By Akinkuolie Rasheed
The kingdom of Morocco left the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) now (AU) about 33 years ago to protest against the admission of Saharaoui Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) into the union. In January 2017, the Alawite Kingdom made a surprise return to the African Union (AU) and at the last summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) indicated its interest to join the community. Tunisia is also interested in joining ECOWAS while the return of Mauritania is almost imminent, as soon as all the formalities are concluded.
The sudden interest of these countries in the African Union and ECOWAS is no surprise. The organisations have become a success story. The AU had won the political struggle for the liberation of the continent from colonialism and imperialism and it has been tackling the daunting challenges of economic freedom in diverse ways, one of which is the creation of Regional Economic Communities (RECs) to address the economic, political and security challenges of the continent at the regional level, before they merge to form an African Economic Community and Market.
The ECOWAS is one of these regional economic communities. Others are the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) for Central Africa, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) and South African Development Community (SADC). These RECs are not exclusive clubs, but units of an entity which would come together, progressively with adjacent RECs fusing into a unit, until all the Regional Economic Communities subsume into a continental African Economic Community.
ECOWAS had turned out to be model and a good example of a successful community. It had maintained peace in the region through the ECOMOG, security arrangement, established ECOWAS Parliament and Court, adopted common fiscal policies, common passport and removed restrictions on the movement of goods and citizens in the region. Some of the RECs have not lived up to expectations. The unfortunate Arab Maghreb Union could be considered as technically defunct because of irreconcilable differences between member states, especially between Morocco and Algeria over Western Sahara. The collapse of Libya virtually ended the community.
The trio of Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritania, erstwhile members of the defunct UMA are isolated and left in the lurch. This challenge may have influenced the quest of Morocco, Tunisia and Mauritania to join ECOWAS. This demarche does not contradict the charter and vision of the AU, which supports the integration of adjacent RECs as a way of accelerating the eventual full integration of the continent.
The other states in the Maghreb should be encouraged to join ECOWAS to complete the absorption of UMA to ECOWAS. Trans regional organisations which cut across regions within the continent are not unusual, but common.
The Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD) -with 24 state membership cuts across ECOWAS, ECCAS, COMESA, and UMA, countries. UEMOA, the Francophone monetary Zone cuts across ECOWAS and ECCAS. There are economic communities of nations which share common interests and challenges at the international level, and inter-continental levels.D-8 countries which is an economic association of developing countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East is another good example. It is the same with the South America- Africa Forum (ASACOF), which links the two continents to promote economic cooperation which hitherto was insignificant, but increased exponentially since the creation of the Forum.
In conclusion, Africa had won the political war of liberation from colonialism and imperialism, but, the challenges of economic freedom and Human Development Index (HDI) is a battle which must be won and can only be won, through concerted cooperation, foresight and inclusion. The application of Morocco and Tunisia to join ECOWAS is not an anomaly, but a reasonable desire to overcome the daunting challenges of underdevelopment which should not be treated with cynicism.