Monrovia: It was Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah, one of the pioneers of African Unity, who in the early declared that “The Sahara Desert that once divided us now unites us.” This prophetic utterance by the politician and statesman who led Ghana to independence in 1957 resonates today as West African politicians, economists and financial managers grapple with the issues of inter and intra-African trade, economic and industrial development and the move toward one currency, the Eco.
These issues have been at the heart of discussions now taking place in Monrovia during the ninth meeting of the College of Supervisors of the West African Monetary Zone (CSWAMZ).
Liberian Central Bank Executive Governor J. Mills Jones set the tone of the meeting when he cautioned that WAMZ’s success depends on member countries “reaching a consensus that ensures the right system and culture of domestic regulation and the application of consistent international best practices and rules across the zone.”
Daily Observer Business Correspondent George Kennedy, who is covering the meeting along with his assistant, Joaquin Sendolo, said the six-member states in the zone hope to harmonize their payment systems in order to achieve the introduction of the Eco by 2015. But, Kennedy reported, “most of [the Zone’s] member states, including Liberia, Nigeria, Guinea and Sierra Leone, amongst others, are still lagging behind in maintaining their inflation rate in single digits.”
That is why the CBL Executive Governor, in his keynote address, called on member states seriously and conscientiously to adopt what he called “the ethic of reform in the region’s financial sector.”
“Here in the sub-region we must remain wedded to the ethic of reform, taking into account the specific circumstances of individual member countries,” he declared. The Governor further called for the delivery of a “forward-looking, risk-based approach to regulation and supervision with early intervention mechanisms to identify cross-border linkages and their associated risks at the core.”
It is this critical issue of “cross-border linkages” that claimed the attention of Professor Dr. Akpan Ekpo, Director General of the West African Institute of Financial and Economic (WAIFEM), Management, when he addressed the meeting on Tuesday.
Professor Ekpo lamented that national boundaries between member states of the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) are “a hindrance to cross-border trade and the attainment of objectives of the Zone.”
He told Business Correspondent Kennedy in an exclusive interview that despite progress made by sub-regional technocrats, it was the politicians who, the Director General said, “are still dragging their feet on removing or reducing their checkpoints at border points.
As President Nkrumah prophesized in the early 1960s, Dr. Ekpo declared, “We should not allow our borders to divide us.”
He called on members states to reduce their recurrent expenditures and spend more money on hard capital investments, such as roads, infrastructure, power, manufacturing and capacity building.
The Director General insisted that member states “need to transcend political boundaries between them and invest in capital projects that would accrue to economic benefits to their people.”
The issue of cross-border trade is critical to the economic integration that all of us in the sub-region seek, which is destined to culminate in the creation of the much dreamed of single currency in West Africa, the Eco. But Liberians, Guineans and Ivorians are among many in the sub-region that experience daily the hindrances to cross-border trade, especially at the Ganta border with Guinea and the Loguatuo with Cote d’Ivoire.
Quite often Liberian market women and men traveling from Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire with fruits, vegetables and livestock experience spoilage and even extra-legal taxation due to cross-border delays. Worse still, sometimes truckloads of pepper, grain, peanuts, bene-seed are seized at the Guinea border and never returned to the market women. Such losses put some of these market women out of business for good. This also encourage smuggling.
The time has come for West African states to harmonize their borders by removing so many restrictions and other hindrances, in order to accelerate inter and intra-African trade.
West African states trade more with the outside world than with one another. The WAIFEM and all West Africans should encourage and pressure the main regional body, ECOWAS and its leaders to develop the political will dramatically to reduce cross border hindrances and hasten the day when intra and inter-African trade can be effectively enhanced.
This will bring us closer, at last, to the launching of the Eco.