Interview: Marcel de Souza

What are the priority projects of ECOWAS’s Community Development Programme (CDP)?

MARCEL DE SOUZA: A roundtable is planned for the beginning of 2017 to discuss the operation phase of seven priority projects. Among the projects to discuss is the Lagos-Dakar highway, which will be developed in two phases beginning with Abidjan-Lagos.

This first phase of 1028 km will open numerous possibilities for communities along the stretch. The roundtable will also discuss the 2000-km regional railway loop; the development project for air transport in the region; and the creation of the ECOWAS maritime company, Sealink. These ventures will provide landlocked countries – such as Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – an exit route for goods and people, while the latter will also allow for the consolidation of the multi-modal transport systems of our 12 coastal member countries.

Another project is the electricity network interconnection project and construction of thermal, solar and wind power plants in an effort to increase our countries’ competitiveness through reliable access to electricity. By 2020, we hope to reach a rural and urban/suburban electrification rate of 30% and 60%, respectively, and reach an energy mix comprised of 35% renewable sources.

Another priority project concerns food self-sufficiency with the development of the rice sector. It consists of lowering our dependence on imports by producing 38m tonnes of paddy rice and 25m tonnes of milled rice by 2025.

After the Ebola outbreak, it is also important to put an emphasis on the health care system with projects to build six specialised hospitals, a new Regional Centre for Disease Control and a rapid intervention team.

Faced with immense financing needs and the budgetary and financial constraints of member states, the private sector – through public-private partnerships, for example – is at the heart of the CDP’s operational plans.

It is worth noting that the private sector has already proven itself as a catalyst for private financing of various projects, such as the creation of Ecobank and ASKY Airlines, through the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development.

What are the main challenges of integration across ECOWAS member states?

DE SOUZA: Despite being a model of integration efforts in the continent, ECOWAS is still prone to many challenges regarding trade, which is why we have implemented the ECOWAS Trade Liberalisation Scheme. Indeed, integration efforts will be applied to the development of infrastructure and innovating investments, as well as the lifting of trade barriers. These measures will allow for the reduction of production costs, improve competitiveness and create a favourable environment for increased trade within the bloc in an effort to reach a share of 20% by 2025 – up from 12% today.

Weakness in competitiveness – which itself is linked to infrastructure, energy shortfalls and lack of quality in governance – also remains a major issue. With this, the creation of decent jobs for youth is jeopardised, and thus prevents us from making good use of our demographic advantage.

With regards to energy, prohibitive costs; energy cuts; and unequal distribution remain obstacles – with an average cost of $0.18/KWh in the area and with as much as 256 hours/month of power cuts. Within ECOWAS countries, less than 30% of the population has access to electricity and only 6% of the rural population. With the exception of Côte d’Ivoire, the production of energy in the region is seemingly stagnant and is still incapable of keeping pace with the 8.1% average annual growth in demand, which is driven by a growing and youthful population.