PROMOTING REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT IN WEST AFRICA

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Introduction:
Regional Development in Africa and in particular West Africa is a topic that should interest everyone within the Region. The founding fathers of the OAU, AU, ECOWAS and the other regional development blocs in Africa appreciated the need for a unity of action. The synergy of the regional blocs fueled their struggle against the colonialists.  Lately, the emphasis has shifted to harnessing the resources that rightly belong to Africa for the benefit of Africans.

Firstly, we must recognize that God in His infinite mercy loved Africa. Africa is positioned at the centre of the world: Europe to the Northwest America to the West, Asia to the East AustraAia to the South. In particular West Africa occupies the Heart of the Universe.

  • West Africa comes natural in every way. In West Africa the Sun shines all year Round: No natural disasters; while the Hurricane ravages the West, the Monsoon winds, Landslides and Earthquakes are at work in Asia. Extreme cold weather persists in Europe.
  • Even as drought situations rear its ugly head in other Regions of Africa, West Africa is blessed with marked seasons- Rainy Season and Dry Season – each season complementing the other.
  • In a typical West African rural setting, Hunger does not really exist – in every season there is so much to eat and waste: maize, millet, plantain, bananas, root crops, tropical fruits all abound in seasons. If the West African food market is better organized to meet the demand, the Region will have no problem in reaching the Millennium Development Goal to halve the prevalence of Hunger and Poverty!
  • Fresh palm wine – from nature full of refreshing yeast cells come as mana from Heaven. When fermented can produce the best Gin in the world – now branded “illicit” for reasons only best known to Colonialists.

 The Sub-region is blessed with abundant Natural Resources: Oil and Gas in Nigeria and lately Ghana, Mineral Resource: Gold in Ghana, Iron Ore in Liberia, Tin, Columbite and Tantalite in Nigeria, Coal deposits across the West Coast.  Agricultural produce: Cocoa, Palm Oil, Rubber, forestry- Timber products and numerous Root Crops and Tropical Fruits.

In Medicare, the Rain Forest and Grassland is populated with herbs and shrubs which can cure any known ailment. God in His mercy raised talented Herbalists who had the mantra to identify these herbs. Unfortunately due to lack of documentation these men of wisdom passed away without passing down their knowledge by documentation as is obtained in the advanced world.  This would have created room for improvement and advancement in the local Medicare Sector.

Lately however, in Ghana, between 70% – 80% Ghanaians seek Primary HealthCare from Traditional Medical Practitioners, making the Herbal Medicine Industry one of the fastest growing in West Africa sub region. It is gradually being now appreciated and accepted by the Elite most of whom hitherto shield away from it due to dosage, quality and safety standards. Herbal Hospitals such as AGBEVE Herbal Hospital at SORWUTUOM in greater Ghana region can match most Orthodox Hospitals in terms of modern medical laboratory facilities and diagnostic machinery. Harnessing the immense potential of Traditional Medicine offers the Health Sector a unique opportunity to improve the Health of the people, as well as opening up a vast opportunity for research into herbs and plant medicine. Private Sector collaboration in the development of Traditional Medicine as is done in China and the East will go a long way to improving the Health of the people. This dream will come to fruition if Governments in the West African Region will ensure Regulation, Education, training, research and development of improved Traditional medicine on the Health Sector to the benefit of the common man.

With all the above in our Kitty, West Africa has no business being branded as the Purveyor of Poverty, Disease, Hunger and Strife, Corruption and Under development.

The time is now for West Africa through ECOWAS development partners to adopt new standards for Regional Development taking into consideration the interest of West Africans.

This calls for a complete paradigm shift in Developmental Strategy. When one looks at the economically successful regions of the world, a key ingredient contributing to the high growth and strong development is inter-regional trade. This is a critical variable. It is currently missing in the West African Region. The West African Regional body ECOWAS must first strive for deregulation to stimulate the free flow of Goods, People and Capital to encourage interregional cooperation. The rules, regulations and legislations of the member countries must be tailored to creating the environment that will make interregional cooperation happen naturally. A call for new era industrial revolution must be the answer.

Regional Development in West Africa will boom, soon as the border posts are opened up with improved logistics to allow the smooth transfer of goods.

A situation where the natural wealth; in particular the mineral resources remain untapped. Most get carted away by the developed countries to advance the socio economic status of their people, make new inroads in scientific development while the West African people are left to grapple with poverty is totally unacceptable. For instance, in the Gold fields of Ghana – where currently surface mining concession have taken over 70% of land area of Tarkwa with dire implication for Farmers income and food Security.  Similarly, in the bastadised Oil region of the Niger Delta of Nigeria the locals are left bare with no fishing fields as the entire region is Oil Spilt. The above two examples are lacking in commiserate Corporate Social Responsibility as is practiced in the developed World. Moreover, there is lack of Transparency concerning the financial remittances Minning Companies make to Government institutions, coupled with the inability of revenue Departments or Finance Ministry to audit the complicated accounts of the Multinational Mining companies leaves much to be desired. The host communities end up being poorer. This must change if West Africa must develop.

The time is now under the umbrella of ECOWAS to come up with a unified plan of action geared towards achieving some common objectives as a West Africa Regional bloc. The aim being to fast track economic development and promote the general welfare of the West African people. To this end a new approach is eminent.

A New Approach:

Some key features of this new approach to regional Development in West Africa will include:

  • A development strategy that covers a wide range of direct and indirect factors:
  • Good governance/ Leadership
  • Educational Development
  • Youth Empowerment/ Employment /Human Security
  • Infrastructural Development
  • Electricity
  • Health
  • A focus on regional specific assets- Harnessing National Resources:
  • Petroleum Product – Oil &Gas, Solid Minerals, Agricultural produce
  • Emphasis on opportunities prevalent in the West African Region
  • Development of solar energy
  • Water Dams
  • Trade and Agricultural Development
  • Collective/Negotiated governance approach involving, National, Regional, Local government, other Stake-holders such as the private sector
  • Promoting West Africa Intra Regional trade and business
  • Open and Free Boarders to facilitate regional trade
  • ECOWAS integration – common currency as practiced in the Europe Union (EU) to foster Trade.
  • Application of a unified fiscal policy approach within the ECOWAS Region to foster trade.

Good Governance / Leadership

Good Leadership and good governance is the key intervening variable in the relationships and performance of the various features mentioned above for an effective West African Regional Development. Leadership has been identified by experts as the greatest need of the 21st century that can bring about Transformational change. Leadership that will motivate and inspire the followership.

Leadership that will encourage National Development: Fight Corruption – a major impediment to economic development in Africa. African leaders are known for amassing immense personal wealth. They are experts in striking deals with contractors to the detriment of the state  which they have sworn to protect. No wonder none has been able to qualify to win the Mo’ Ibrahim prize for good governance for years running.

Africa deserves good leaders who must be contemporary – in all managerial aspects. They must be digital in concept, proactive, Intelligent and knowledgeable. Africa needs leaders who have demonstrated integrity, managerial ingenuity and a track record of performance in their primary profession before seeking elective Office. Africa deserves Leaders who are youthful and vibrant –the current trend of analogue, old and roguish leaderships who sit tight, and are devoid of new ideas is totally unacceptable. The sole aim of leadership in Africa must be to serve and ensure that the needs of the people are paramount. They must be leaders who understand the concept of democracy and respect for the rule of law.

Education:

The educational vision for promoting West African Regional Development must involve building 21st century educational institutions featuring African centered curriculum. The youth must be taught to see the region as a union with a common purpose. With such educational background the concept of unification and common goal in the near future will be a foregone concept. There will be need to build Intra – Regional Exchange Programs for Students to enable them acquaint themselves with the various cultural settings within the region. There will be need to encourage scholarships and academic competitions internationally to enhance standards.

Having gotten right the leadership aspects, all the anomalies militating against educational progress in the region would have been fixed.

  • Each nation within the region must aspire to attain the Millennium Development Goals.
  • The United Nations Budget for education must be adhered to.
  • Compulsory education for all must be adopted.

 Without good education the future for African Development is gloomy.

With good education, the proportion of unemployed youths will be minimal. West African youths will no longer be unemployable having been trained in some skill acquisition to encourage entrepreneurship. A unique curriculum needs to be adopted within the Region on Agricultural Value chains to enable the youth key into the enormous opportunity Agricultural Development offers in stemming the teaming unemployment. To this end, the various nations must establish skills acquisition/ Modern Technical schools to train people to become self employed. This is planned to reduce the number of white colour job seekers.

