Formation of the Economic Community of West African States

The Economic Community of West African States was established to facilitate cooperative mobilization of national resources for subregional development and self-reliance. The organization’s framework enhanced relational equity among member states as well as between the community and third parties.

Summary of Event

The Treaty of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), also known as the Treaty of Lagos, was signed on May 28, 1975, by representatives of fifteen sovereign states. The instrument set up a transnational framework for economic cooperation and sociocultural exchanges, with a view to the eventual unity of the nations of West Africa. The treaty was the culmination of a decade of effort by subregional leaders to establish a viable intergovernmental forum for optimal mobilization of national resources to achieve subregional development and continental progress. ECOWAS was the first of such unions in Africa to cross ethnographic, linguistic, and colonial partitions in favor of a multipurpose, polyglot community. Economic Community of West African States
Lagos, Treaty of (1975)
[kw]Formation of the Economic Community of West African States (May 28, 1975)
[kw]Economic Community of West African States, Formation of the (May 28, 1975)
[kw]West African States, Formation of the Economic Community of (May 28, 1975)
[kw]African States, Formation of the Economic Community of West (May 28, 1975)
Economic Community of West African States
Lagos, Treaty of (1975)
[g]Africa;May 28, 1975: Formation of the Economic Community of West African States[01960]
[g]Nigeria;May 28, 1975: Formation of the Economic Community of West African States[01960]
[c]Organizations and institutions;May 28, 1975: Formation of the Economic Community of West African States[01960]
[c]Trade and commerce;May 28, 1975: Formation of the Economic Community of West African States[01960]
[c]Natural resources;May 28, 1975: Formation of the Economic Community of West African States[01960]
Cabral, Luis
Houphouët-Boigny, Félix
Gowon, Yakubu
Obasanjo, Olusegun
Tolbert, William R.
Senghor, Léopold
Eyadéma, Gnassingbé

Before the formation of ECOWAS, subregional groupings in Africa tended to be fragmented. The fractional tendency, often associated with past colonial orientation, was evident, for example, in such formations as the francophonic West African Customs Union (1962), the Union Africaine et Malgache de Coopération Économique (1964), and the Afro-Malagasy Common Organization (1966). The same tendency existed in the former British dependencies. The East African Community and Common Market East African Community and Common Market —comprising Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda—was organized in 1967 to replace the defunct East African Common Services Organization, created by a British Order-in-Council.

Regional fragmentation led to a multiplicity of intergovernmental groupings and loyalties. The many groupings included the Central African Customs and Economic Union, Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries, Mano River Union, Permanent Inter-State Committee on Drought Control in the Sahel, Niger Basin Authority, Organization for the Management and Development of the Kangera River Basin, Organization for the Development of the River Gambia, Organization for the Development of the Senegal River, and South African Economic Development Coordination Conference. Despite the fractional tendencies, economic integration was found to be helpful in promoting development efforts in postcolonial Africa.

In 1965, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa Economic Commission for Africa, U.N. (ECA) adopted resolution 142(VII), which urged West African members of the United Nations United Nations;Economic Commission for Africa to plan for the erection of a framework for the harmonization of economic and social development in the subregion. The resolution called on member states to consider the existing models and experiences of economic integration both in Africa and overseas as possible structures for a West African community. An ongoing power struggle between the Organization of African Unity Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the ECA hampered progress until the early 1970’s. The OAU, faced with formal constraints and realities, finally conceded to the ECA in matters of economic planning.

Disagreements with the OAU notwithstanding, the ECA pursued its objectives. In October, 1966, the ECA sponsored a conference in Niamey, Niger, on West African economic cooperation, at which eleven state participants agreed to economic integration on an incremental basis, starting with the creation of permanent committees for energy and transportation. The articles of association were consequently formalized and presented to a later conference of the leaders at Accra, Ghana, from April 27 to May 5, 1967. The conference concluded with the adoption of the articles of association for the Economic Community of West African States. Economic Community of West African States The twelve signatories were Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Upper Volta (later Burkina Faso).

The instrument became a basis for cooperation and integration. It provided for the harmonization of development efforts on a range of matters. Integration, however, came slowly. At a subsequent summit at Monrovia, Liberia, in April, 1968, the leaders of nine states in the subregion adopted a resolution to establish the West African Common Market. West African Common Market The conference also approved a protocol for a West African regional group and the drafting of a treaty that would be discussed at the next summit scheduled at Ouagadougou, Upper Volta, later that year.

