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The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

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Welcome to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Established on May 28 1975 via the treaty of Lagos, ECOWAS is a 15-member regional group with a mandate of promoting economic integration in all fields of activity of the constituting countries.

Member countries making 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

Considered one of the pillars of the African Economic Community, ECOWAS was set up to foster the ideal of collective self-sufficiency for its member states. As a trading union, it is also meant to create a single, large trading bloc through economic cooperation.

Integrated economic activities as envisaged in the area revolve around but are not limited to industry, transport, telecommunications, energy, agriculture, natural resources, commerce, monetary and financial issues, social as well as cultural matters.

Expectations of economic integration have always been high and a lot has been accomplished by the regional group since the endorsement of the treaty which gave it the required legal teeth. Going by current assessments, the regional body has exceeded the expectations of its founding fathers. Today, the organisation is being acknowledged globally as a successful regional body, a toast to a workable integration and regional co-existence.

The Vision of ECOWAS is the creation of a borderless region where the population has access to its abundant resources and is able to exploit same through the creation of opportunities under a sustainable environment. What ECOWAS has created is an integrated region where the population enjoys free movement, have access to efficient education and health systems and engage in economic and commercial activities while living in dignity in an atmosphere of peace and security. ECOWAS is meant to be a region governed in accordance with the principles of democracy, rule of law and good governance.

*It was in order to realize this vision unimpeded that the ECOWAS administrative machinery based in Abuja, Nigeria, transformed its Secretariat to a Commission in January 2007. The Commission is now headed by a President (In place of what used to be known as Executive Secretary). There is also a Vice President, 12 Commissioners and an Auditor-General. All 15 are collectively referred to as Statutory Appointees with a four-year tenure. With this in place, ECOWAS is now pre-occupied with the implementation of critical and strategic programmes that will deepen cohesion and progressively eliminate identified barriers to full integration as envisaged.

Considerable efforts have now been made in harmonising macroeconomic policies and private sector promotion towards achieving economic integration. These efforts have given rise to some initiatives which include implementation of the roadmap for the ECOWAS single currency programme, monitoring and evaluation of performance and macroeconomic convergence, management of the ECOWAS Macroeconomic Database & Multilateral Surveillance System (ECOMAC) as well as co-operation with other regional and international institutions.

Within a region energised by a common purpose, West African citizens can also take ownership for the new vision of moving from an ECOWAS of states to an ECOWAS of people by 2020.

The body of ECOWAS is made up of Institutions and Specialised Agencies. The Institutions comprise: The Authority of Heads of States and Government, The Commission, The Community Parliament, The Community Court of Justice, Council of Ministers, Specialised Technical Committees as well as the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID).

The following are ECOWAS Specialised Agencies: West African Health Organisation (WAHO), West African Monetary Agency (WAMA), Inter-governmental Action Group against Money Laundary and Terrorist Financing in West Africa (GIABA), ECOWAS Gender and Development Centre, ECOWAS Youth and Sports Development Centre, 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 Infrastructure Projects Preparation and Development Unit (PPDU) as well as ECOWAS Brown Card Scheme.


Before the creation of ECOWAS, the collective territory known as West Africa, was made up of an aggregation of states that had emerged from different colonial experiences and administrations which largely defined the boundaries of the 15 states domiciled in the area.

Even though Member States of the community now make use of three official languages (English, French and Portuguese), there are well over a thousand existing local languages including cross-border native tongues such as Ewe, Fulfulde, Hausa, Mandingo, Wolof, Yoruba, Ga, etc. that constitute its over 300 million people tucked in a vast land of about 5.1 million square kilometres.
Prior to colonialism, the area played host to many proud empires and kingdoms that spanned centuries, some of which included Ghana, Mali Songhai, Wolof, Oyo, Benin and Kanem Bornu.

The region’s cultural, linguistic and ecological diversity presents both opportunities and challenges for the integration process. The longing to combine forces politically and economically has always been recognised as a step forward in the desire to engender co-prosperity in the area.

In this regard, the first effort at integration dates back to 1945 with the creation of CFA franc that brought the francophone countries of the region into a single currency union. Then in 1964, Liberian president William Tubman proposed an economic union for West Africa leading to an agreement which was signed in 1965 by the four states of Cote d’Ivore, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

However, it was not until 1972 that a proposal for a union of West African States emerged. That year, the Nigerian head of state Gen Yakubu Gowon and his Togolese counterpart Gnassingbe Eyadema toured the region in support of the integration Idea. Thanks to the drafts that emanated from their efforts. These formed the basis for the emergence of the treaty of Lagos in 1975 which birthed ECOWAS. The treaty of Lagos was originally touted as an economic initiative, but emerging political events led to its revision and therewith the expansion of scope and powers in 1993.

