51st ECOWAS Summit of Heads of State: Beyond Israel’s Carrot and Stick and Morocco’s Membership Virus

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By Bola A. Akinterinwa

The 51st ECOWAS Ordinary Summit of Heads of State was held in Monrovia, Liberia, the oldest independent country in West Africa, from Thursday, 1st June to Sunday, 4th June, 2017. The summit, as usual, was preceded by various meetings of ambassadors accredited to the ECOWAS organisation and the Council of Ministers. The ambassadors prepare the agenda and discuss critical issues, the outcome of which was referred to the Council of Ministers for further review and agreement. When there is no agreement on issues raised, they are generally left for determination by the ECOWAS summit proper. Generally, the Council presents its own outcome as recommendations to their principals. The Authority of Heads of State and Government which then considers the recommendations one by one for adoption, and generally by consensus.

In this regard, the preparative meetings began on Thursday, 1st June while the main summit was held on Sunday, 4th June. On Monday, 29th and Tuesday, 30th May, the 21st meeting of the ECOWAS Administration and Finance Committee (AFC) and that of the Ministerial ad hoc Committee on Institutional Reform were held. On Wednesday, 31st May, the Mediation and Security Council Committee held its own meeting while the meeting of Council of Ministers took place on June 1.

The 51st ECOWAS summit was more or less a foundation for future self-destruction, essentially because of the international politics of it. First, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited as a special guest and as one of the speakers at the summit. His invitation was unprecedented, being the first non-African leader to have been so invited to address the ECOWAS leaders. In fact, no Israeli leader has officially visited the ECOWAS region since the 1960s.
Second, King Mohammed VI of Morocco was also invited. The King wanted to attend and plead for the admission of Morocco to full membership of the ECOWAS. And true, King Mohammed VI prepared well for the summit but refused at the last minute to attend the summit because of the would-be presence of Prime Minister Netanyahu. Put differently, Morocco and Israel have different misunderstandings, largely induced by the Israelo-Arab, particularly the Palestinian, question. Consequently, the Moroccan Foreign Ministry has explained why King Mohammed VI could not attend the summit in person.

As explained, ‘King Mohammed VI wishes his first presence at an ECOWAS summit not to take place in a context of tension and controversy.’ The non-attendance of the king was ‘to avoid confusion.’ However, there was not only confusion already because of the purpose for which the Moroccan king was coming, Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS also has the potential to generate new controversies. So was the invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Israelo-Africa summit is scheduled to take place in Togo in October 2017. Prime Minister Netanyahu wants all the ECOWAS leaders to attend and take active part in the summit. This wish is quite difficult to comply with because Israel does not generally respect UN Security Council resolutions on the Palestinian question, but is seeking African support. Should African leaders be aiding and abetting international lawlessness?

Thirdly, essentially because of the Netanyahu and Moroccan factors, some Member States did not participate in the summit at the level of Heads of State. Essentially, it was the sub-region of Nigeria and its immediate neighbours, Benin and Niger Republics that were not represented at the level of Heads of State and Government. One possible explanation for the non-representation at the highest level might be the need to avoid being the friend of one and the enemy of the other. There was the time Nigeria voted on the side of Palestine and there was also the time Nigeria abstained in favour of Israel at the UN Security Council. As at today when Nigeria’s relations with both the State of Palestine and the State of Israel are warm, the best attitudinal disposition Nigeria could have was to show commitment to the ECOWAS by participating, and to show caution by ensuring representation at the level of Chargé d’affaires.

Commitment by Nigeria is critical to ECOWAS survival at this time of global instabilities. The invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu has a destabilising effect. Morocco’s quest for full membership of the ECOWAS cannot but also adversely affect the notion of a region in intra-African relations and, therefore, the need for its re-conceptualisation. Consequently, the ECOWAS leaders appear to be consciously threading the paths of self-destruction. The Community citizens are also not helping the matter by also acquiescing to it.
Put differently, the ECOWAS is challenged by its future, especially in light of developments in the European Union, after which the ECOWAS is patterned in conception, design and structure. The challenge cannot but be also made complex with the factors of Morocco’s membership and Netanyahu’s policy of carrot and stick. The ECOWAS, therefore, has to make haste slowly in the quest for economic assistance and also in the consideration of Morocco’s accession to the ECOWAS Treaty, as well as Tunisia’s quest for observer status.

The Challenge of Morocco’s Accession

ECOWAS must avoid taking community citizens in West Africa for granted. They must always remember why Morocco left the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and why the same Morocco is now compelled to return to the successor organisation, the African Union. They must remember that ECOWAS countries are mainly located in Africa, South of the Sahara and are also black African countries. For avoidance of doubt, it was because of the conflict between the Western Sahara and Morocco that led to the withdrawal of Morocco’s membership of the OAU.