Furthermore, good education is key to evolving a new class of Followerships who will be politically aware, to demand their right as citizens. They will be in a position to choose and elect preferred Candidates into elective positions.  Awareness is key in the practice of Democracy which has eluded Africa in the past due to the high percentage of illiteracy within the Polity.

Infrastructural Development:

Infrastructural development in the West African region requires multilateral Government investment. Governments must be in agreement on this so as to promote easy movement of goods and persons. Easy access to neighboring states must be encouraged by all member states of the ECOWAS community:

Trans National Rail Roads and Motor ways must be put in place for business and entrepreneurship to flourish. Similarly, a network of Air Transport connections will be required to encourage and promote entrepreneurship, efficient regional integration, Tourism, Social interaction, and Promotion of Trade within the region. The International standard gauge linkage Rail roads, and Motor ways will facilitate easy inter-state distribution of Agricultural produce from Production areas to areas of need at minimal cost.

Human Security:

It is not possible to promote development without a foundation of physical security. West African Region should be prepared and ever ready to subdue any form of Insurgency within the Region. It must not be allowed to deteriorate to a level where it has to be treated as a priority at the expense of all other developmental activities. The Boko Haram Insurgency in Nigeria is a case study. The ECOWAS need to bring its weight to bear on this insurgency. Most importantly, the new approach will aim to harness and amplify the power of the Private Sector and to integrate the efforts of the Private, Public and Social Sectors, always remaining aligned with the strategic goals of the Local and National Governments. There is an urgent need to bring the host Nation, the Private Sector, Development Agencies and local Partners together to address all the components of human Security in an integrated and sustainable manner.

Power/Electricity Generation:

About 57% of West Africa’s population is without access to electricity (Source: African Development Bank 2nd quarterly monitor 2014). This statistics is totally unacceptable. It is inimical to industrial development of small, medium and large scale Industrial development.  This abysmal statistics must change. West Africa has great potential to generate renewable energy sources which includes: Modern Biomass, Hydro Power, Solar and Wind. These have remained untapped. The same (AFDB) report reveals that West Africa has an estimated potential of 25,000 megawatts, yet only about 16% has been exploited despite the abundance of water ways. West Africa is said to hold 214 Dams out of 1,282 Dams in Africa. In addition several in – country Lakes and Dams hold promise for renewable energy development. The report acknowledged that Solar Power Projects were spreading across the Sub region. Burkina Faso, Ghana and Guinea have lots of potential for Hydro Power. Mali and Niger have for Solar Energy. While Cape Verde, Gambia and Senegal have potential for Wind resources. Nigeria has large deposit of Natural gas begging to be effectively harnessed to power the entire West African Region and even more for export.

Harnessing these energy sources to electricity will go a long way in lighting up West Africa, increase production level for the small, medium and large scale production outfits. Create new jobs thereby reducing youth unemployment for which West Africa as a region has the highest number of unemployed youths. More importantly prepare the Sub-region for a sustainable Industrial take off.

Trade / Agricultural Development:

Good leaderships in West African Sub Region is the tonic for a collective and negotiable governance approach which will guarantee a common playing field for all the nations within the region- big or small. It will guarantee larger markets aimed at promoting West African intra-regional trade and business for all.

Lately, the President of African Development Bank (AFDB) Group, Mr. Donald Kaberuka, disclosed that Africa Countries import about USD25 Billion worth of food each year, with only about USD 1 Billion worth of such imports coming from Intra – African trade. This scenario, is completely unacceptable if trade in Africa must develop. Borrowing a leaf from the European Union (EU), ECOWAS must insist on Open and Free Boarders, Increased Free Trade Zone to facilitate easy movement of Intra-West African trade devoid of international bureaucracies which hinder and deter development efforts in trade development.

  • A synergy of effort as a union must be adopted in harnessing natural resources such as Oil & Gas, Solid Minerals, Food Products such as Cocoa, Oil Palm, Cassava, Maize, Fruits: Mangos, Pineapple, Oranges, etc. West Africa should be able to invest across Boarders to establish mega food industries within high productions Zones to serve the entire region. Private Sector participation within the value chain, should be able to facilitate Processing Plants for various Agricultural Products as Dangote Industries is doing with Dana Industries in Nigeria. Such cooperation will encourage the farmers and help them to work harder to meet demands for consumption and industrial use. Wastage which is usually the norm at seasons will seize to exist. Farmers will be better off and richer. Food Production will increase, poverty alleviation will be the ultimate. Huge wealth creation will result in view of the agric value chain. If our West Africa leaders can imbibe a firm and collective will to a negotiable governance approach which will involve at all levels: National, Regional, Local Governments, Private Sector investors, there is no doubt that Regional Development in West Africa will take a quantum leap. Posterity will be better off for this great sustainable approach to trade and Agricultural development.

A sustained effort must be made to revive the real sector once all the infrastructural and enabling environment is put in place. The Sub-region may need to borrow a leaf from the Nigerian Content-Act; This Act seeks to increase indigenous participation in various ‘High Profile’ Industries such as the Oil and Gas which only the Multinationals Control. This will have very positive implications to the GDP of the entire region. It will also promote Public Private Partnerships (PPP).

 Health:  

West African Region with unity of purpose as a union will be better prepared to fund modern health care institutions with State of the Art facilities. They will be better positioned to fund research to tackle diseases which abound in the West Africa region such as malaria, Tuberculosis, Polio, Maternal and Child Health related diseases, and lately the deadly Ebola disease!

 It is worthy of note that at the just concluded ECOWAS  states summit on Ebola in Accra Ghana, ECOWAS states announced a financial contribution of USD7.7 million to the regional solidarity fund to fight Ebola. Similarly, the United Bank for Africa (UBA) Board Chairman, Tony Elumelu has recently announced the donation of USD1million to assist the fight against Ebola in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. This magnanimous show of Corporate Social Responsibility by a indigenous African Bank is an affirmation of Africa’s commitment to her own development. This is encouraging. It is in line with the dream, and the mileage the West Africa region will stand to gain if the new strategy for a regional development plan comes to fruition.

Increasing the number of Public Health Professionals in the West African Region will significantly improve the regions ability to review important Public Health issues and tackle new challenges in a timely and appropriate manner as they arise, such as the growing Ebola threat, in the West African Region. The future of Health Care looks promising if the right support from Governments in the West African Region and partnerships with the non-traditional groups in the Private Sector are secured.

Education will sure play an important role here in the West African Sub-Region, not only in aiding Public Health Workers in their quest to prevent disease and combat poor quality life, but also in raising awareness of Health Sector itself. The need to have an influx of new educated and well trained professionals is the key to solving the myriads of Health problems the Health Care Sector in the Sub-Region needs.

The growth of Herbal medicine companies in Ghana to the extent of exporting to other countries in the sub region will contribute meaningfully to intra-regional trade and regional integration

CONCLUSION

Promoting Regional Development in West Africa requires high level networking and understanding between the ECOWAS Governments. The concept of ‘Local Content’ as it is recommended to apply in the Oil and Gas Industry in Nigeria must be brought to bear: This will ensure that investments in Property benefit local communities and their Economies.

Furthermore, there should be an obligation on the Investor to give preference to the employment and training of Nationals in various ventures; Agricultural, Petroleum Operations, Mining, e.t.c. It will also involve an obligation on the Investor to give preference to the use of products, equipment and services that are locally available. This way local businesses will have the advantage in participating in various processes of the industry located in their locality. This must be followed up by appropriate legislation to legalize it.

The region needs world class Transnational Infrastructure connecting the member countries. Modern infrastructural development across the region should be able to transform West Africa into a hub for Tourism as well as important destination for Agricultural Produce: with capacity to feed her subjects and create corridors for food exports in view of the vast fertile and expensive unutilized farmlands that abound within the Region.

The challenge is for West Africa to imbibe, True leaderships who can Guide her to evolving a self sustaining economy; an all inclusive economy that can be recognized for abolishing poverty in all ramifications. A self sustaining Economy that will look inwards for developments, ensuring sustainable developments in Educational standards. An Economy that would rather look inwards for intra-regional trading and commerce rather than look to the West for AID. An Economy that can boast of Exporting Processed Raw materials with added value as opposed to “First Order” Raw materials which has been the bane of our God given Natural Resource both human and material.

BY CHRiS APUGO
Social Marketing Consultant.
Lagos Nigeria.

 

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