President Yahya Jammeh of The Gambia on Wednesday, 19th March 2008 said the increasing integration of Europe should serve as a lesson to Africa about the futility of perpetuating the externally imposed but artificial linguistic and geographical divides that have frustrated integration efforts in the continent.
While receiving members of the ECOWAS Committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff who began their 21st meeting in Banjul on the same day, the President said Africans should not allow themselves to be divided when evidence elsewhere has shown the viability of integration as a tool for development and improving the standard of living of the people.
He told the members of the committee: “In spite of the linguistic divide, we are one people and the people who are dividing us are uniting for development,’ adding that it was ironic that in spite of the resource endowments of the continent, poverty was still rife.
“We should have been one of the most developed and advanced because of our resources but unfortunately we are one of the poorest,’ he told the Chiefs who are holding their first meeting in the Gambian capital since the creation of the Committee, one of the mechanisms provided under the 1999 ECOWAS Protocol on Conflict Prevention, Resolution, Management, Peacekeeping and Security.
He attributed the situation to three factors including 400 years of slavery which robbed the continent of the most vibrant segment of the population, colonization as well as the lack of economic independence.
The President expressed optimism about the prospects for development in West Africa as one of the most resource-endowed in Africa, coupled with the yearning by Member States for sustainable development that will help pull the citizens out of poverty, adding that Africans should blame themselves for allowing their Armed Forces to be used against their people.
Describing the Armed Forces as the best guarantee of peace and security, the President said the quarterly meetings of the Committee was useful as it would serve as a platform for regularly discussing issues of regional peace and security.
President Jammeh warned that in order to guarantee peace and security within the region, countries should avoid harboring dissidents whose ultimate aim is the destabilization of another country.
The Chairman of the Committee, General Ali Traore, the Chief of Defence Staff of Burkina Faso who led the delegation, said the meeting will enable members review the security in the region, activities slated for 2008 including exercises planned for Burkina Faso and Mali.
He further said the thee-day meeting will enable the members evaluate the process for the creation of the ECOWAS Standby Force in line with the 2010 deadline set by the African Union for the operationalization of regional standby forces.