Why Ghana must leave ECOWAS

Looking at the armed conflicts going on in West Africa, Ghana is seen as an oasis of peace in a troubled region. All the countries along the coast of West Africa have experienced one form of conflict or the other, leading to the slaughter of thousands of innocent people.

Our northern neighbours -Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger have similarly witnessed and still experiencing conflicts. It is only Ghana that has remained peaceful for years, though we also have our Dagbons, Alavanyo-Nkonyas to grapple with.

On the economic front, Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has seen a sturdy growth from $1.217 billion in 1960 to $4.983 billion in 2000, to the current $47.33 billion.

This has made the country the second largest economy in West Africa and accounting for 10.3% of GDP for all the 15 ECOWAS member countries.

These achievements are driving people from the ECOWAS sub-region to ‘invade’ the country in search of economic emancipation.

Indeed, in the 1970s and 80s, Ghanaians also followed a similar pattern by moving to neighbouring countries to seek greener pastures.

There should not, therefore, be cause for worry when foreigners are trooping into the country, without any restraint, looking for work.

The big question though is whether the country can continue to receive thousands of nationals on daily basis from other West African counties, under the guise of the ECOWAS protocol, which allows for free movement of people among member states.

The consequences of these movements could be dire on the country in the next few years to come, since our population has already hit 30 million and still counting.

The problem of migration facing Ghana is similar to what Great Britain is experiencing and subsequent decision she has taken to leave the European economic bloc (Brexit).

The north European country might have anticipated the current problem hence her decision to delay in joining the European Economic Community (EEC), as it was then called, until 1973.

In fact, Ghana’s former colonial master did not take part in the talks that started in Messina and finalised with the treaty of Rome in 1957 that gave birth to the EEC. The development resulted in the coining of the phrase – “missing the bus”.

Though the French president, Charles De Gaulle, who was obviously not happy with the stance of Britain, vetoed its application on two occasions – 1961 and 1967- the then Prime Minister, Edward Heath managed to strike a deal in Brussels on January 22, 1972, leading to Britain’s admission the following year.

According to Nauro Campos, Professor of Economics at Brunel University, London, a fundamental yet relatively unappreciated feature of the relationship between Britain and the EU is a structural break.

The ratio of UK’s per capita GDP to the EU founding members’ declined steadily from 1945 until 1972, but was relatively stable between 1973 and 2010.

Such prominent structural break suggests substantial benefits from EU membership, especially considering that, by sponsoring an overpowered integration model, Britain joined too late, at a bad moment in time and at an avoidably larger cost.

Per Prof. Campos’ argument, Britain decided to finally join the EEC, now European Union (EU), because she realised that her economy was performing poorly, probably due to the antagonising stance of the EEC members, when it came to trade among the bloc members.

But 46 solid years down the line, the same Britain that hesitated earlier in joining the EU has now applied to leave the bloc.

Among the reasons cited by the British people is that, their government is paying high membership fees to a union that is largely seen us undemocratic yet its laws infringe upon the sovereignty of Britain. Per the EU treaty, citizens of any member country have the right to live and work in any other country.

Though Britain is the third largest economy in Europe, after Germany and France, thousands of migrants mostly from Eastern Europe have taken advantage of this EU law to migrate and take over all menial and other jobs from the British people.

To these people, therefore, if UK leaves the EU the unemployment rate would go down for the British citizens to get proper work to do. These cogent arguments in favour of Brexit, notwithstanding, there are still other British people who want their country to remain in the EU, citing economic implications, should they decide to leave the union.

To these categories of people, the U.K. benefits from free trade agreements with its largest trading partner, the E.U. — benefits that would be scrapped if the U.K. were to leave the union. Though a referendum had already been held with those in favour of Brexit wining the votes, the process of exit has become cantankerous, just as when the country wanted to join the bloc in 1973.

The second woman Prime Minister of the U.K., Theresa May, has already resigned after failing to strike a deal with the EU for her country to leave the union.

I have taken my time to narrate the story of Britain joining and leaving the EU because their journey could somehow be likened to Ghana’s, even though there exists slight variations.

While Britain joined the then EEC after realising that their boycott was strangulating the performance of their economy, there is no official records to indicate that Ghana also decided to join ECOWAS because her economy, as compared with her neighbours, was declining.

This is the reason why we must also take the bold decision to leave ECOWAS to save the country from the hands of the invaders. I am raising this point because like the EU treaty, the ECOWAS charter also allows free movement of people among member states.