Meanwhile, however, the francophonic Customs Union of West African States Customs Union of West African States had revised its statute in January, 1966, and in March adopted a new convention. On the basis of the Accra Protocol of 1967, the union reconstituted itself on May 21, 1970, as the West African Economic Community. The organization, headquartered in Ouagadougou, had goals including economic cooperation for balanced development.

At another level, the Nigerian administration of Yakubu Gowon, along with the leaders of Togo, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Benin, pursued plans for the formation of a broad-based Economic Community of West African States. After protracted negotiations, the ECOWAS treaty was signed at Lagos, Nigeria, on May 28, 1975, by state functionaries representing Benin, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Upper Volta. Cape Verde acceded to the treaty in 1977. The West African Economic Community associated with ECOWAS despite occasional differences in perspective.

The Treaty of Lagos provides for subregional cooperation in all fields of economic activity and promotional exchanges in social and cultural matters. The pact prescribes the phased elimination of intracommunity barriers and the harmonization of industrial, fiscal, and economic policies. The institutional structure of ECOWAS consists of the Authority of Heads of State and Government, a council of ministers, an executive secretariat, the tribunal, and technical and specialized commissions. Article 50 of the treaty established the Fund for Cooperation, Compensation, and Development, which is the core of ECOWAS efforts. Despite funding constraints, ECOWAS has made significant achievements.


The structure of ECOWAS cut across ethnographic partitions and residual imperial cleavages, bringing former colonial entities together to achieve subregional governance in social, cultural, and economic affairs. The organization soon appeared to be the likely model for a proposed African common market. The community framework enhanced relational equity among member states as well as between ECOWAS and third parties. Economic integration offered member states a defensive formation in their dealings with other regional and transnational groupings. ECOWAS secured resources for national development from other nations and promoted transnational cooperation without threatening sovereign individuality.

In 1984, ECOWAS approved a broad-based program of action to promote industrial enterprise and to support direct investments. The Lomé Declaration on Economic Recovery Lomé Declaration on Economic Recovery (1984) of 1984 became the basis of the ECOWAS Economic Recovery Program, which was launched on July 8, 1987. This program comprised relief, rehabilitation, and reform measures involving ninety-six national projects and forty regional schemes, together budgeted at $926 million.

ECOWAS has continued to interact with intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations to further goals for industrialization. These organizations include the African Development Bank Group, the European Development Fund, the Federation of West African Chambers of Commerce, and various bodies of the newly formed African Union (which succeeded the OAU), as well as agencies of the United Nations. The ECA failed in 1971 to secure the general agreement of African governments for a transcontinental network of roads partly because of concerns about the prospect of large-scale smuggling. In 1981, ECOWAS reconsidered the proposal and assumed responsibility for a subregional network of roads and air traffic facilities at an estimated cost of $2 billion. Even at the risk of overreaching its resources, ECOWAS authorized surveys for a subregional network of railroads, with an initial outlay for the Togo-Upper Volta-Niger-Mali section.

The ECOWAS Fund, created in 1977, formed a primary pivot of ECOWAS programs. The fund supports cooperative ventures, finances development projects, and awards compensatory sums to member states adversely affected by its trade liberalization measures. The fund has supported major ECOWAS projects, including a $12.5 million loan in 1982 for telecommunication works across seven states and the INTELCOM I projects for domestic and external communication. ECOWAS recognized that telecommunication is a necessity for effective integration, but funding constraints forced delays in projected development.

The ECOWAS plan for the free movement of goods, services, and personnel has suffered from infrastructural as well as policy barriers. Member states have had to deal with conflicting immigration policies, particularly in relation to the implementation of the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons, Right of Residence, and Establishment of May 29, 1979. Implementation began on a controversial note, exemplified by Nigeria’s massive expulsion of “illegal immigrants” in the early 1980’s. The reluctance of states to accept mass migration showed the fragile texture of the protocol. ECOWAS initiated a plan in 1990 for the inception of legal residence cards within the community.

The community acknowledged the scope of its energy resources and requirements. In 1982, ECOWAS launched its Integrated and Comprehensive Energy Policy, under which it set up an Energy Resources Development Fund and the Dakar-based Regional Information Centre and Database to aid the assessment, conservation, and systematic exploitation of energy resources through targeted research and development. The Regional Information Centre and Database provides policy and project information on renewable energy.

