ECOWAS is an acronym for the Economic Community of West African States. It is an economic union comprising of fifteen West African countries. These countries in 2015 were estimated to have a population of over 349 million people. ECOWAS was established on the 28th of May, 1975 with the signing of the Treaty of Lagos. The mandate of this union was to promote economic integration in all activities of these member countries. These economic activities include industry, energy, telecommunications, agriculture, natural resources, commerce, social and cultural issues, transport, monetary and financial matters.
ECOWAS was also set up to promote the idea of collective self-sufficiency among the states. As a trading union, it is also meant to create a single, large trading bloc through economic cooperation among the member states. ECOWAS also functions as a peacekeeping force amongst member states. Over time, joint military forces have been sent to intervene in a bloc’s member at times of political unrest. Such include interventions in Ivory Coast and Liberia in 2003, Guinea-Bissau in 2012, Mali in 2013 and Gambia in 2017.
The union aims at creating a borderless region where the population across its member states have access to resources and opportunities across the countries. Such access includes free movement, access to efficient education, health systems and trading while maintaining peace and security. ECOWAS is governed in accordance with the principles of democracy and the rule of law. The treaty of Lagos was revised and signed on the 24th of July, 1993 in Contonou. ECOWAS is one of the regional blocs of the African Economic Community (AEC)
Member countries that make up ECOWAS are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’ Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Togo
Today, the union is recognized as a successful one that has fostered peaceful integration amongst its member states.
History of ECOWAS
Before the establishment of ECOWAS, West Africa was made of distinct states which had one thing in common: different colonial rule and experiences. Also with diverse cultures and languages, this created both an opportunity and a challenge for integration. This longing to combine forces was seen as an important prerequisite for peaceful co-existence among the states. The first effort made at integration dates back to 1945 when CFA franc was created. This brought the French-speaking countries of the region into a single currency union. Also, in 1964, the president of Liberia, William Tubman proposed an economic union for West Africa which led to the signing of an agreement in 1965 by Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. It was then in 1972 that a proposal for a union of the states in West Africa was put out. At that time, the Nigerian head of state, General Yakubu Gowon and the Togolese president, Gnassingbe Eyadema toured the region in favour of the proposal. The drafts from this tour formed the basis for the emergence of the Treaty of Lagos in 1975. The treaty was originally proposed as an economic initiative, however, political events led to its expansion in scope and powers in 1993.
Fundamental Principles of ECOWAS
Due to the objectives stated in Article 3 of the ECOWAS treaty, the union firmly adheres to the following principles:
- Equality and interdependence of member states
- Inter-state co-operation, harmonisation of policies and integration of programmes
- Solidarity and collective self- reliance
- Non-aggression between member states
- Maintenance of peace among states, stability and security
- Peaceful settlement of disputes among member states
- Promotion of a peaceful environment to allow for economic development.
- Accountability, social justice and popular participation in the development
- Recognition and acknowledgement of human and people’s rights in accordance with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights
- Acknowledgement and observance of the rules and principles of community
- Promotion of a democratic system of governance in member states according to the declaration of political principles adopted in Abuja on 6 July 1991
- Equal and just distribution of costs and benefits of economic co-operation and integration
The ECOWAS administrative machinery is based in Abuja, Nigeria. The secretariat was transformed into a commission in January 2007. ECOWAS is made up of three arms of governance, namely the Executive, the legislature and the judiciary. The head of the organization structure is the Chairman of the Authority of Heads of state and Government who is appointed by other Heads of state and Government for a one year period. The chairman of the Council of ministers comes from the same country as the chairman of the Authority of heads of states. Also, this country presides over all ECOWAS statutory meetings for the year. The executive arm of ECOWAS is headed by the president who is assisted by the Vice-president, 12 commissioners and an Auditor-general for a four-year tenure.
Programs and Initiatives of ECOWAS
In order to implement strategic programmes that will promote the mission of ECOWAS such as identifying barriers and obstacles to full integration, initiatives have been put in place. Such as
ECOWAS single currency programme, ECOWAS Macroeconomic database, Multilateral Surveillance System (ECOMAC). This is to monitor and evaluate performance and macroeconomic convergence and database across all member states
ECOWAS is also made up special agencies West African Health Organisation (WAHO), ECOWAS Youth and Sports Development Centre, West African Monetary Agency (WAMA), Inter-governmental Action Group against Money Laundry and Terrorist Financing in West Africa (GIABA), ECOWAS Water Resources Coordination Centre, West African Power Pool, ECOWAS Regional Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (ECREEE), ECOWAS Regional Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERERA), ECOWAS Gender and Development Centre, ECOWAS Infrastructure Projects Preparation and Development Unit (PPDU) as well as ECOWAS Brown Card Scheme.
ECOWAS is made up of two sub-regional blocs. These are:
- The West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA): This is an organization of 8 French-speaking states within ECOWAS which share a currency union and customs union.
- The West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ): This comprises of six English speaking countries within ECOWAS. This bloc also intends adopting their own common currency. ECOWAS has three official languages which are French, English and Portuguese and two institutions that implement policies which are the ECOWAS Commission and the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID)