By Ndey Sowe
The West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, has numerous employment and educational opportunities for both professionals and non-professionals that Gambian youth can tap from, officials from the ECOWAS National Office said.
The team at the Ministry of Trade, Regional Integration and Employment (MOTIE), said ECOWAS has “amazing opportunities” for young professionals in the 15-member states of the bloc through the Internship Programme.
“Through this programme, ECOWAS gives internship opportunities to young professionals at the ECOWAS Commission and other ECOWAS institutions. The program lasts for 12 months maximum and it is carried out in the various departments, agencies, representations and institutions of ECOWAS. Young graduates from ECOWAS member states between the ages of 20 to 40, who are holders of bachelors, masters or doctorate degrees are eligible,” the team said.
ECOWAS established the program in 2017 to address the challenges of professional training and youth unemployment in West Africa. The programme is aimed at fostering youth employment and providing a practical learning framework in their areas of university training. Currently, the call for applications is out and interested young Gambian professionals should look out for it on the ECOWAS website.
Opportunity to Be Transit Agents:
The ECOWAS Inter-State Road Transit (ISRT) is also a scheme that Gambian youth could always leverage upon. The ISRT allows the passage of goods by road from one-member state to another, free of duty, taxes or restrictions while on transit.
“Through ISRT, young Gambians can benefit from tax free and lesser restrictions while transiting to Guinea, Mali, or Guinea Bissau,” the team explained.
However, while transit goods are excluded from paying duties, there are other fees and charges that the goods may be subjected to, such as port handling charges, processing fees at Customs and an ISRT levy of 0.35% of the total value of the consignment.
Besides the easy passage of goods by road, the ISRT involves transit agents (also known as locateurs) that represent good owners and look for clients to transit through the Ports of Banjul.
“These transit agents also facilitate logistic services for goods owners and sometimes participate in the transportation of goods themselves. Thus, the job opportunities for the youth with the ISRT are evident through working closely with agents to gain experience, build networks and eventually becoming a transit agent,” they said.
“Transit trade has been increasing since the establishment of the ISRT in The Gambia in 2013 and thus the opportunity to gain employment either as a transit agent or a transporter is attractive, especially if you are a truck owner.”
ECOWAS Inter-State Road Transit (ISRT)
Aside from the ISRT and the Internship Programme, ECOWAS ensures free mobility of citizens of member states through its Protocol on the Free Movement of People and Goods.
The Protocol confers on citizens of ECOWAS member states the right to enter and reside in the territory of any member state, provided they possess a valid travel document and international health certificate.
However, the ECOWAS National Office pointed out that in as much as citizens have the right to enter and reside, member states also have the right to refuse admission to any citizen who is inadmissible under the member state’s own domestic law.
The free movement protocol refers to abolishment of visa for travels within ECOWAS member states thereby facilitating easy movement of ECOWAS citizens throughout the region.
It was highlighted that the free movement protocol is complemented by the ECOWAS Trade Liberalization Scheme (ETLS) which is the main operational tool for promoting the West Africa region as a Free Trade Area.
“The scheme ensures the free circulation of goods in the ECOWAS region without the payment of customs duties and other charges,” they said.
Many Gambians have been able to use the free movement protocol to live-in other ECOWAS Member States and are not subjected to discrimination; some Gambian entrepreneurs have even established businesses in other ECOWAS Member States and have been afforded equal treatment like domestic businesses in those countries.
For example, Salam Company, which is in the business of steel and cement, has established a company in Senegal. In line with this, TAF Africa has established TAF Africa in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Global Properties has established properties in other ECOWAS Member States. More recently, QCELL has established a commercial presence in Sierra Leone as one of the mobile service providers.
There are currently 28 ETLS certified companies in The Gambia.
Despite the successes, there are some major challenges in the implementation of ECOWAS protocols on free movement.
The team explained: “These challenges include the contradictions between national laws in ECOWAS member states and the ECOWAS protocols, and lack of member states commitment to the implementation of the protocols.”
“On the part of the citizens, there is very low knowledge about ECOWAS Protocols and as a result, citizens are not able to demand for their rights and privileges under the protocols.”
Non-tariff barriers and political instability in the sub-region also hinders the implementation of the protocol.
To get over these challenges, the team said the government of The Gambia in consultation with other member states’ governments should work towards the harmonization of national laws and the ECOWAS Protocols.
“At the level of ECOWAS, the government of The Gambia should advocate for punitive measures against refusal to adhere to the Protocol. There is need for more sensitizations to educate the people about the ECOWAS Protocols and its related activities,” the team added.