The most populous country within the bloc has not hidden its disapproval of the decision by ECOWAS to allow the north African country, Morocco into the bloc right from the beginning.
Early this year, Morocco applied to join ECOWAS. The decision is not out of place, but surprised many observers, because Morocco is a member of the North African regional bloc, the Maghreb Union which Morocco also hosts.
The country’s action isn’t the first either, that north African countries have joined organisations originally meant exclusively for countries in other regions of Africa, as Libya, Egypt and Sudan are members of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), a group of countries in East and South Africa. Algeria has reportedly started negotiations to join as well.
Mauritania, which was a founding member of the ECOWAS, but left in December 1999 has recently requested an association agreement with the bloc.
The agreement provides for “enhanced cooperation in several areas of common interest, including the establishment of a free-trade area, the application of a Common External Tariff (CET), the promotion of free movement of people and the development of a common trade policy that will promote increased intra-regional trade and the creation of the common market of West Africa.”
ECOWAS has however, invited Mauritania to apply for membership.
ECOWAS is a regional bloc of some 15 countries close to each other, and mostly with common borders. The countries are Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, Togo, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, The Gambia, Mali, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Niger, Benin and Cape Verde.
The Centre for Democratic Development (CDD), a Think Tank has urged Nigeria to ensure that Morocco’s application to ECOWAS is rejected.
The CDD believes that Morocco’s membership of ECOWAS is a direct challenge to Nigeria’s leadership in the organization.
“ECOWAS is for the states in the West African sub-region and in this regard, the revised treaty defined the region as the geographical zone known as West Africa as defined by a resolution of the then OAU Council of Ministers.
“Morocco is not classified among the member states of the ECOWAS by the UN and the African Union.
“Why will Morocco in the Maghreb want to join ECOWAS? What exactly does the region have in common either in terms of economic, religious and cultural affinity with West Africa?” Ms Idayat Hassan, Director of CDD was quoted as saying by The Premium Times.
In June however, at the 51st Ordinary Session of the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS in Monrovia, Liberia, ECOWAS ‘accepted in principle’ Morocco’s request to join the group.
Since then, Nigeria has intensified its objection to the decision to grant Morocco ECOWAS membership. In October, Members of the House of Representatives pointed out that Morocco’s membership in ECOWAS could have negative political and economic implications for Nigeria as “the leader in the sub-region.”
The reps passed a resolution asking the Committees on Foreign Relations and Regional Integration “to undertake an appraisal of the matter and make recommendations on ways to ensure that Nigeria is protected from any adverse effects that can result from the admission of Morocco into ECOWAS.”
Some of the members argued further that Morocco’s target in seeking to join the bloc is to access Nigeria’s market using the advantage of duty-free trade ties the country has with Europe.
In the meantime, while a final decision on Morocco’s membership is expected to be reached at the next ECOWAS Summit of Heads of State to be held in Abuja, Nigeria December 16 (the meeting was originally set to hold in Lome, Togo), ECOWAS has commissioned the Economic Commission for Africa to conduct a study into the possible implications of Morocco joining the bloc.
The Arab Maghreb Union
The Maghreb Union, the regional bloc for north Africa made up of five countries; Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia seems to have been in a lull. The countries in the bloc appear to be competing with each other, pursuing self-preservation and interests at the expense of regional integration.
A recently issued report by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) on the dynamics of the Maghreb Union obtained by ghanabusinessnews.com, gives a bleak picture of the grouping. While the report highlights the slowness of the Union, it notes that the Summit of Heads of State has not met in 23 years!
The report postulates that the individual approaches, as developed by the countries of the sub-region, also express a widespread belief in the slow construction of a united Maghreb project, involving the five Maghreb countries.
“Maghreb construction appears slow and does not seem able to meet the aspirations of the member countries. The steps described represent a new sub-regional dynamic that will have an impact on the member countries but also on the Maghreb dynamics, whose dynamism could be more affected by the outcomes of the individual negotiations of its member countries with the other geographical groups,” it said.
Indeed, these recent developments highlight the slowness of the Maghreb project and the construction of the free-exchange area. The latter had been granted in June 2010, but it is still a long way off, the report said.
What could be the cause for this individual country decisions against the collective? The long standing rivalry between Morocco and Algeria over the Western Sahara cannot be underplayed.
Since Spain granted the territory to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975, Morocco’s efforts to integrate the region into its borders has been thwarted by the Polisario Front which has continued to challenge Morocco’s claims. The group says it is speaking for the indigenous Sahrawi people of the Western Sahara.
Algeria is home to a majority of Sahrawi refugees and has been supporting the Polisario Front in its opposition of Morocco. Effectively, therefore, Morocco sees Algeria as the force behind the group demanding independence for Western Sahara from Morocco.
Algeria is believed to be using its support for the Polisario Front in resisting Moroccan domination as a way of stating its claim for regional dominance.
The rivalry is thus thwarting efforts at regional integration and leading to tension, and forcing the uncomfortable neighbours to seek ‘integration’ with countries and regional blocs several thousand kilometres away from their borders.
African integration by individual countries and blocs
Some observers see this development as progressive as in a way, it is leading to integration of the continent, but others think the original idea of the regional blocs evolving over time and integrating with other blocs was more desirable to individual countries bending backwards to join other blocs.
A 2016 Africa Regional Integration Index Report launched in Addis Ababa, the result of a collaboration between the ECA, the African Development Bank and the African Union Commission which looked at systematic measurement of regional integration, found that on a scale of 0 to 1, ECOWAS came third with a score of 0.509, behind the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which scored 0.531, and the East African Community (EAC) which came first with a score of 0.540.
The Arab Maghreb Union (UMA) came fourth with 0.459, followed by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in the horn of Africa and its western area, with 0.457; and the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) in sixth, scoring 0.454.
COMESA scored 0.415 and CEN-SAD, 0.395.
Nigeria’s concerns might be overlooked by other members, and Morocco will very likely get full membership of ECOWAS, but Algeria is highly likely to follow with a request to join as well.
By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi
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