Interview with Professor Lambert N’galadjo Bamba: ‘Development is a change in attitudes.’
in SHSviews 24
In order to follow the path to development, Africa must put into place a strategy for the creation and retention of wealth and use the global financial crisis to formulate and initiate its own model of development. These are the beliefs of Professor Lambert N’galadjo Bamba, Commissioner for the Macroeconomic Policy Department for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), who was interviewed to mark the meeting of the Steering Committee of the future West Africa Institute, which took place in March 2009, in Abidjan.
Why has ECOWAS strongly supported the project for the creation of a West Africa Institute, whose objective is to bring the results of social science research to political and economic decision-makers?
We decided to support the proposed creation of the West Africa Institute (WAI) to fill a void that exists at our regional level. ECOWAS, with its small staff and directorate of research and statistics, can only play a role of manager of that research.
However, we increasingly feel the need to make informed decisions based on research. In our view, it goes without saying that the establishment of the WAI will help us meet this need, especially as it will deal with scientific research on regional integration issues as well as the training of experts on various aspects of integration. All of this should make ECOWAS one of the main beneficiaries of the work undertaken by the WAI. Being in tune with this project, we did everything to approve its mandate and establishment in Praia at the ECOWAS Heads of State Summit which took place on 18 January 2008, in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso).
What significance do you attach to the fact that the WAI is based in Cape Verde?
The decision to base the WAI in Cape Verde pleased us enormously. Cape Verde is an island state, and ECOWAS has sometimes given the impression that it does not attribute equal weight to these countries’ interests as it does to those of the continental countries. This decision, along with the decision by the Conference of Heads of State to establish the Institute for Renewable Energy in Cape Verde, goes some way to mitigating the sense of isolation felt by Cape Verde.
The project for the WAI was developed following a series of seminars organized by UNESCO in the 15 West African countries, during which Member States criticized the development opportunities offered by ECOWAS. What lessons did you draw from these debates?
I note that the citizens of this region are keen to move quickly towards integration. However, in order to move forward, one must often take a step back. Our region has been Balkanized. Steps were taken, notably with the establishment of Nation-States.
An act alone is not enough to erase borders. Integration can only be a process.
In reality, if you take the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) or ECOWAS, these are areas of economic cooperation that have been created. Economic concerns are those that have dominated our region. However, from a cultural perspective, one gets the impression that the people are ahead of policy. This leads to criticism of ECOWAS, but we must not underestimate the efforts made by ECOWAS and policy-makers in the region. I think that, in three decades, great strides have been taken and much has progressed.
In what ways has the creation of ECOWAS advanced the interests of the region’s population?
It has done so first in terms of conflict management. From my point of view, we are the only region that applies the right to intervene. Whether a conflict takes place in Côte d’Ivoire or the Republic of Guinea-Bissau, ECOWAS intervened immediately. When I observe all that goes on in the world, I do not see this practice being applied elsewhere.
ECOWAS is also a place where, since its inception, citizens can move freely with only their identity card, without the need for passports or visas.
In terms of support for development, we can also note the electrical interconnection between Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Burkina Faso as a major achievement.
Is it not illusory to think of development at a sub-regional level? Why not think of development at a continental level?
I do not believe in one Africa, but in many Africas. We may live on the same continent, but we have neither the same culture, nor the same characteristics. I often wonder if I am closer to a European than to a North African or even an African from the centre. I ask myself these questions as an individual. We must proceed gradually, and the sub-regional approach seems much more in tune with our current realities.
What initiatives will ECOWAS take to address the negative impact of the global financial crisis?
Firstly, any full understanding of the current crisis requires us to examine the assumptions we have made, the development models we have adopted until now, and the development goals we have sought.
This crisis is finally an opportunity to question our vision of economic development. It has shown us that the major influencers of economic development models, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), have not always been right. That is why ECOWAS has scheduled a series of forums with our intellectuals for this year in order to establish our own development model.
The fact is that we have so far been engaged in a strategy of wealth creation at the global level, but without being able to retain a substantial share of this wealth. It is up to us to have a strategy for the creation of wealth, but especially for its retention. This is what others have done. The current crisis is helping us to understand the issue.
How do you define this strategy?
It is a truly African strategy for the creation and retention of wealth. We want our region to be the first in Africa to develop and put such a strategy in place. That is the reason why we invited intellectuals from all scientific disciplines to theorize and implement this strategy. We have already organized a Forum of ECOWAS businessmen, which took place from 11-14 February 2008, in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso).
We discussed this strategy with them, and they even decided to try and implement it in the context of food production. But, in our view, development requires a change in attitude above all. That is why we need all our intellectuals to adapt this idea of wealth retention for us. For example, take 1kg of cocoa and watch its transformation into chocolate as it arrives on the consumer’s table for dessert: although all the wealth generated is as a result of work carried out in my country, the wealth which remains in my region represents only 10%. The question for today is therefore how to enhance Africa’s participation in the creation of global wealth.
Interview by Nfaly « Vieux » Savané
Professor Lambert N’galadjo Bamba
From Côte d’Ivoire, Professor Lambert N’galadjo Bamba will be 50 years old at the end of this year. With a PhD in economics, he was a researcher at the Ivorian Centre for Social and Economic Research, and lecturer at the University of Cocody. The author of several scholarly papers, he has extensive experience in the Ivorian administration where he served as technical advisor in several ministerial offices. He has conducted a number of studies on behalf of the Government of Côte d’Ivoire, various UN agencies and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank. Based in Abuja (Nigeria), Professor Bamba is currently Commissioner of the Macroeconomic Policy Department for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
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