ECOWAS: The Challenges Of Regional Integration


 Abubakar M. Sambo



The economic community for West African states- ECOWAS came into existence in 1975, with the idea of bringing together all the states in the West African sub-region together in cooperation, self defense and share common socio-economic cum political advantages.


The aim of the regional economic grouping among others is to promote cooperation and integration, leading to the establishment of an economic union in order to raise the living standards of the people in the sub-region while maintaining and enhancing economic stability and fostering relations among member states so as to achieve a meaningful human centered development in the sub-region in particular and the continent as a whole.


The central focus of this piece is integration in the West African community and the challenges posed towards achieving that in a contemporary complex ‘villagised’ or rather ‘globalised’ environment.


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ascendancy of the western capitalist triumphalism, countries the world over are building economic blocks: through integration, with the sole aim of harmonization of common markets or rather building a Mega markets, common tariffs and common currency. It has become a vogue to integrate more common economic, social and political interests than to dis-intertgrate into smaller states or smaller markets. The advantages of that are enormous; general economic growth and uniform development of integrated markets in particular and the economies in general, common defense, among others.


In the same light, in order for the ECOWAS, to achieve its fundamental objectives of promoting cooperation and integration through its economic grouping, have set out plans of integration of all the member states in the union, and planned to achieve in stages. Article 3, no 2(a) of the revised treaty of the regional body states that:


... the harmonization and cooperation and co-ordination of national policies and the promotion of integration programmes, projects and activities, particularly in food, agriculture and natural resources, industry, transport and communications, energy, trade, money and finance, taxation, economic reform policies, human resources, education, information, culture, science, technology, services, health tourism and legal matters...


(d) The establishment of a common market through;


i)  the liberalisation of trade by the abolition, among member states of custom duties levied on imports and exports, and the abolition among member states, of non-tariff barriers in order to establish a free trade area at the community level


ii) The adoption of common external tariff and a common trade policy vis-à-vis third countries,


iii) the removal, between member states, of obstacles to free movements of persons, goods, services and capital and the right of residence and establishments.


These fundamental objectives are ‘perfectly beautiful’, the way they are conceived, because, the end result of these conceptions, when fully realised will bring not only socio-economic development, but also translate the entire west African community into a ‘near perfect’ community; where lives and properties will not only be safe and secured, but have a guarantee for realizing the full potentialities of life in a safe environment, where poverty will no longer have a place to hibernate and a community where it tend to develop its own technological needs from within.


The ECOWAS community comprises of the following states in the west African sub-region; Nigeria, Ghana, Benin republic, Lome, Burkina Faso, Cote D’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Senegal Sierra Leone and Togo.


Looking at the composition of these West African states, which made up the ECOWAS community, they are countries that were divided on political ideological lines during the decolonization era, when there was a stiff struggle in the realization of the Organisation of African Unity’s (OAU) dream of unity, peace and decolonization struggles right from 1963. The OAU birth at Addis Ababa in 1963, by the African Heads of State and Government was meant to promote the unity and solidarity of the African States. Through the Organization, African States were to attempt an intensification of their cooperation and efforts to achieve better life’ for their people.


African States also sought through such Organization to eradicate all forms of colonialism and defend their sovereignty and territorial integrity. It has to cooperate with the United Nations in defense of fundamental human rights, and to achieve global peace and security. This among others, were the fundamentals on which the organisation came to being.


The Organisation of African Unity, then, also requires sharing of ideas on transport and communication, cooperation in areas of education, culture, Health, sanitation and nutrition, science and technology as well as defense and security. The Charter of the OAU makes provision for sovereign equality of members, non-interference in the internal affairs of States, respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of each State and for its inalienable right to independent existence. Further more, the Charter insists that all disputes must be peacefully settled by negotiation, mediation and arbitration.


ECOWAS was a product of the go-between two, distinct political lining that brought about the continental political organisation, in place. The OAU was the product of a compromise between two groups in Africa, which had earlier on made separate attempts at integration. The more ideologically  conservative Monrovia Group, was made up of 19 African independent countries namely; Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo (Brazzaville), Dahomy, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Togo, Tunisia and Upper Volta. The Casablanca Group, emphasized socialist orientation, and was made up of Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Morocco, Libya, Egypt and Algeria.


