The idea of a monetary union across West Africa is for now a fantasy, because the implementation is bound to be problematic
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has in recent years designed many programmes meant to aggregate the benefits of economic integration within the sub-region for the good of member-countries. It is therefore within the context of this goal and the support for fledgling local economies that it now plans to establish a monetary union across West African countries.
A major benefit of this idea, according to its proponents, is that with an estimated population of about 200 million people spread over 15- member-countries, and a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of over $350 billion (based on 2008 estimate), a unified monetary system will provide an enormous market for the development of the sub-region. Innovative and forward looking as this idea may seem, it is our well-considered view that it rests essentially on an illusory sense of relevance in an environment that is still caught up in atavistic cleavages.
By the imagination of ECOWAS leaders, a single currency will be used across Anglophone West African countries by 2015. The other West African countries are to join by 2020. This plan presumes a degree of economic sanity and progressive integration of extant national interests that are nowhere near what is needed to create a common currency. For instance, it is widely known that ECOWAS has been talking about this monetary union for about 15 years now. The Commission has set and shifted dates for this over and over again.
The regional solidarity needed for the next steps is missing. The reforms that should precede such a union have not been carried out. There is overwhelming evidence of limited consensus on key issues and resolutions that had to be made at extra-ordinary meetings where a full house would be more indicative of genuine commitment. It is therefore important that ECOWAS does not deceive itself into mistaking the regular consultations with
limited impact on the far-reaching policy decisions of its members for progress.
Besides the huge capital outlay for the realisation of such ambitious agenda which is not there, the timeline for monetary union seems to fly in the face of contemporary global realities. Against the background that Europe took several steps before deciding on Euro, we should advise ECOWAS leaders to get serious. Even at that, given the problems that Europe is facing now, how will ECOWAS countries be able to handle such critical challenges if and when they come? How will a regional economy that is not denominated in any currency suddenly come up with a binding monetary union that would be meaningful outside the confines of diplomatic niceties that define illusory global achievements?
We believe that West African leaders should face the common challenge of poverty, which they all face before thinking of a common currency that is no more than mere pipe dream. It is one thing to sign treaties and regional agreements that would apparently bring an El-dorado and quite another to settle down to the serious business of impactful governance.
We note with dismay, for instance, the subsisting practice of using European and other foreign economic consultants for tasks that Africans can handle. Yet development and regional integration are, first and foremost, about the nurturing and use of human capital to create a hub of capacities. Unless this fact is kept on the front burner there may emerge a lumbering bureaucracy that measures success by the number of meetings and resolutions, rather than by concrete achievements with measurable impact on the life of the people.
We must remind West African leaders that it was this recourse to hasty and ill-digested decision making which led to the introduction of ECOWAS Travellers Cheque some years ago with the result that it could not survive beyond one year. The ECOWAS regional currency plan may not be a bad idea in terms of the broader goals of regional integration, but there is no point dissipating energy on what is doomed to fail.