Leaders of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) recently held a special summit in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, which focused on moving the region towards a common market and a single currency by 2020.
While the region’s economy was expected to top the agenda, the meeting of the heads of state and government dwelt at length on the political tensions in Mali and Guinea-Bissau.
Senegal President Macky Sall welcomed his recently-elected Malian counterpart, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to the summit and urged the heads of state in attendance to “continue with efforts to maintain peace and security in the region”.
The regional bloc also looks forward to contributing more troops to the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) following the insurgence of Islamic militia in the region.
MINUSMA is meant to eventually reach 12,640 troops and police. At the end of July it had just over 6,000.
France sent troops to Mali in January to halt an advance on the capital Bamako by Al-Qaeda linked Islamist groups and allied Tuareg rebels, but has announced plans to reduce its presence from 3,000 soldiers currently to 1,000 by the end of January 2014.
Ivorian leader AlassaneDramaneOuattara told the summit that the fight against terrorism in the Sahel region is far from being over yet, calling on West African nations to “remain on the side of the Malian people”.
Guinea-Bissau, where ECOWAS also has troops, was another source of concern for the West African leaders.
After a military coup in 2012, a caretaker regime is due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on November 24, and speakers in Dakar voiced their hopes for a “happy ending” to the nation’s transition to democracy.
Ahead of the summit, however, ECOWAS has made it clear that the main focus of the day would be to clear the path towards a monetary union across the region.
The leaders will discuss a series of recommendations on the creation of a single currency zone, the establishment of a single customs area within ECOWAS zone and signing off on deals to strengthen trade links with the European Union.
ECOWAS leaders also envisage a common currency for seven member-states by 2015, the ultimate goal being a merger with the UEMOA states and a single monetary ECOWAS zone by 2020.
Founded in 1975, ECOWAS groups around 300 million people in eight French-speaking and five Anglophone countries, as well as two countries where Portuguese is the official language. GNA