The Sub-regional economic as well as the political grouping automatically becomes the product of two different political orientation, that is perhaps, why most policies at the ECOWAS community  level a times has a problem of lack of commitment in its implementation. When Nigeria, took a bold initiative to bring to an end the carnage in Liberia, through the instrumentality of ECOMOG, there seemed to be a problem of the Anglo-phone and the Franco–phone states in the organisation, where leaders of the Franco-phones states were bitter with the stance of Nigeria, who is seen as the major financier of the sub-regional peace keeping force, the ECOMOG.


Sambo, M.A. (2006) opined, in his M.Sc dissertation, titled ‘the Nature and Consequences of the Shift in Nigeria’s Foreign Policy in the ECOWAS Sub-Region’; that,

During the ECOMOG incursion in the Liberian crisis, the greatest source of friction stemming from the ECOWAS Peace Plan (EPP) was its call for the formation of ECOMOG.  That provision generated several controversial questions, which though couched in terms of sound principles, procedures and composition, generated intra-Community political differences...between the Anglo-phone and Franco-phone states in the community...


Also in her book, The Liberian Crisis and ECOMOG: A bold Attempt at Regional peace keeping, M. A. Vogt, argues that, the major criticisms against the ECOMOG idea emanated from the Francophone bloc particularly, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, (Vogt 1992).


These political manifestations with regards the community stances towards integration and having a common cause in bringing about the desired ends of integration has revisited the post—colonial African state’s ideological bifurcation of the sates in Africa. It is therefore, pertinent to look beyond the political formation and also look through the common  historical antecedents that brought about the coming of these African states together, and their genuine desire to forge with an economic grouping that tend to bring about unity, integration and the subsequent development of the sub-regional Community.


The ECOWAS community, should, having this in mind, be able to put in place a very strong and vibrant institution that can build an enduring ‘consensus’ between two hitherto diametrically opposed ‘political groupings in the continents, and remove any iota of the manifestations of these historical ideological differences that should be seen in such respect.


There is always a problem in interpreting the ideals that are beautifully designed on paper whenever they are viewed from within the assumed ‘ideological division that are based on the community’s composition of the French-oriented community members and the English oriented community members. This translates into a form of a same family coming from different parentage. Language, cultural barriers and ‘behavioral’ norms will for sure constitute a cog in the realization of community of states goals of effective integration, if unaddressed.


The issues of extortion at the border by the personnel of the agencies concern, is already an established stumbling block to achieving the desired ends of abolishing the trade obstacles from within the international trading relationship from within the ECOWAS community. The un-professional ethics, corrupt attitude of most of the personnel; customs, the immigration, the coastal guards, the police, the other personnel that are manning the border-post that link all the ECOWAS community, is and has become a source of concern, and continue to constitute a problem to effective integration of the West African Community. It induces apathy to these businessmen and traders alike.


Business men and traders that transact business on the Lagos–Cotonou–Lome–Accra–Abidjan axis, complain bitterly on the high rate of extortion and intimidations at these routes. To check this, an effective monitoring institution, has to put in place, to observe and report, before an effective plan could be designed on how it can be nipped at the bud. The personnel also need a specialized training and capacity building in requisite areas, to enhance effective coordination.


The problem of low educational attainment, or rather the illiteracy level of the population within the community, is also a serious issue of concern, and it is having a serious concomitant effect on the relationship between institutions, corporate formations, legal institutions and the traders alike in the community.


To minimize or to eradicate all these problems, there should be a huge commitment by the ECOWAS community, to heavily invest at different levels within the community, in education, and special training in skill acquisition, so that there will be a concomitant growth in investments and other trade related activities vis-à-vis educational attainment in the community.


While I have an unflinching belief in the ability of the ECOWAS to realize her dreams, I feel when the regional grouping genuinely implements the integration agenda with little institutional and structural reforms from within the exiting institutions, the sub-regional economic grouping will be one of the success stories of economic integration experiments in the post cold war as well as post global economic recession.


Abubakar Mohammed Sambo, Is a lecturer with the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Adamawa State University, Mubi.