Morocco tried to claim sovereignty over the Guerguerat area of Western Sahara, which borders the Atlantic ocean, when the Spanish colonialists left the territory. The POLISARIO, which is the military wing of the Saharawi Arab people, engaged in a guerrilla warfare to press for self-determination and independence of Saharawi Arab Republic. Morocco offered to grant full autonomy but under its full sovereignty. This has not been acceptable to the Saharawi Arab Republic which is already a nation-state, recognised by many other states in international relations, and, of course, a member state of the African Union.

With this development, Morocco still refused to accept the situational reality. It was mainly because the OAU invited the Saharawi Arab Republic to one of the OAU summits that angered Morocco and that led to its withdrawal from the organisation in 1984. In the eyes of Morocco, the OAU admitted a ‘puppet republic.’ Consequently, ‘no Moroccan will accept the kingdom’s return to the pan-African organisation to be alongside a puppet republic.’

The main rationale for Morocco’s hostility was also that the OAU Charter provided that only independent and sovereign states could be admitted as members. True, Morocco could not be more correct. However, African leaders also wanted to do away with all forms of colonial exploitation on African soil. One good way of enhancing it was to recognise the SADR by first of all granting it an observer status.

As at today, Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the territory of the SADR is yet to be jettisoned and Morocco has not only applied to return to the African Union but has actually been readmitted. In his letter addressed to the AU Chairman, Chad’s President, Idriss Déby Itno, at the 27th Summit of the Union in Kigali, Rwanda in July 2016, King Mohammed VI said ‘Morocco is heading on Tuesday with determination and clarity, to return to the confines of (its) institutional family and to continue to assume its responsibilities with greater enthusiasm and with all conviction.’ More significantly, King Mohamed VI underscored his country’s confidence ‘in the wisdom of the African Union and his ability to get things back to normal and to correct errors of the past.’

What are these errors? They are simply associated with the presence of the SADR at the OAU. Morocco sees the presence of the SADR at the OAU as ‘a clear conflicting position with international law,’ and also believes that the African Union cannot ‘continue to insist on the violation of national positions of Member States.’

Even though Morocco considers that Muammar Gaddafi, a major financier and supporter of the SADR had died, and therefore, no more an issue at the level of the African Union, and even though Morocco also considers that the African Union has also removed the conditions of accession from the AU Act, the return of Morocco to the African Union with the SADR still remaining an active player in the organisation simply means an indirect, to say the least, recognition of the SADR.

In international relations, the non-recognition of a state does not prevent its existence. A state is necessarily constituted with the union of a people, a territory, and a government capable of enforcing the country’s international obligations. In the eyes of Morocco, 70% of African countries do not recognise the SADR as at today and that 17 of them never recognised it, while 12 of them withdrew their earlier recognition. All these considerations do not prevent the existence of the SADR as a state and Morocco, with its return to the AU of leaders of wisdom has also come to recognise the myopic character of its 1984 decision to withdraw from the OAU. The return to the AU can be considered as a welcome development.

However, Moroccan quest for full membership of the ECOWAS cannot be a welcome development. In the first instance, it has the potential to bastardise the classification of Africa into five regions. As clearly stipulated in the 1991 Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community, Articles 1(d) and (e) divided Africa into five distinct regions (West, North, Central, East, and Southern) and makes the union of any of three or more states within any given region a sub-region. For instance, Nigeria and her immediate neighbours naturally constitute a sub-region. Will the membership of Morocco, observer status of Tunisia and Israel not require the re-definition of the boundaries of West Africa?

Morocco is geo-politically located in the Northern region of Africa. By joining the ECOWAS, there cannot but be a conflict of interest in the long run. It should not be quickly forgotten that Mauritania was a founding member of the ECOWAS. Mauritania withdrew its membership in the hope of joining the Maghreb Union or be associated with North Africa. Again, like Morocco has rediscovered the beauty of returning to the African Union, so has Mauritania seen the need to quickly return to the ECOWAS where it naturally belongs. The questions therefore are: why is Morocco interested in the ECOWAS? Why is Mauritania coming back to the ECOWAS? Can we explain the rationale with one Yoruba proverbial saying, according to which ‘if you do not know where you are going to, you must know where you are coming from,’ and therefore be able to retrace your steps?

Morocco is more attached to the Arab world. The attachment has the potential to be detrimental to Africa’s long-term interest. For instance, permanent representation of Africa at the UN Security Council is a case in point. One of the declared conditions for eligibility to be considered for permanent seats with or without veto is geographic or regional representation. Contributions to the peace operations of the United Nations.

In this regard, the Big Powers want, in an attempt to respond to Arab pressure for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council, to sponsor Egypt because the Arab world does not constitute a region by UN’s definition. Africa is a region as defined by the UN. Consequently, since Egypt is geo-politically located in Africa, efforts are being made to take one of the seats to be earmarked for the African region to Egypt. By so doing, the two leading contestants, Nigeria and South Africa, are therefore to contest for the other seat.

