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Regional Integration in Western Africa

Research report

Written by Sheila Page

Research report

All the countries conventionally considered part of geographical West Africa are members of ECOWAS, and with Mauritania’s withdrawal in 1999, there is no longer overlap with North Africa. Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Mali, Niger, and Senegal have been members of UEMOA and its predecessors since independence. Benin and Togo started as observers, but are now members. Mauritania was a member of its predecessors, but did not join UEMOA (it had left the monetary union in 1973). Guinea Bissau, first associated with UEMOA through ECOWAS, joined UEMOA in 1997. UEMOA continues to exist as a more integrated group, but it is entirely included in ECOWAS, so that West African regionalism is now much more orderly than southern or eastern African, where overlapping regions and subregions divided between regions remain. (There is overlap with Central Africa through the CFA Franc zone, but this has always been separately administered.) Interest in regions followed the general international pattern, enthusiasm in the 1960s, decline, and revival in the 1990s. Both ECOWAS and UEMOA have taken steps in recent years to strengthen their own coverage and administration, and their links with each other. The question of whether either or both are effective, and likely to become more integrated for both internal and external purposes, might therefore expect a more optimistic answer than in the past or than for other parts of Africa. The history of these regions, like that of other regions, suggests that the principal determinant is political commitment to integration, not links or congruencies. These can vary, and can be found between most countries, but political links are what make countries willing to bear the costs of integration.

With the signing of the Cotonou Agreement in June 2000 (succeeding the Lomé IV Convention), which sets the framework for ACP-EU relations over the forthcoming years, regional integration initiatives in ACP (and mainly sub-Saharan) countries are attracting increasing attention from the part of European governments. The Cotonou Agreement foresees negotiation between the EU and ACP countries of economic partnerships agreements (EPAs), to start in September 2002 and to be concluded by the end of 2007. One of the principal motives for the Cotonou emphasis on EPAs is to foster regional economic integration initiatives in ACP countries. The European Commission intends to negotiate directly with existing regional groupings, including UEMOA; its policy on ECOWAS is less clear.

In view of the greater emphasis on regional economic integration processes in the international as well as the European context, coupled with the renewed commitments among West African countries to further promote and develop UEMOA and ECOWAS, the question arises as to the substance and possible future of the regional ambitions of West Africa. To what extent are regional integration programmes implemented effectively? What are the concrete actions behind the words? What is the current state of integration? Is the  egional process driven by political or private (business) actors? Are regional initiatives a substitute or a complement to national and local policy objectives? What could be the consequences for the development of West African countries of existing and proposed regional integration measures?

The purpose of this report is to provide a brief overview of the various components of the regional integration framework in West Africa, focusing on UEMOA and ECOWAS, and to identify some key issues of concern (highlighted in boxes) for the integration process in the region. This report does not aim at providing a systematic evaluation of the effects of regional integration in West Africa, nor to recommend or even suggest courses of action for donor countries.

Sheila Page and Sanoussi Bilal