ECOWAS: The driving philosophy of multinationalism (1)



NO one wakes up one morning and decides to establish a multinational organisation. If even there is a spark of imagination, that a new multinational organisation would be a good idea, it is most likely to remain just that: a spark of imagination. The pertinent question we need to ask is, what is that thing that serves or becomes a stimulus that drives the formation of a multinational organisation?

An excursion back into world history would provide the answer. The first example in modern history goes back to 1815 when the Congress of Vienna convened to mark the end of the 30-year Napoleonic wars led to the formation of the Concert of Europe. The Concert kept the peace in Europe for the next 100 years. Then came the First World War which ended with the formation of the League of Nations in 1915 which kept the European peace until the war again broke out in 1939. That war came to an end in 1945 with the founding of the United Nations.

In other words, on each of those examples, it took a cataclysmic occurrence to spur the formation of each organisation. Tragedy breeds inspiration to avert future occurrence. And so what was that tragedy that bred and inspired a Pan-African consciousness, the oak of which ECOWAS is a shoot. The answer is obvious. That tragedy is slavery and its twin, colonialism.

The post-tribal Pan-African consciousness was probably born on those trans-atlantic slave ships. Those slaves were forced into those ships with their tribal identities stamped in their consciousness. Somewhere during that trip, they looked at their captors and looked at themselves and a new consciousness sparked off the awareness that they had a unity of identity that set them apart from the white captors. Julius Nyerere, one of the witty seminal African leaders was once asked “when did the Africans discover that they were Africans rather than Zulus, or Wollof or Yoruba, or Ibo or Hausa or Ashanti?” He replied, “we looked at the colonialists and we looked at ourselves and we realized that we were Africans and they were not.”

In fact, the name of our continent, Africa, arose from another tragedy, which was the Roman conquest and occupation of Carthage in present state, Tunisia. The major group in Carthage was called the Afri. The Roman then called their colony Africa, the land of the Afri. And that is how history gave the continent its name.

Let me return to the slaveship nascent pan-tribal consciousness. It came then as no surprise that the first Pan-African movements and organisations came out of the sugar plantations of the Caribbean, the West Indies and the cotton and tobacco plantations of the United States. Such names as Marcus Garvey, Edward Blyden, Henry Sylvester Williams, W.E.B. Dubois drove the idea and the movement. The First Pan-African Congress was held in London in 1900, the second was held in 1921, the third in London and Lisbon in 1923 and the fourth in New York in 1927. By then, a West African nucleus has metamorphosed into a West African Students Union formed in 1925 and a West African National Congress formed in August 1946. It is clear that the lineage from slavery and colonialism as motivators in a symbolic sense bred this Pan-African consciousness in a cascading lineage to West African consciousness.

The first attempt on a governmental institutional level at concretising a West African consciousness was in 1965 when President William Tubman of Liberia originated the idea of a West African Economic Community and got Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, and Sierra Leone to sign on. What was the motivation, especially given that the Organisation of African Unity had been formed two years earlier in 1963. When one talks about motivation, one is looking for the reason behind the reason. The publicly given reason is usually a rationalisation. We must be ever mindful of the admonition by Shakespeare that “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face”. The fact that the first West African coup d’etat happened in Togo, a coup allegedly promoted by Ghana which also was having a difficult relationship with Cote d’Ivoire might have spurred Liberia to reach out to Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea for a security alliance. Liberia and Sierra Leone were and still are small states which were never nervous of a supposedly expansionist Ghana. Guinea was having a nervous relationship with France. So it was security threats of an existensialist nature that drove that initiative but that threat was not sufficiently grave to bring the initiative to fruition.

Then came the Gowon of Nigeria-Eyadema of Togo initiative of 1972. I am not buying the argument that Nigeria was driven by the need for access to a market larger than its population. After all, 40 years after ECOWAS came into being, there is no factory in Nigeria that is producing at a capacity to satisfy its domestic population. No. I believe that what drove General Gowon was the Nigerian civil war. Not the carnage as horrendous as that was, but the highly tenuous Nigerian relationship with its neighbours which could have created existentialist problems for Nigeria if the neighbours had adopted a hostile attitude. There was a left-over issue from the civil war which was Emeka Ojukwu, the Biafran leader taking up residence in exile in Cote d’Ivoire. Joint membership in ECOWAS allowed reconciliation between Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire without a loss of face on both sides.

In the past 40 years, ECOWAS has achieved a lot and my intention is not to list these achievements as you are all participants in bringing these achievements into being.

• To be continued tomorrow
• Professor A. Bolaji Akinyemi, CFR, Fniia, Fssan, D.PHIL (Oxon), former minister of foreign affairs and deputy chairman, 2014 national conference presented this paper in Abuja on May 25, 2015 as Keynote Address To The National Commemoration Ceremony of the 40th Anniversary of the creation Of ECOWAS In Nigeria On The Theme: “Nigeria, ECOWAS celebrating the economics of unity” under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abuja, Nigeria.

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