This article was originally drafted by the Centre for Democracy and Development for the newsletter “West Africa Insight” as part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Searchlight Process. For more Searchlight content on futurechallenges.org, please click here.
The West Africa Transport and Transit Facilitation Strategy of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) aims to improve transportation infrastructure, standardize processes and facilitate movement in the region. Divided into 2 major corridors: a) the trans-Sahel highway, from Dakar to Niamey via Bamako and Ouagadougou and b) the trans-Coastal highway, from Lagos to Abidjan, including the interlinks between the two highways originating from each port. The implementation of the strategy is slowly but steadily removing impediments to the system and West Africa is heading into the future of its regional transport and transit and integration.
One significant input to the right direction is the emerging lead role assumed by non-state actors (NSAs) in transport and transit facilitation partnership initially existing at planning level between only government and donors. Recently, for the first time, a non-governmental organization, the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) was assigned to provide lead planning and policy implementation in the regional transport sub sector. Established through a Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)-led process, WACSOF with headquarters in Abuja and national platforms in ECOWAS member states has now been playing a crucial role of stakeholder sensitization on joint border administration across the region. As part of its ECOWAS assigned role, WACSOF has organized a series a workshops lately, bringing together government (including heads of customs, land transport, ports authorities, immigration, road safety, local mayors) and NSAs (including NGOs, transporters’ union, chambers of commerce, traders, border community associations, women and youth groups).
Speaking to West Africa Insight after the series of workshops, the President of WACSOF, Professor Omar Ndongo, said certain steps must be taken to improve the lot of the West African populace. “There is a need to do the following, he said: “One, implement the provisions of various ECOWAS Transport and Transit Facilitation Strategy contained in several documents and decisions of the ECOWAS; Two, the member states should show commitment to upholding the commitments they have agreed to; Three, transportation facilities such as roads, border posts, and others should be rehabilitated; Four, processes that have to do with transportation such as licensing and vehicular inspection and drivers’ training should be standardized across the region; and lastly, the populations of West Africa should ne sensitized to the need for them to demand from their governments the appropriate systems.”
Such systems, as the sensitization workshops noted, include the railway network, which is disjointed and has only two networks extending beyond the borders of the region. Less than 2% of West African people patronize air transport because it is expensive and cumbersome. Intra-regional water transport is near nonexistent as there is little demand for it both for the movement of people and for trade. It is geared solely towards travel between West Africa and the West.
The meetings described above developed outcomes and plans that NSAs are going to pursue. A variety of donors have pledged support and are demonstrating commitment to pursue transport and transit facilitation. The involvement of NSAs is likely to provide not only good governance, but also inclusive participation in the facilitation scheme which will promote ownership.
In further comments on the topic, Professor Ndongo discussed the impact of the policies ECOWAS has been promoting for enhancing transportation on enhancing socio-economic and political cooperation within the region. Professor Ndongo said that the ECOWAS West Africa Transport and Transit Facilitation Strategy aims to standardize transportation processes across the region by reducing bottlenecks, removing artificial barriers to transportation at the borders, and training and sensitizing those using the borders, including border communities and transit populations. However, commitment towards the full implementation of the provisions of these documents is lacking among member states.