ECOWAS: from economic cooperation and development to security. A revision of the mandate or progress towards future rules? – PART 2

Despite internal trade still presents limits, international trade is quite successful. ECOWAS has good relationships with European Union, China, US, and the BRICS. Some Western countries like France, UK and US have shown strong interest in ECOWAS, especially for the ECOMOG. The presence of a huge amount of natural resources, many French, Chinese, and English oil companies have invested in important sectors like security, industry and telecommunications.

The EU has a greater role in this economic relationship. It is the first commercial partner and it exports electric material, chemical products and medicines. In 2010 there exports to the EU surged by 18,5%.[1] Imports are a huge business too, especially if we refer to the oil coming from Nigeria, Ghana and Ivory Coast. This partnership is regulated by the Lomé and Cotonou agreements, valid until 2020, which laid the basis for the European Partnership Agreement (EPA)[2], which is aimed at creating a free trade zone between EU and ECOWAS. The EU is also involved in development projects for improving regional integration, trans border traffic, good governance, and food security with the Strategy for Africa.[3]

Concerning China, in 2011 the country invested in Africa a total amount of 15 billion dollars to sustain economic projects in 50 countries with more than 2000 investors. This partnership started in 2008 with the Economic and Commercial Forum ECOWAS-Beijing, highlighting the interests in different sectors like agriculture. The first beneficiaries of this partnership were Ghana, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Nowadays the Ghanaian-Chinese partnership is extending to agreements for import-export relationships and for building infrastructures thanks to the collaboration with the Import-Export Bank of China. Nigeria, instead, has important agreements concerning oil refineries. In 2012 there was the second China-ECOWAS Forum in which their relationships were strengthened, especially concerning foreign direct investments.

Someone argues that in the future growth will increase in ECOWAS, both in the agriculture and energy domains as the number of Chinese enterprises like Standard Plastics Industry in Nigeria, of the Hongkong Huachang Group or the Chongqing Overseas Labor Company Ltd, is growing.[4]  

Thus, and considering the aforementioned issues, the achievement of a single currency is not an close objective for ECOWAS, as well as the creation of a unique and competitive market. The reasons are the presence of protectionist policies, the heterogeneity of economic conditions in the different member states, but also the international crisis, that discourage important political and economic perspectives from national governments that prefer to defend their monetary and fiscal sovereignty taking nationalistic policies.

The main problems of ECOWAS stem from MS’ incapacity in implementing fully and faithfully the numerous protocols and decisions of the organisations. The problem of inadequate capacities and capabilities for formulation, implementation, coordination and monitoring of integration policies and programmes is also prevalent at the national state level, where the institutional architecture at this level is fragile. Needless to say, it is precisely at this level that rests the ultimate responsibility for implementing protocols etc. and integration programmes.[5]

The second and more important reason for the stalling of ECOWAS liberalisation scheme owes to original provisions of the treaty, because of the problems with the firms owned by West Africans and those owned by foreigners, which produces most of the region prime goods. The difficulties to reach successful market integration come also from the fact that ECOWAS is not complementary, meaning that member states sell and buy the same goods.  The already mentioned problem of “rivalry” between Francophone and Anglophone states also is extremely important. Moreover, labour and rights of establishment has been another problem (freedom of movement). Finally, to make the framework more complex, there is the failure of some ECOWAS members to meet their financial obligations.[6]

As shown in the previous paragraphs, ECOWAS was born with the aim of establishing a strong economic cooperation, to improve development and to create a common market. The paradox that characterizes this organisation is that it reached the greater success in peacekeeping operations. Undoubtedly, the issue of security is fundamental to reach the aim for which ECOWAS has been created. This is why maintaining stability has become one of the most important objectives of this organisation, becoming the major actor in the region for peacekeeping operations. In 1981, they also signed a Protocol to Mutual Assistance on defence.[7]

Furthermore, in 1993 the MS decided to revise the 1975 Treaty with the adoption of a new constituent Treaty signed on July 23rd 1993. The revised treaty included, among the fundamental principles of the Community, the maintenance of peace, stability and security, and the promotion of a democratic system of governance.[8]

ECOWAS had important missions in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast and Mali.

Thus, art. 58 of the Institutive Treaty of ECOWAS regulates conflict resolutions. It imposes the Member States to solve and prevent conflicts in West Africa and foreseen the establishment of peacekeeping missions and to use necessary tools to maintain stability, and peace.

The first time it was applied has been in 1990 when the President of Liberia Samuel Doe asked for a military intervention to defend its government from the rebels guided by Charles Taylor. ECOWAS helped the parties to find an agreement and to let the political elections of 1997 take place. They also intervened in the rebellion of 2003.

