against over reliance on outsiders to solve the region’s problems and the inherent disadvantages.
He said that greater self-reliance from ECOWAS member states is the the most assured and sustainable path to regional economic development that will address the problems of the region.
“We need to be more self-reliant. Each Member State must take on more responsibility for the development and advancement of the ECOWAS region,” he said.
While the Speaker seemed to have pointed to a new direction, the enormity of the crises in the region requires a critical assessment and the deepening of the measures, especially the legislative and administrative efforts to address these crises by all ECOWAS institutions including the ECOWAS commission and UEMOA, the region’s monetary union.
West Africa reportedly has a combined GDP of nearly $700 billion but the GDP per capita is less than $2000 on the average as of 2022. This is due to poor economic growth and worsening poverty. Inflation rate in the region is soaring high, triggering high cost of living and poor purchasing power in many of the 15-member nations of the ECOWAS region.
A greater part of the ECOWAS population resides in Nigeria, its biggest economy with about 220 million people. However, Nigeria is in dire economic situation with about 133 million of its population according to available data, suffering from multi-dimensional poverty.
Nigeria’s inflation rate hits 27% in October 2023 and its GDP growth rate has hovered around 2.2% for a country which population growth rate is over 3%. This is a recipe for disaster and urgent steps are needed to rescue the country and others within the sub region.
There is a net decline in investment in West Africa even as capital in flow has been less in the last couple of years and the regional parliamentarians need to interrogate the economies of scale to attract broad-based investment that can increase growth and reduce poverty.
The legislative arm must immediately move for improved business-friendly financial support mechanisms as well as more robust and improved trade practices that reflect the current economic realities.
Recently, China hosted the 6th edition of China International Import Expo in Shanghai where it opened its 1.4 billion market to the outside world. West African countries can take advantage of this by sending processed goods to China for value addition instead of the usual primary agriculture products.
Luckily, the Chinese government of President Xi Jinping during the 3rd edition of Belt and Road Forum For International Cooperation in Beijing in October, has earmarked 350 billion Yuan (about 50 billion US dollar) for member countries to source funds for industrial development, blue economy, infrastructure, ICT and others sectors. Many West African countries are members of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) as well as the Forum For China African Cooperation (FOCAC) with huge funds.
These and many other sources of funds can help the region identify its priorities and embark on methodical investment that will begin to harness the resources of the region for proper development especially of infrastructure.
West Africa is ripe for investment and with well-guided investment drive based on modern business development services and larger markets, the sub region should at least raised its GDP per capita to $3000. But above all, any talk of West African integration can only thrive with massive investment in industrialisation.
Again, the region must have a coordinated plan to address the lingering political instability especially now that the region is plagued by a number of challenges which include the unresolved military intervention in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Niger, and the unending insecurity in the region.
Despite the setback of military coups, there are shining examples that democracy can thrive and a sign of progress was recorded with the Presidential and Legislative elections in the Republic of Liberia.
According to Tunis “The people of Liberia have shown us that democracy is possible in our region. “We can all learn from their example.”
Tunis said further, “I am confident that, with the mechanisms and institutions in place to prevent and manage conflicts, advance peace and development and foster trade and regional integration, we are on track to achieving our goal of becoming a model of regional cooperation and integration, not just in Africa, but around the world.”