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Freedom of Movement: A Major Challenge For ECOWAS?

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was established on May 28, 1975 to facilitate a common socio-economic space for West Africans. The ECOWAS Commission is comprised of 15 member states – the Republic of Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Conakry, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

Four years later, the Commission’s Protocol on Free Movement was conceived as an instrument to enable free movement of ECOWAS citizens within the sub-region (ECOWAS, 2011a: 2).  This protocol was projected as an integral part of institutionalizing a single regional socio-economic space where all citizens can benefit from opportunities in member states, including the utilization of commodities, access to coastal areas by landlocked member states, and, most significantly, unrestricted freedom of movement within its members’ states.

The ECOWAS Treaty of 1975 clearly recognized the need to permit and maintain, if not encourage, intra-regional trade migration as a way of rationalizing and optimizing resource allocation and exploitation at the regional level. Article 2 (2) (d) of the Treaty provide that: “The Community shall by stage ensure the abolition as between the Member States of the obstacles to the free movement of persons, services and capital.”

This objective has been given concrete effect in the ECOWAS protocol Relating to Free Movement of Persons, Residence and Establishment Signed in Dakar, Senegal on 29th May, 1979.6 Article 2 of the Protocol States emphatically that: The Community citizens have the right to enter, reside and establish in the territory of Member-states.

But since the inception of the Commission, free movement of persons and goods within the sub-region has not been fully realized. Incompatibilities in immigration and customs policies, monetary zones, and official languages among member states, have impeded productive migration and integration within the sub-region. These limitations have compelled ECOWAS to transform its conceptual notion of “ECOWAS of States” to “ECOWAS of People,” in which the people would be the focus of regional unification, rather than the state.

Also, regardless of the introduction of the ECOWAS’ passport among its members’ citizens for the purpose of free movement within the region, travelers, especially entrepreneurs are finding very challenging with free movement from one country to another in search of goods and for migration purposes.

Providing her ordeal recently in Monrovia at a news conference while transporting goods from Guinea to Liberia, Businesswoman Lorpu Kollie, who sells African attires, produced in Guinea, said traveling for them as marketers within ECOWAS Countries by roads is problematic and exploitative by security officers of those countries.

Despite being an  ECOWAS passport bearer after every 30 minutes of drive, there is a check point where security officers (immigration and police officers) would demand money from the driver and passengers. Refusal to adhere to their request leads to the impoundment of the vehicle until their demands are met.

“The vehicle will be impounded for hours without any justifiable reasons”. What she termed as bitter experiences while travelling by land within ECOWAS States cost too much without profits on goods brought from Guinea-a situation that has subsequently resulted to her travel by air. With the foregoing decision, goods imported into Liberia by Madam Kollie would obviously be costly; apparently twice than the regular price of each commodity.

Migrating citizens within ECOWAS member states continue to experience routine intimidation and harassment by officials (security officers) along the common borders. For instance, routine threats of arbitrary arrest and denial of passage if bribes are not paid are still common, even though the ECOWAS policy on a common passport for the entire sub-region has been in place since 2005).

Between Badagry (the exit point from Nigeria to Benin) and Noe (the entry point from Ghana to Cote d’Ivoire), there are an estimated 120 border posts  and security check points, forcing individuals crossing these borders to  switch intermittently from one official language to the other and exchange  currencies several times across borders;  (Africa portal 2007). 

With these challenges, ECOWAS looks to strengthen regional migration and the integration process, especially through its inter-governmental organizations and their activities. The projected unification of the ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) has been largely unattainable. ECOWAS is trying to introduce one currency in the region.

The Eco is the proposed name for the common currency that the West African Monetary Zone plans to introduce in the framework of Economic Community of West Africa (ECOWAS). Originally, the introduction of the currency was planned for December 1, 2009; however, this date was revised to 2015.

Later, the launch date was pushed back ever further, to 2020 by the monetary union of the sub-regional grouping. ECOWAS say they need about US200 million for the construction of a regional central bank to be situated in the Ghanaian capital, Accra.  The ECOWAS’ intent of a common external tariff regime and of a single monetary zone has not been realized as a result of disagreement over an appropriate formula and subsisting colonial undercurrents.

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