1975, ECOWAS, Economic Community of West African States, undertook
the difficult task of bringing economic and political unity to
West Africa. One of its major goals was to bring together the
economies of the mostly small nations, hoping the combined economic
power would allow the countries to compete better than any one
state could do on its own.
primary objective remains to "promote co-operation and integration
in order to create an economic and monetary union for encouraging
economic growth and development in West Africa," according
to the group's Web site. The group has taken several steps to
accomplish this, moving to eliminate custom duties and similar
taxes, establish a common external tariff and create a uniform
of ECOWAS include: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire,
Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania,
Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.
and Political Accomplishments
has made progress promoting free movement among member nations
by developing a passport for all citizens of the 16 nations. In
a June interview, the coordinator of African Day, Emile M'Lingui,
stressed the benefits of the passport:
the benefit is that first you can move with this passport from
one country in West Africa to another without any problem. And
the ECOWAS passport will facilitate the transit through the borders
and also, it will help those who travel out of Africa to be seen
there as the people from the same land and I think this will consolidate
the solidarity and unity amongst out people," he said.
May, Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa and by far the
largest member of ECOWAS, agreed to produce the new passports.
The program will cost the debt-strapped oil-giant nearly $139
million, according to the Nigerian publication, This Day.
explain the move will solidify the regions economic future.
trade is about 10 percent of total trade volume within the region,
and if intra regional movement is encouraged, with ease of travel,
the flow of goods will increase, which will impact positively
on the volume of trade," Professor Bola Akinterinwa, an expert
on the West African sub region, told This Day.
leaders hope adoption of the passport system will accelerate the
next major development: the move to a single, uniform currency.
ECOWAS has championed economic efforts, civil wars in Sierra Leone,
Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire and religious violence and political
instability in Nigeria have hindered progress and presented major
questions not addressed by the creators of ECOWAS.
has headed peacekeeping missions to several of its member states,
with mixed results. In Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire, initial
deployments were later bolstered and often taken over by peacekeeping
troops from those nation's former colonial powers, England and
Sierra Leone in particular, reaction to ECOWAS' armed monitoring
group, ECOMOG, was mixed. Although ECOMOG helped end serious violence,
both human rights groups and the United Nations accused the soldiers
of summary executions and other human rights abuses.
ECOMIL, the military wing of ECOWAS, has deployed troops to end
the violence in Liberia. Their performance there may set the tone
for future attempts by West African countries to police themselves.
addition to the military and stability challenges facing the 16
nations, ECOWAS officials list other barriers to economic growth,
including: poor infrastructure; the individual states' weak economies;
lack of sufficient telecommunications; bad economic policies;
failure to integrate; and irregular payments made to ECOWAS' budget.
Compiled by Sheryl Silverman for the Online NewsHour