Accra, May 22, GNA - Citizens of West Africa, especially ordinary travellers and traders, continue to face undue obstacles to their free movement and trade in the sub-region and beyond despite efforts by the Economic of West African States (ECOWAS) to abolish visa requirements under the ECOWAS Protocol on Free Movement of Goods and Persons. Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, who was launching this year's Africa and ECOWAS Days in Accra said the protocol was to promote trade and businesses across the borders, yet there seemed to be a gap between laws of the state and protocols.
He said there was the need to fast track some of the issues in the protocols to ensure objectivity.
The theme for this year's Africa Union anniversary is: "Towards a United, Peaceful and Prosperous Africa" while that of ECOWAS, which falls on Thursday, May 28, is "Eliminating Obstacles to Free Movement While Fighting Cross-Border Crime."
Alhaji Mumuni explained that ECOWAS had not chosen a theme for member states but Ghana had taken the liberty to choose one for the celebration.
He said ECOWAS had chalked major and model achievements in the area of conflict management, adding, "as a result, today, there is no active conflict in the West Africa unlike was the case in the recent past, or is happening elsewhere in Africa."
"In the area of democracy and good governance considerable efforts are on-going to consolidate democratic governance in West Africa," he said.
The Minister said ECOWAS continued to make some progress in the area of infrastructure citing the current focus on energy as a strategic entry point to unleashing progress in the other infrastructure sub-sectors.
Alhaji Mumuni noted that the illegal trade in drugs, human trafficking, among others, still continued across the borders. ".By all means Government will continue to work with sister Governments in the sub-region to help remove the obstacle to free-movement. In doing so, however, our efforts must move in tandem with corresponding efforts to combat cross-border crime," he added. He said it should also be understood that government and government agencies could not by themselves address those challenges, adding while government would continue to provide leadership, it expected to count on the full co-operation of all national stakeholders, travellers, the private sector and civil society organizations.
Alhaji Mumuni said to give a new impetus to the regional integration agenda through the fast track approach, the government had entered into partnership with the Ghana Musicians Union (MUSIGA) to use the powerful tool of music in promoting integration and development.
"Together with MUSIGA, we shall be working at the national level. But we also plan to facilitate their efforts at the sub-regional level to help create an ECOWAS Musician Union in support of ECOWAS ideals and programmes," he added.
In a speech read for her by Mr. Samuel Okudzeto-Ablakwa, a Deputy Minister of Information, Ms. Zita Okaikoi, Minister of Information, said there was the urgent need to marshal every available resource, both human and material, towards the vigorous execution of the continent's development agenda.
She said the celebrations would facilitate the evolution of a dynamic, economically self-sustaining and culturally conscious Africa and called for the need to use the occasion to explore the history of the people of Africa and identify things that would unite them and facilitate the forward march in establishing the union government.
Mrs Diana Hopeson, MUSIGA President, said it was time to have a sustainable platform to create more awareness on the work of the Union even from the grassroots to inculcate in the populace the ideas of ECOWAS and the AU.
Such sensitization programmes, she said, would help prepare the minds of ordinary people who ended up as facilitators during implementation of the activities of the Union to appreciate their roles and work selflessly towards achieving the vision of the AU in a much shorter time.
She said the outcome of the song contest would be an event with three phases, namely, song writing, song production and publicity and promotion phases.
Mrs Hopeson said the contest was an opportunity for both professional and amateur musicians to compose a song about the fundamental rights and responsibilities of an ECOWAS citizen and general information to educate people on AU and ECOWAS protocols. She said interested musicians would have to go to the following websites for information to use for the songs: www.ecowas.int and www.africa-union.org.
"Other handy materials can also be obtained through the MUSIGA office and the AU and ECOWAS desks at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," she added.
She announced that there would be 15 prizes to be won through three main categories - Diaspora, AU and ECOWAS - adding that five prizes would be given in each category.
The first winner in each category would receive a recording and management contract and cash. The remaining four in each category would receive cash prizes. Activities to commemorate the days include Christian and Muslim prayers, flag-raising ceremony, photo exhibition, MUSIGA cross-border musical floats, TV panel and round-table discussions, lectures, quiz for second cycle institutions and debate competitions for tertiary institutions.