In strict terms, what this means is that citizens from member states have the freedom to travel without the need to acquire visas, except that one cannot stay in a member country for more than three months, without regularising his or her stay.

But, what are we seeing at the moment? Thousands, if not millions, of citizens from the ECOWAS member states using the ECOWAS protocol of free movement have come to stay in this country and are working.

In fact, until the Akufo-Addo government took the bold decision to ban illegal mining, these illegal migrants with the support of their Ghanaian collaborators were busily destroying our forests with alacrity, repatriating their illegally acquired earnings back home.

A section of these migrants have also taken over the forex market. Just last week, The Chronicle carried a story about one of these migrants operating an illegal forex bureau in Accra, who was gunned down by armed robbers after he was lured by the robbers that they have dollars to exchange for cedis.

I am not, and will not, support this senseless and wicked killing of a fellow human being, but it tells a story about how foreigners have invaded our forex exchange market.

A visit to Tudu, in the heart of Accra and Market Circle in Takoradi will reveal how these foreigners have taken over the black market and busily exchanging dollars without the blink of the eye.

Though I stand to be corrected, I can bet my last pesewas on the fact that majority of these black market forex bureau operators do not have residential and work permits to engage in the business they are doing.

Their activities are indeed inimical to the economic development of our dear nation. For the past ten years or so, Ghana has been having serious problems with the depreciation of the local currency, the Cedi, against the major foreign ones like the dollar and Pound Sterling.

Though economists will point to excessive importation of goods and services as the cause of this recurring problem, the black market is also playing a huge role in the equation.

Anytime the cedi depreciates against the dollar as a result of the scarcity of the latter, prices of goods and services go up in the country.

Though the operations of illegal forex bureau or black market have affected the economic performance of the country over the years, no government has mustered the courage to stop them.

These illegal operators or black marketers continue to transfer dollars collected from Ghanaians back to their country of origin.

Interestingly, Ghanaians have also been supporting what I consider to be economic sabotage by giving their foreign currencies to ‘goro boys’ to trade with and aim at making huge windfalls, instead of sending them to the banks where it could properly be regulated.

ECOWAS, which is breeding all these vices was set up to promote trade among member states but the big question is – is this the reality on the ground?

Or is the black market seen as one of the trade avenues spelt out in the ECOWAS treaty?

This is what ECOWAS itself has posted on its website: ECOWAS is a mission to promote economic integration, and also was formed to achieve “collective sufficiency” for the member states by means of economic and union, creating a single large trade bloc.

But despite the fact that ECOWAS is promoting economic union, trade among member states has not met expectations. According to researchers, Ghana’s Songhor Salt Project at Ada in the Greater Accra Region has the potential of producing over 150,000 tonnes of the mineral annually.

According to operators in the sector, if they are given $5 million, salt can be mined at the maximum capacity. Why they have still not being given this money by governments that have led this country is another subject I will discuss later.

Nigeria is the highest consumer of salts within the ECOWAS bloc with annual consumption estimated at 600,000 metric tons.

According to The Nation newspaper, Nigeria’s salt import amounted to 3.6 trillion Naira in 2014.

I have not done the Naira-dollar conversion, but 3.6 trillion Naira could run into millions of US dollars. Nigeria is a huge consumer of salt because of her oil industry which uses the mineral a lot.

Researchers are again telling us that Ghana and Senegal have the capacity to meet more than half of the salt needed by ECOWAS member states, yet Nigeria is not importing from Ghana, an ECOWAS member state in large volumes, as one would have expected, but rather from far away Brazil. Is this the economic integration ECOWAS is talking about?

Under the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Treaty, member countries have the right to export and import items into each other’s country without quotas or any forms of restriction. Why this is not happening on the large scale is a puzzle we have to solve.

I concede though that Ghana’s membership of ECOWAS helped us in some ways. But for the ECOWAS treaty, the construction of the West African Gas Pipeline (WAGP) would have been problematic. Until the coming up on stream of the Atuabo Gas Processing Plant in the Western Region, the WAGP was one of the main drivers of our economy.

Gas obtained from Nigeria through the pipelines were used to fire thermal plants in the Tema enclave to generate electric power to complement that of Akosombo.

Though at a point in time, payment for gas we consumed was problematic, with Nigeria sometimes closing the valve to prevent the flow of the gas to Ghana, it has been one of the success stories of ECOWAS.

