Keywords : Declarations Human and trade union rights Migration

Open letter to His Excellency the President of the Republic of Togo, Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

Your Excellency, the Chairman of ECOWAS,

On behalf of the member organizations of the West African Observatory on Migrations, we would like to express our sincere congratulations on your peers’ choice for electing you president of our economic community. Following the 51st summit of ECOWAS Heads of State held in Monrovia on 4 june 2017 and according your political agenda as head of ECOWAS to promote regional integration, the West African Observatory on Migrations launched a wide consultation with West African civil society actors. The purpose of the consultation was to collect proposals on actions that civil society considered to be important for real integration at regional level. It enabled various non-governmental organizations, migrant’s communities, religious men, economic operators and citizens to express their hopes for changes during your term as head of our sub-region. This open letter to you summarizes the expectations expressed by the various actors, which we hope will find a favorable response in your priorities at the head of the Community.

Your Excellency the Chairman of ECOWAS,

Citizens of our economic community are constantly expressing their pride for belonging to this community which unites peoples with a common history for centuries. In spite of the divisions created by colonization, the West African peoples feel inherited a history and common culture that have marked their region. The desire for integration that you express at the head of ECOWAS thus finds a favorable echo among the citizens of this space who hope, beyond words, concrete actions of your chairmanship to strengthen the understanding and Cooperation among the peoples of the sub-region.

Your Excellency,

Your first steps as chief leader of our community were marked by the visit of a border post to take stock of the free movement within the community. While encouraging you to take other similar actions, citizens in our community space wish to express their deep concern about the harassment they continue to experience at border crossings and on roads in the States of the ECOWAS. There remain serious difficulties for Togolese who want to go to Ghana or Ghanaians, Ivorians, Nigerians and other citizens of ECOWAS who wish to go to Lome. Many of the citizens of this community you are presiding, despite possession of their current passport and vaccination card, are subject to systematic racketeering by immigration officials. This crisis situation, which all citizens have been decrying for years, seems to remain unsolved until today. In the eyes of the citizens, a real commitment by the Heads of State and stricter control measures for the actions of immigration officers would be sufficient to put an end to these abnormal practices. In the name of those peaceful citizens being harassed, those poor women who are humiliated because they have a passport other than the country they want to cross, we ask you to use your mandate in the sub-region to end the racket at border posts and on the roads.

Your Excellency,

As some organizations expressed during the consultations we conducted, we can not speak of the free movement of persons, as long as they are obliged to present identity documents and a vaccination card to move from one country to another of ECOWAS. Like the Schengen area, the free movement that West African civil society hopes to see in our region is one that would allow a citizen to leave Senegal to go to Nigeria without having to show a passport, an identity biometric card and a vaccination card. Real integration in our regions must not suffer from the porous and artificial borders that the European colonists have left behind and which our countries are constantly reinforcing in the name of national sovereignty.

Your Excellency,

National security and the fight against terrorism are some of the arguments put forward by some States to justify maintaining and strengthening controls at border posts. As the experts and ministers in charge of security at the dialogue on migration in West Africa held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, last august acknowledged, the free movement of persons has no connection with terrorism. Regardless of the measures taken for border control, a criminal will not hesitate to use all means at his disposal, or even corrupt security guards, to cross the border in order to carry out wrongdoing.

Terrorist groups are the result of social inequalities, divisions arising from sectarian political or religious ideologies, and discrimination faced by marginalized groups in our space, and to use violence to make themselves heard. In order to defeat this terrorist threat, which wreaks havoc at both the regional and international levels, it is important for civil society that your presidency is marked by an exhortation to promote social justice in all ECOWAS member countries, to foster a culture of tolerance and live together, through education and to encourage cooperation between intelligence services in order to better protect the citizens of the community against transnational crime.

Your Excellency,

The road to regional integration depends on the development of roads, railways and the means of communication in our region. At the regional consultation that we have just held, various civil society organizations have expressed their satisfaction at seeing the Dakar – Lagos highway project come to fruition as announced at the Monrovia summit. However, West African civil society regrets that, after so many years of independence and despite our competent human resources, the construction of our highways, bridges and railroads is entrusted to European or Asian companies. Moreover, we regret that willingness to acquire means of integration is conditional on loans from international financial institutions and foreign banks that are going to increase the weight of our public debt.