ECOWAS is meant to foster interstate economic and political cooperation. History is on its side in this regard. Dating back to pre-colonial times, West Africans have been among the world’s most mobile populations although much of the migration had been intra-regional. About 7.5 million West African migrants (3 percent of the regional population) are living in ECOWAS countries other than their own. The 1.2 million other migrants are dispersed mainly in North America and Europe. Estimated at about 149 million in 2013, women constitute over 50 percent of the region’s population. The cross-border migration of women as traders and business persons places them as potential champions for promoting integration. This reality needs to be fully exploited.

The diverse socio-cultural dimension of development should be a necessary building block for establishing peace and security in the region. Drawing strength from its past, leaders of the community have been making sacrifices to keep the shape of the political structure of the region. In 1976, Cape Verde, one of the two Lusophone countries in the region joined ECOWAS, and in December 2000, Mauritania withdrew its membership.

At all times, ECOWAS chief executive officers presiding initially as Executive Secretaries and now as Presidents, defer to the supreme organ of the community-the Authority of the Heads of State of Government for guidance. This body is usually headed by a Chairman.

The list below shows the various chairmen in a chronological order:

• Gnassingbé Eyadéma (Togo) 1977–1978
• Olusegun Obasanjo (Nigeria) 1978–1979
• Léopold Sédar Senghor (Senegal) 1979–1980
• Gnassingbé Eyadéma (Togo) 1980–1981
• Siaka Stevens (Sierra Leone) 1981–1982
• Mathieu Kérékou (Benin) 1982–1983
• Ahmed Sékou Touré (Guinea) 1983–1984
• Lansana Conté (Guinea) 1984–1985
• Muhammadu Buhari (Nigeria) 1985 – 27 August 1985
• Ibrahim Babangida (Nigeria) 27 August 1985 – 1989
• Dawda Jawara (the Gambia) 1989–1990
• Blaise Compaoré (Burkina Faso) 1990–1991
• Dawda Jawara (the Gambia) 1991–1992
• Abdou Diouf (Senegal) 1992–1993
• Nicéphore Soglo (Benin) 1993–1994
• Jerry John Rawlings (Ghana) 1994 – 27 July 1996
• Sani Abacha (Nigeria) 27 July 1996 – 8 June 1998
• Abdulsalami Abubakar (Nigeria) 9 June 1998 – 1999
• Gnassingbé Eyadéma (Togo) 1999
• Alpha Oumar Konaré (Mali) 1999 – 21 December 2001
• Abdoulaye Wade (Senegal) 21 December 2001 – 31 January 2003
• John Agyekum Kufuor (Ghana) 31 January 2003 – 19 January 2005
• Mamadou Tandja (Niger) 19 January 2005 – 19 January 2007
• Blaise Compaoré (Burkina Faso) 19 January 2007 – 19 December 2008
• Umaru Musa Yar’Adua (Nigeria) 19 December 2008 – 18 February 2010
• Goodluck Jonathan (Nigeria) 18 February 2010 – 17 February 2012
• Alassane Ouattara (Côte d’Ivoire) 17 February 2012 – 28 March 2014
• John Dramani Mahama (Ghana) 28 March 2014 –19 Mai 2015
• Macky Sall (Senegal)– 19 Mai 2015 –June 2016
• Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Liberia)– June 2016- June 2017
• Faure Gnassingbe(Togo)- June 2017- 31 July 2018
• Muhammadu Buhari (Nigeria)- 31 July 2018 – till date

By subscribing to the vision of the founding fathers of ECOWAS, today’s leaders have taken ownership of the grand objectives designed to improve the living conditions of the citizenry, ensure economic growth and create an environment conducive for true development and integration.

Governance Structure

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) comprises three arms of governance, namely, the Executive, the Legislature and the Judiciary. At the helm of the organization structure is the Chairman of the Authority of Heads of State and Government. The Chairman is the current Head of State and Government appointed by other Heads of State and Government to oversee the affairs for a period of one year.The Minister in charge of ECOWAS affairs in the country of the Chairman of the Authority automatically becomes the Chairman of Council of Ministers; similarly, that country presides over all other ECOWAS statutory meetings for the year (ministerial and senior level, such as the Technical Committees).At the helm of the Executive arm of the Community is the President of ECOWAS Commission appointed by the Authority for a non-renewable period of four years. He is assisted by a Vice President and 13 Commissioners.The legislative arm of the Community is the Community Parliament headed by the Speaker of the Parliament. The administrative functions of the Parliament are directed by the Secretary General of the Parliament. Pending elections by direct universal suffrage in future, parliamentarians are seconded by national Parliaments to the Community Parliament for a period of four years. The judicial arm of the Community is the Community Court of Justice, headed by the President.

They are all seconded by the Supreme Courts of their respective Member States to fill the country positions. The Court ensures the interpretation and application of Community laws, protocols and conventions. The administrative functions of the Court are handled by the Court Registrar who is assisted by other professionals.

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