I am equally aware that a Ghanaian company, like Kasapreko Limited, has entered the Nigerian market, whilst on the flip side some Nigerian banks have extended their services to Ghana, all in the name of ECOWAS.

But for me, when the pros are weighed against the cons, the latter wins the battle. I have already spoken about how citizens from ECOWAS member states have ‘invaded’ the country and are taking over jobs traditionally reserved for Ghanaians.

Whilst the latter is struggling to have decent job, these foreign nationals have taken over every space in our employment market –both formal and informal.

What is even exacerbating the situation is the insecurity being experienced by Ghanaians as a result of the bad conduct of some of these ECOWAS citizens.

Gone were the days when Ghanaians had the freedom to sleep with their doors and windows widely opened, but today the situation is not the same.

Armed robbery is now the order of the day. It all started in the 1990s when some of these foreign nationals started attacking fuel stations in broad daylight in Accra. We failed as a nation to nib the emerging crime in the bud and Ghanaians were soon to take over the crime of armed robbery from these foreigners.

Majority of the highway armed robbery Ghana has recorded in recent years were committed by nationals from the West African sub region. Yet they are roaming on our streets without being harassed by the Ghana Immigration Service, because they are in the country under ECOWAS protocols.

This has emboldened some of them to the extent that they are now introducing kidnapping into the country.

So far, not a single Ghanaian has been arrested by the police for kidnapping – all the suspects are foreigners who are gradually tarnishing the international image of our great country.

As I write this piece, Canada, the country I love so much, because of the way I was received during my stay in the North American country, has issued a warning to its citizens visiting Ghana, because of the Kidnapping of two of their nationals in Kumasi.

I quite remember when I visited the Commonwealth Press Union Secretariat in London, some years back, one of the ladies told me how happy she was when she visited Ghana.

According to her, she used to walk on the streets of Accra during the odd hours of 10pm, but she was never threatened or felt threatened.

I again remember how I defended this country in terms of crime when I met colleague journalists in Port-of-Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean.

A small island with a population of less than two million at the time I visited had high crime rate in the region. In Port-of Spain, almost every household has a guard dog because of the alarming crime rate. In fact when you are walking on the streets in the night, all what you would hear is the sound of barking dogs.

At the time, I was happily defending and projecting the good image of my country, I did not know that a time would come when Ghana would also suffer the same fate.

The difference though is that, unlike Ghana, the influx of foreigners to Trinidad is very low. Foreigners can, therefore, not be blamed for their woes.

We should not pretend as if we are living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. Foreigners are on the verge of turning this country upside down and we should not allow this to happen.

My position should not be misconstrued to mean that I am against foreigners – no, far from that. Since I am aware that millions of Ghanaians are living outside the borders of this country, I will be playing the game of an ostrich if I say Ghanaians should not welcome foreigners, especially those from West Africa.

My concern is the abuse of our hospitality to the extent of perpetrating crimes that could damage the future development of my dear nation.

It is based on these things I have enumerated that in my opinion, Ghana should exit from ECOWAS to give her the freedom to implement its immigration rules. Millions of nationals from our neighbouring countries are currently living in Ghana without any proper documentation.

I have always kicked against agitation by the Ghana Union of Traders Association (GUTA) that foreigners operating in our local market reserved for Ghanaians should be kicked out. My position has always been that Ghanaians are equally selling in markets across the sub region and that the action of GUTA is not justifiable.

I am, however, beginning to review my stance, because of the development I have spoken about. If a country with a powerful economy like the UK is feeling the heat and, therefore, wants to exit the EU, then we in Ghana better start thinking about what we should also do in future.

With oil discoveries coming up, more of these West African nationals are going to troop into the country.

Somewhere this year, the Ministry of Gender and Social Protection decided to round up a number of foreign nationals and their children who were on our streets begging for alms.

Any first time visitor would think these beggars are Ghanaians, but they are not. This is happening at the time some of our neighbours had thrown out these beggars from their countries.

Though these foreigners and their children were sent to their respective embassies in Accra for deportation back home, they are back on our streets.

The danger is this- since these children are not going to school, they will grow up in Ghana and become vagabonds, with their host country, Ghana, bearing the brunt of this. Should we sit down for this to happen to us or our great grand children in future – the answer is ‘Ghanaxit’.

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