Friday, May 30, 2008

The Africa Unity Day that Wasn’t

By E.K.Bensah II

The last holiday that Ghanaians enjoyed might have gone unnoticed to many in its symbolism purely because they did not understand the significance of it. It is interesting to note on the news wires that even the US government congratulated the African Union(AU) for the celebration of forty-five years of its existence on 25 May. So when in scanning the Ghanaian media, one heard and read almost nothing symbolic about that celebration, it struck me as a worrying trend in our psyche of “Africanness”.

Granted, we do not need a holiday alone to remind ourselves that we are Ghanaian in particular, and Africans in general, but I do wonder whether it animates us sufficiently. For a country that played host to an African Union (AU) summit in June 2007 in the fiftieth anniversary of the country’s history, it is downright unacceptable, in my opinion, that Africa Unity day came and went with a non-existent fanfare.

We can speculate as much as we can—that it is an election year, or that it fell on a Sunday, therefore the media’s antennae were not awakened to the significance of it, and then some. In my view, we have no excuse about the silence, especially at a time when the regional is taking centre stage.

Take the case of Burma and the cyclone that it experienced a few weeks ago. Two weeks ago, British foreign minister and former senior UN official Lord Mark Malloch-Brown toured the region to try to establish whether there could be greater collective Asian/ASEAN response to the disaster. This was important, because the reluctance of the regime suggested that a regional response—translated through the ten-member grouping of the Association of South East Asian countries (ASEAN) – that includes Burma would elicit a more effective response. His efforts proved useful, because ultimately, a Franco-British deal would eventually facilitate ASEAN’s greater role in the disbursement of aid to the victims of the cyclone. All this has come against the backdrop of criticism in some quarters suggesting ASEAN should be disbanded.

One particular article in the *Jakarta Post” entitled “Myanmar disaster challenges ASEAN’s utility” went so far as saying that ASEAN has been lethargic in the manner in which it has been implementing its programmes, including a 2005 Agreement on Disaster Management and Disaster Response that was never signed.

The case is not that much different in this part of the world, where ECOWAS, established since 1975, has, many times, come under some flak for not living up to its agreements. To date, the “real” meaning of ECOWAS integration is debatable, considering the hassles citizens of West Africa—comprising some 230 million—experience traveling through the sub-region.

Food crisis
The challenges notwithstanding, what we can say ECOWAS has done off late is respond regionally to the food crisis that has afflicted much of the developing world.

Last week, the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) agreed to provide $1billion annually to support agricultural productivity in the West Africa sub-region as part of its contribution towards resolving the food crisis. This was part of the outcome of an extraordinary meeting of the regional grouping and their ministers of agriculture, trade and finance. This development has spawned a number of discussions around ECOWAS and the implementation of a common agricultural policy.

Truth be told, it would be as far back as 2005 that the grouping would adopt the ECOWAS Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP). Three years later, its implementation remains moot. According to TRADENET website, in Senegal’s attempt to implement ECOWAP, the country begun putting in place a National Programme of Agricultural Investment. The question now is getting the mqjority of ECOWAS countries adopting the policy.

Any regional grouping learns from demands—or imperatives—that are placed on it. This means that when the Liberian conflict broke out in 1990, ECOWAS was compelled to send troops through its peacekeeping/-enforcement wing of ECOMOG. Today the Labadi-based Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Centre(KAIPTCE) is a testament to the ECOWAS imperative of conflict resolution and prevention. I daresay considering earthquake-struck China’s proximity to the ASEAN region, the grouping’s new imperative could be that of disaster management!

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