ECOWAS: Features, Structure, Objective & Merits

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There are a number of regional economic groupings in Africa, but we shall concentrate on the Economic Community of West African states in this article.


The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

The ground work for the formation of ECOWAS can be traced to the efforts of the heads of States of Nigeria and Togo in 1972. They had a series of meetings and sent draft proposals to other heads of States of West African countries.

A treaty, formally establishing ECOWAS was signed in Lagos in May I975. The community became operational in July, 1975 after the ratification of the Treaty by the member states.

The community has sixteen members comprising Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Cape Verde, Liberia, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Togo. Republic of Benin, Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Mauritania, and the Niger Republic.

The ECOWAS community has the following organs or institutions:

  • Authority of Heads of State and Government.
  • The Council of Ministers
  • The Secretariat
  • The Technical and Specialized Commissioners.
  • The ECOWAS Fund (for co-operation, compensation and development).
  • The Tribunal (a legal organ).

Structure of ECOWAS

The Community consists of the authority of Heads of State and Government, the Council of ministers, the mechanism for conflict prevention, management and resolution, peace and security, the community tribunal, the ECOWAS Parliament, the Executive Secretariat and six specialised technical commissions.

The ECOWAS treaty also makes provision for an Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), with an advisory role, to be composed of representatives of the “various categories of economic and social activity”. This body has not yet been established.

Objectives of ECOWAS

The main aim was to promote co-operation and development in all areas of economic activity with a view to raising the quality of life in the sub-region.

The specific objectives are:

  • To raise the general standard of living of the people in the sub-region.
  • To increase the level of economic activity and maintain economic stability in the sub-region.
  • To foster and enhance close economic co-operation among the member countries.
  • To contribute to the general progress and development of the African continent.

Areas of Co-operation

To achieve the aims, a number of areas of co-operation were spelt out. They include;

  • Promotion of free trade through elimination of tariffs between member states.
  • The elimination of all obstacles for the free movement of persons, services and capital.
  • The establishment of a common internal and external tariff structure towards third party countries.
  • Pursuit of joint development efforts in areas of transport, communication, energy and other infrastrutural facilities.
  • The harmonization of agricultural policies and the pursuit of joint projects in the fields of marketing, research and agro-industrial enterprises.
  • The harmonization of economic and industrial policies, and the elimination of disparities in the level of income and development between the member states.
  • The establishment of a fund for co-operation, compensation and development to finance community projects and to pay compensation to member states which suffer losses as a result of the community’s activities.

Advantages of ECOWAS

Benefits West African countries derive from ECOWAS include;

  • Expanded market: The combined population of the entire sub-region has created a bigger and ready market for goods and services. Like, Some Nigerian companies have opened branches in other West African countries. Also, many Nigerian goods are being exported to the neighbouring member states.
  • Creation of jobs: Some of Nigeria’s citizens have found employment at the ECOWAS Commission which they would otherWise not have had. Apart from that, expansion in production of goods for exports to the sub-region has created more jobs for Nigerian citizens.
  • Free movement of persons and goods: Another benefit of Nigeria‘s membership of ECOWAS is the free movement of persons and goods across member states.
  • Today, Nigerian citizens can travel to other member states and reside there for 90 days without a visa. This has, to some extent, eased the hustle associated with travelling across the land borders surrounding Nigeria.
  • Military assistance: It is believed that any act of aggression directed to Nigeria can be contained by the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). The same military establishment of the Economic Community of West African States that restored peace in Liberia and Sierra Leone is capable of restoring peace in Nigeria too, should any armed conflict occurs.

Disadvantages of ECOWAS

Major problems faced by ECOWAS are;

  • Language barrier: There are three languages that are used for communication within the ECOWAS bloc. These are English, French and Portuguese. For easy communication among members, there is the need for individuals in the region to be able to speak these languages; but this is proving to be difficult. This has necessitated the use of interpreters to make people understand each other at summit meetings.
  • Widespread poverty: Many of the member states of ECOWAS are among the poorest of the poor nations in the world. Many of their citizens earn less than a dollar a day. This, in a certain sense, prevents real economic integration of the sub-region while many continue to live in squalor and deprivation.
  • Human rights abuses: Another problem of the ECOWAS group is the penchant of the member states for abusing the hliman rights of their citizens. The human rights records of some member states are nothing to write home about. Champions of human rights abuse have cited member states on many occasions over their human rights abuse. Togo was ever cited, Nigeria under Sanni Abacha has ever been cited. This is a problem for ECOWAS.
  • Financial problems: The aims and objectives of the ECOWAS can only be achieved when the finacial base of the community is solid. However, some member states are not able to honour their financial obligations to the community. This is one problem that has bedevilled the community over the years, especially when it comes to the running of the affairs of the community.
  • Strong external influence: Many of the member states of ECOWAS were former colonies of some former colonial powers. Countries such as Britain, France and Portugal ever had a colony or two that now belong to the ECOWAS group. These member states are still controlled, to a certain extent, by their former colonial masters. The influence of these colonial masters, in some cases, is so strong that they are able to determine the direction of their votes at summit meetings on issues that are not in the interest of the former masters.
  • Single currency: One of the aims of the community is to establish a monetary union for the entire region. This was aimed at culminating into a single currency for ECOWAS member states. However, the member states have not been able to meet the convergence criteria, for the single currency to be issued. This has made the attainment of that goal a mirage, though efforts are continually being made towards its achievement.
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