Agriculture presents a special challenge to the efforts of the community because of its bearing on self-reliance, industrialization, and rural development. The challenge is underscored by the fact that in some ECOWAS nations agriculture accounts for as much as half of the gross national product and is the basis of industrial stability among rural populations. Export trade in raw materials has placed stress on land, labor, and infrastructure in the farming districts, thus the capacity of farmers to meet the food and nutrition needs of the subregion has remained in question.

Protocols for the elimination of trade and customs barriers have faced major challenges, including bureaucratic handcuffs, constitutional uncertainties, political inaction, and irregular contributions to the fund. The Third Summit of the Authority agreed, in May, 1980, to a phased procedure for the elimination of restrictions on industrial goods and priority items. By May 30, 1981, only four states had ratified the rules of origin protocol, which defined the source and compositional value of products moved in and out of the subregion. ECOWAS nevertheless anticipated a functional common market and a viable monetary cooperation. An agreement of May 28, 1979, on a customs union was supportive of existing arrangements and a common customs tariff, including a free trade zone for raw agricultural goods and indigenous handicrafts.

ECOWAS adopted a protocol on nonaggression in 1979 and a protocol on mutual defense assistance in 1981. The latter established a defense council and a defense commission and committed member states to contributory participation in the Allied Armed Forces of the Community Allied Armed Forces of the Community (AAFC). The AAFC, founded on the principles of nonaggression and mutual defense, ensures the territorial integrity of member states and checks disintegrative forces within the community. The overriding policy of ECOWAS, however, has been the peaceful settlement of disputes, for which the community’s Standing Mediation Committee was established. The committee in 1990 intervened in the Liberian crisis and later dispatched a peacekeeping force, known as the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), to that region. In later years, ECOMOG intervened in Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau, and the Guinea-Liberia border. The tribunal’s jurisdiction is limited to disputes arising from application or interpretation of the ECOWAS treaty.

The frequent incursion of the military in African politics and the reluctance of dictatorships to accommodate democratic political organization in the subregion have affected the pace of progress in ECOWAS programs. Political instability has therefore contributed to economic instability in the subregion, and during the 1990’s and into the early twenty-first century, ECOMOG forces were deployed for extended periods not only in Liberia but also in Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau, where they met mixed success in resolving and stabilizing the civil wars in those countries. Economic Community of West African States
Lagos, Treaty of (1975)

Further Reading

  • Andemicael, Berhanykun. The OAU and UN: Relations Between the Organization of African Unity and the United Nations. New York: Africana, 1976. Discusses the conflicting principles and dispositions of the two institutions, particularly in the sphere of economic development in Africa.
  • Brownlie, Ian, comp. Basic Documents of African Affairs. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1971. Thematically arranges and annotates the documents in historical order. Part 1 in particular is relevant to the development of corporatist organizations in the postcolonial period between 1963 and 1967.
  • Mazrui, Ali A. Africa’s International Relations: The Diplomacy of Dependency and Change. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1977. Examines African politics, government, and foreign relations. An interesting analysis of the interplay of power and politics in the management of underdeveloped and dependent economies.
  • Meier, Gerald M., and James E. Rauch, eds. Leading Issues in Economic Development. 7th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Among other pertinent facts of economic development, the authors discuss in chapter 8 the constraints of capital deficiency on economic planning and industrial growth in developing nations.
  • Renniger, John P. Multinational Cooperation for Development in West Africa. New York: Pergamon Press, 1978. Focusing on West African economic integration, the book examines the character and scope of transnational cooperation in the subregion, with focus on the relationship between gross national product and primary industrial production in the subregion.
  • Robson, Peter. Economic Integration in Africa. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1968. The theoretical positions taken in this book are well argued and factually supported. The author restates the advantages usually associated with economies of scale and scope. The facts suggest that economic integration and customs unions, for example, are able to secure such advantages in proper circumstances.
  • United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. Assessing Regional Integration in Africa: ECA Policy Research Report. Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Author, 2004. Evaluates the state of Africa’s integration process. Explains why trade within Africa has remained low and how a lack of infrastructure has hampered integration.
  • Wionczek, Miguel S., ed. Latin American Economic Integration. New York: Praeger, 1966. A volume of studies on Latin America, useful for a comparative understanding of the approaches and problems of economic integration in developing areas, including the limitations of foreign exchange and the remedial strategy of import substitution.

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