Acid test for Incoming ECOWAS Commission Chairman
By Nsikan Ikpe
The recent Presidential summit on the Eco, the West African Single Currency Project, held in Accra, Ghana has once again brought to the fore the most germane issues in the sub-region’s single currency debate.
Long named the Eco, the currency, just like the European Euro has been projected since its inception decades ago, to over time become the most dominant, if not the exclusive legal tender that is used all across the sub-region.
With the Francophone bloc in the region still largely tied to the apron strings of France, the first challenge to the realisation of the Eco dream has always been how to wean them off this feeding bottle. That much was not the focus of discussion at Accra as it was almost exclusively devoted to the Anglophone bloc, the West African Monetary Zone, WAMZ.
A second prominent drawback that recurred even in the current summit is the reality of an under-performing economy in big brother, Nigeria. This situation has led to a collosal decline in the largest economy in West Africa, and ensuring that business, jobs and capital find more attractive berths in neighbouring West African nations and elsewhere. And with almost no very serious plan on ground to fix the problems, particularly as it has to do with basic issues like power, as well as the lack of a political will to address its causative factors locally, the issues simply continue to drag.
These drawbacks notwithstanding, Ghana, one of the fast growing West African states and which has taken immense steps to ensure the integration of its economy within the confluence of economies in the region, is one of the strongest proponents of the scheme at the moment and understandably so.
“The 350 million market is important to us for our industrialization drive,” Finance Minister Ofori-Atta spelt out at the summit.
Ofori-Atta also sees as quite comforting the fact that ‘the economic activity in the ECOWAS region is improving and most of the large economies are experiencing economic rebound.”
Corroborating this point, summit host, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo is equally most upbeat about the great strides that lie in wait for the sub-region once the process of introducing the currency is concluded.
“We remain determined to have a single currency, which would help remove trade and monetary barriers, reduce transaction costs, boost economic activities and raise the living standard of our people,” Akufo-Addo stated at the event.
But will Nigeria, which sent a cautionary note to the event, be persuaded?
Given Nigeria’s now long-running hedging on the project, it is looking quite clear that the behemoth, which presently accounts for some 80 per cent of the sub-region’s GDP and over half of its population, would need a whole lot of comfort to sign up for the scheme any moment soon. Accordingly, very robust appeals would need to be made to the Nigerian presidency and national assembly, the media and business communities, and most notably the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, MAN and the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, NESG, that are at the forefront of national foot-dragging on the scheme.
Analysts therefore say that one other way of getting around the sturdy Nigerian opposition and pushing the subject even further is for Ghana to work with the other principal Francophone economies that are presently making giant economic strides in the sub-region such as Cote D’Ivoire and Senegal to further get their buy-in for the project. Part of the strategy here they propose is not just to talk to the Francophone states but to also take ‘the battle’ to France and the international community.
All things considered however, resolving this long-running bottleneck over the practical take-off of the single currency will be one sure way that regional observers as The Difference will be gauging the success or otherwise of the tenure in office of the incoming Chairman of the ECOWAS Commission and outgoing Minister of Mines and Industry of Cote D’Ivoire, Monsiuer Jean Claude Brou. It is also a test of the diplomatic brinksmanship of Ghana’s President, Nana Akufo-Addo.
Incoming ECOWAS Chairman, Jean Claude Brou