Additionally, Professor Bolaji Akinyemi has posited three major reasons militating against the admission of Morocco into the ECOWAS. First, the ECOWAS has no right to redraw the boundary of West Africa or extend the boundary to the Mediterranean. As queried by Akinyemi, ‘what is the legal or moral or historical justification? How does this dovetail with the acceptable international norms and usage?’

Secondly, in contemporary international relations, regionalism is one of the main criteria for distribution of appointive and elective posts, particularly at the United Nations. Thirdly, he asked: if ECOWAS now shifts West African boundary to the Mediterranean, does it mean that not only Morocco and Tunisia, but also Egypt, Libya, Israel … and Palestine are eligible for membership in ECOWAS?’ (vide The Punch of June 9, 2017, p.14; and The Nation of June 9, 2017, p.18). These are critical questions that ECOWAS leaders must first address before discussing the approval granted in principle to Morocco.

Put differently, in the near and distant future, there cannot but be problems with Morocco’s membership. Morocco cannot but have more sympathy for Arab countries than for the ECOWAS, whereas, Arab and black African interests are generally not the same. Besides, the perception of a Black man by an Arab, especially if the Black man is not a Muslim, is nothing to write home about.

Consequently, it is better to allow the black African civilisation and the Arab civilisation to grow and develop on different platforms. Let Morocco and Tunisia sustain their Magrebin Union and their Arab League and let these organisations then relate or cooperate with the ECOWAS as different regional organisations. The Arab world appears to have been saturated with political extremism. This is why the Arab countries are now looking for new grounds for alternative futures and Arabophone politics. This cannot be acceptable because Egypt tried in the past to rubbish the patriotic efforts of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo when he was Chairman of the AU Assembly of Heads of State. Egypt also tried to rubbish the efforts of Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji, CON when he was the chairman of AU Council of Ministers. A committee of Ten Member States (two countries per region) was set up to consult with other stakeholders on the modalities of selection or election of new candidates for permanent membership of the UN Security.

The Egyptian Foreign Minister convened an international press conference and insulted Nigeria, by accusing Nigeria of using the AU platform to promote not the AU interest but that of Nigeria. The accusation was most uncalled for as it was far from the truth. In the same vein, there was the time former President of Nigeria, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was to speak with the Moroccan leader on the phone, it was insultingly rejected. This is the same Morocco that is now seeking to join the ECOWAS where Nigeria’s influence politics is well established.

Apart from Libya under Muammar Gaddafi, which is hostile to the West for various reasons, all other member states of the Maghreb associate more with Western Europe than with Africa. Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS cannot but seek to use the ECOWAS as an extension of Arabophone politics, and particularly the use of Morocco by Europe to serve as a counter-order to Nigeria’s position.

Nigeria has not signed the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union, This is why there has been much delay in its entry into force. Morocco’s membership cannot but be a new leeway to cut Nigeria to size, especially in light of the emerging new Cold War. In other words, there is no way Morocco would not want to be another money-bag and a bigger than thou member in the area of payment of assessed dues and therefore a new counter-weight to Nigeria.

Morocco’s membership of the ECOWAS will require the re-articulation of Nigeria’s foreign policy concentricism as postulated by Professor Ibrahim Gambari and Nigeria’s Constructive and Beneficial Concentricism as postulated by Ambassador Oluyemi Adeniji. In this regard, if there is a re-conception of the geo-political definition of a ‘region’, then the notion of West Africa being the second concentric circle would have changed. The interests being pursued in the new West Africa will also need re-articulation.

Israel’s Carrot and Stick

Finally, and perhaps most important, is Israel’s Carrot and Stick. Prime Minister Netanyahu wants to expand trade, agriculture, and other industries in West Africa. He underscored the readiness of his country to help Africa to tackle terrorism and other problems, considering Africa as an important ally. As he put it, ‘Africa and Israel can work together in defeating terrorism’ and that terrorists ‘cannot frighten us because we have the power to defeat them.,’ especially that Israel is ‘world leader in intelligence and technology. Israel is ready to build African capacity in these areas.

While the offer of help to West Africa is commendable, the arrogance with which the offer was made must be unconditionally rejected. For instance, Israel pledged to give US $1 billion to the ECOWAS in exchange of political realignment on matters affecting Israel at the United Nations. As put by Netanyahu, Israel would give one billion US dollars worth of investments to the ECOWAS region if its leaders accept to do away with their anti-Jewish bias at the United Nations and other international organisations. This investment gift is nothing more than a carrot and stick policy that must never be accepted for whatever consideration.

ECOWAS attitudinal disposition to the Israelo-Palestinian problem is largely predicated on the belief that there is the need for fairness and justice in the conduct and management of international affairs. On the contrary, the offer of one billion US dollars is economic. The implication of such an offer and its acceptance is that the ECOWAS should have economic investments and also accept political subservience to the State of Israel. It also simply means mortgaging the political conscience of the whole people of West Africa. This is too much of an unnecessary insult. West African leaders should be more careful.