Marcel de Souza, President, ECOWAS Commission: Interview

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Marcel de Souza, President, ECOWAS Commission

Interview: Marcel de Souza

What are the difficulties currently affecting integration efforts within ECOWAS?

MARCEL DE SOUZA: Although ECOWAS has the highest score on the UN’s Africa Regional Integration Index in terms of free movement of people, challenges still remain. We are working closely with stakeholders in the application of the rules that govern the integration process. Non-tariff barriers remain an impediment to the free movement of goods and people. However, there are several ongoing initiatives to build awareness of these issues among government authorities so that they can be progressively eliminated.

Most recently, a task force was created to work in close collaboration with the chambers of commerce, private operators and public authorities to flag cases of harassment and unlawful behaviour at the borders. We have opted for a policy of raising awareness, although we will soon move towards more comprehensive measures. The Unity and Stability Pact of ECOWAS requires nation states to ensure a certain level of fiscal coordination and the harmonisation of Customs policies. Currently, however, the application of these guidelines remains lacklustre across the union. Therefore, by 2020 stricter measures will have to be instituted to ensure their adequate application.

How will the Community Development Programme (Programme Communautaire de Développement, PCD) help West Africa to reach its sustainable development and economic goals?

DE SOUZA: The PCD can be defined by four primary pillars: the integration of peoples, governance and human development; the deepening of economic integration; the development of infrastructure and value creation; and financing and cooperation. These elements include 12 strategic objectives that are in perfect unity with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Previously, with the help of the Millennium Development Goals, African nations achieved substantial results in relation to areas like primary education, improvement of children’s health, the fight against HIV/AIDS and access to drinkable water. In the case of the SDGs, substantial efforts will be made during the 2016-30 period, aiming to lower extreme poverty by 43.5%, child mortality by 68.5% and maternal mortality by 79%.

Moreover, we must pursue and consolidate our efforts to mobilise the required financial resources by increasingly leveraging innovative financial mechanisms and public-private partnerships. We hope to leverage our internal resources to finance feasibility studies for projects included within the PCD, with the hopes of getting the ball rolling and facilitating the raising of funds. In that respect, we hope to bring about lowering the level of poverty and hunger, while improving the health of the most vulnerable segments of the population and increasing the competitiveness of our economies. We believe that these elements will noticeably improve the socio-political environment of the region and progressively move us towards the ambitions highlighted by the SDGs.

What opportunities would the creation of a single currency provide the union with?

DE SOUZA: As we seek to fully integrate our economies, the creation of a single currency is an inevitable step. We are currently witnessing the benefits of such a policy within the West African Economic and Monetary Union, with inflation levels oscillating close to 2%. We believe the creation of a single currency could also spur interest among both local and international investors seeking to finance regional infrastructure projects.

Nevertheless, reports have shown that policies aimed at the harmonisation of budgetary, monetary and external debt policies have seldom been respected by the member states. We hope that as we consolidate our achievements from recent years and weather the storm of the fall in commodity prices, member states will progressively adhere to these important policies.

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