For the citizens of the sub-region, it is still difficult to understand that it is easier and even cheaper to make a phone call to Europe than to launch an appeal from Togo to Ghana or Nigeria. For the West African civil society, in view of the progress made in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) to end telephone “roaming” fees, an effort by the ECOWAS states is strongly expected to facilitate communication between West African populations and their connectivity.

Your Excellency,

Many citizens have believed in the ECOWAS of peoples and have settled in another ECOWAS country other than their country of origin. In spite of the ECOWAS protocol on residence and establishment, community citizens find themselves forced to pay colossal sums in certain ECOWAS countries to obtain a residence card. In some ECOWAS states, these costs range from $ 100 to $ 250 per person. In spite of the precariousness of their activities, shoemakers, street vendors, drivers and cooks are obliged to take on debt to obtain a resident card and for their family members, at the risk of being persecuted and locked up by police officers.

In the education sector, the difficulties of recognition of and equivalence between diplomas in the sub-region seriously handicap the progress towards integration. For students from the community living in another ECOWAS state who are able to validate their equivalence, there is also the question of tuition fees. These fees are often triple the fees charged to national students. These worrying situations require, according to the West African civil society, a special attention during your mandate.

Your Excellency,

The private sector and in particular our Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs) suffer severely from the many tariff and non-tariff barriers imposed on the movement of goods produced between ECOWAS countries. Paradoxically, it is easier for a Togolese SME to export its production to France or the United States than to Nigeria or Ghana: This is in contradiction with the sub-regional agreements which in principle exempt sub-regional tax revenues in order to facilitate our economic integration. Your interest in this issue during your term of office will surely ensure job creation in the region for many young people by encouraging access to our local productions to the vast sub-regional market represented by West Africa. In this sense, the signing of the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with the European Union remains a subject of affliction within the West African civil society, because, as it has never ceased to recall, these agreements weaken development of a viable economic fabric within our region. Moreover, the need to move towards a West African common currency is also part of the wishes expressed by the West African civil society towards you.

Your Excellency,

West African civil society is convinced that the road to regional integration is the only way to guarantee a strong space capable of responding to the current challenges of globalization. In the face of the Economic Partnership Agreements signed with the European Union, the advanced outsourcing of European borders to various Sahel countries and the development of foreign military bases in our sovereign countries of West Africa, West African civil society observes the community is more than ever confronted with external challenges that jeopardize its integration. West African civil society will continue to pay close attention to the development of the dialogue between West Africa and the European Union, which increasingly serves the purpose of the European Union to the detriment of African interests.

In this sense, we hope that West African citizens will have the right to express their views on the important decisions taken at ECOWAS level that affect their future. An ECOWAS of the peoples can not avoid the consultation of the peoples by electoral means. At the time of the reform of ECOWAS institutions, it is important for civil society, in the name of democratic governance, that the citizens of our space can exercise control over the actions taken by the Commission of the ECOWAS. It is a wish of the civil society to see these projects open during your mandate.

Your Excellency,

West African civil society remains convinced that ECOWAS is only a step towards African integration. The forthcoming accession of Morocco, the granting of observer status to Tunisia and the agreements with Mauritania, however, raise many questions within the West African peoples. A communication from the ECOWAS institutions to the community’s citizens on the extension of ECOWAS to North African countries is strongly awaited at the level of civil society. The transparency displayed in these processes also depends on the strengthening of the West African populations’ adhesion to our community plan. For civil society actors, the ECOWAS of peoples must, more than ever, go beyond the slogan to become a reality.

While reiterating our sincere congratulations on your appointment as head of ECOWAS, and hoping that during your term of office, the voices of West African civil society will be heard at the level of the ECOWAS institutions, we ask you to accept, Your Excellency, the expression of our distinguished greetings.

For the West African Observatory on Migrations

The Permanent Secretary

Samir ABI


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