President Nana Akufo-Addo says that it is in the economic interest of Ghana and her enterprises for the process of West African integration to succeed and become real as soon as possible.
He says his programme for Ghana’s social and economic transformation, spurred on by a monetary policy that will stabilise the currency and reduce significantly the cost of borrowing.
Also, the introduction of a raft of tax cuts, and the shifting of the focus of Ghana’s economy from taxation to production, should make Ghanaian businesses competitive in West Africa, Africa and beyond.
“As the empowered Ghanaian businesses become stronger and more successful, they will need bigger markets. West Africa has a market of 350 million, which will expand to 500 million people in 20 years.
“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 peoples of our region with hard work, creativity and enterprise. The time for West African integration is now,” he said.
The President added that a functioning, common regional market in ECOWAS has to be a very fundamental objective of Ghanaians, and, indeed, of all the peoples and governments of West Africa, and reiterated, once again, his commitment “to do whatever I can to strengthen the ECOWAS community.”
The President maintained that “when we think of West Africa and Africa before our individual countries, we are not just being pan-Africanists, we are being true nationalists, because what makes West Africa better will make each of our individual countries better and more prosperous.”
He thus urged all “who believe in regional integration to give enthusiastic support to 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.”
He said this on Tuesday when he delivered a speech on the occasion of the 42nd Anniversary of ECOWAS Day, at an event organised by the Centre for Regional Integration Africa, at the Best Western Premier Hotel, Airport, Accra.
Follow EU’s example
Citing the processes which led to the establishment of the European Union (EU), the President noted that the EU, which has one currency and the free movement of goods, services and people across twenty-seven countries, has a nominal GDP of 16.5 trillion US dollars, making it the second largest economy by GDP in the world.
“The single currency, the EURO, has increased efficiency, lowered the cost of doing business and improved transparency in pricing. The overall effect has been to make Europe a much stronger economic and political player on the world stage,” he added.
On the other hand, ECOWAS 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, 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,” the President lamented.
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, amongst others, as examples of good policies which are yet to be put into effect despite being on the books of ECOWAS.
“The European Union 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.
New crop of African Leaders
President Akufo-Addo was confident that West Africa is finally beginning to find its feet again, thanks to the emergence of new leaders, all of whom have been democratically elected – the first time in West Africa’s history.
These new leaders, he said, are committed to governing their peoples according to the rule of law, respect for individual liberties and human rights, and the principles of democratic accountability; and are looking past commodities to position their countries in the global marketplace.
He further noted that this new crop of West African leaders are determined to free their peoples 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 peoples and economies to those of their neighbours.
It is, however, important that the integration process becomes part and parcel of the national conversation in each of the member countries of ECOWAS, President Akufo-Addo said, and not just a matter just to be dealt with by the officials and Heads of States at meetings and proceedings of ECOWAS.
He cited the example of Britain’s vote for Brexit, which, he said, was anchored in deep divides that had been visible and growing for decades. These divides were spurred on by currents that had been deeply embedded into the fabric of British society for decades.
“The populations of West Africa must, therefore, understand the advantages and the disadvantages of subscribing to a regional grouping, as their support, for or against the process of regional integration, will ultimately determine the level of its success,” he added.