This mission created the basis for the ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group). It was a formal agreement for the creation of a multilateral force within ECOWAS States, aimed at maintaining stability and peace in the region and at avoiding new conflicts. In 1990 only Anglophone members were part of it, but since 2005 all ECOWAS member states joined, becoming the first credible attempt to a regional security initiative since the Inter African Force intervention in Chad (1981) by the African Union (AU).

In 2000, a Mediation and Security Council was established as a meeting point for political leaders and diplomats to analyse and approve peacekeeping missions. It is a sub-regional organ, but similar to the UN Security Council in its structure, and it is always in contact with African Union (AU) and the United Nations when it deliberates.

Indeed, ECOWAS also operated in Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau in 1998 after a coup d’état. Since 2012, they are involved in an operation to maintain peace in Ivory Coast. This mission was also integrated in the United Nations Operation UNOCI.

In this field ECOWAS also introduced ECOSAP (Ecowas Small Arms Program) in order to control arms trafficking within the borders and to limit conflicts. It was joined by all MS to highlight their wish of combating conflicts, maintaining security to develop good governance. In the very last period other tools were created, namely ECOWAS Peace Exchange Forum, ECOWAS Standby Force, Warning and Response Network (ECOWARN), Election Monotoring Declarations, and Maritme Security.

Since 2012, ECOWAS has been having a greater role in regional stability and security thank to its role in Mali crisis and the deterioration of the situation in Guinea Bissau. ECOWAS had a fundamental role in the negotiations with the rebels to create a transition government guided by the President of the Parliament Dioncounda Traoré. Unfortunately, this was a feeble stability situation, as in 2012 Touaré was deposed, and Mali suspended from the ECOWAS. The situation in Mali is extremely dangerous for the stability of the entire area and the development of terroristic groups like the Mouvement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO).ECOWAS has also sent money as a remedy for the bad situation (3million dollars to Mali legitimate government and 1,5 million to Border States Burkina-Faso and Niger). Today the conflict is still unsolved, but the ECOWAS continues to monitor the situation from its offices in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso).[9] To reach all the aims ECOWAS has predetermined, it is important to maintain stability, this is why ECOWAS commitment to the Mali crisis has not stopped. It has recently declared that if the movement Boko Haram continues provoking terrorist attacks to Christians in the region, they will respond with a military intervention.

In conclusion, this paper has shown that ECOWAS is de facto becoming a “security community”, thus going far away from its original mandate. The big question is if ECOWAS will be able of becoming an economic community. Undoubtedly, it is granted that a common monetary union is not a short-term possibility. Concerning regionalism, Africa has always been seen a “primitive, weak or dimply a failure”.[10] The problem is that Africa has always been moving as an outsider within the global economy. Despite that, it was able to make it finding its way, the African way. Fredrik Söderbaum divides African regionalism in three different sections, which are: the project of market integration, regime-boosting regionalism and shadow regionalisation. ECOWAS falls in the second one, as “regionalism is used as an image-boosting instrument whereby leaders can show support and loyalty for each other, which enables them to raise the profile, status, formal sovereignty and image of their often authoritarian regimes, but without ensuring implementation of agreed policies”.[11] The strategy used is called by Söderbaum “summitry regionalism”, which stresses the importance of high profile meetings where there is no consultation between Member States, nor a debate. Despite competing visions of regionalism in Africa, specific problems must be addressed, namely overlapping memberships, peace and stability. Therefore, ways must be found to involve the private sector in the integration process, to introduce complementarity, and to strengthen dispute settlement mechanism. Moreover, “given the disparities in economic weight that exist between members of some groupings, new policy instruments to deal with the fears of economic polarization must be found, for example, multispeed arrangements (allowing weaker members more time to liberalize), compensation schemes, regional investment banks, or structural solidarity funds such as the Food Security Financial Instrument”.[12]



Master’s degree in International Relations (LUISS “Guido Carli”)



[1] Last update 05/06/2014.

[2] Last update 05/06/2014.

[3] Last update: 04/06/2014.

[4] Serge Michel, Michel Beuret-Cinafrica. Pechino alla conquista del continente nero, Il Saggiatore, Milano 2009, page 77.

[5] Senghor Jeggan-Regional Integration in Africa, in  Thème 6 : Le développement par l’Intégration, Last update 04/06/2014.

[6] Ojo Olatunde B.J. (1999)-Integration in ECOWAS Success and difficulties, In Regionalisation in Africa Integration and Disintegration, page 123.

[7] Last update 05/06/2014.

[8] Gestri Marco-ECOWAS operations in Liberia and Sierra Leone: amnesty for past unlawful ats or progress toward future rules?, in Redefining sovereignty. Ardsley (N.Y) : Transnational publ., 2005, page 215.

[9] Davide Matteucci (2011) – Il Mali tra golpe tuareg e jihadisti in Limes Rivista Italiana di Geopolitica, (Contro)Rivoluzioni in Corso, Limes 3/2011. Available at: Last update 05/06/14.

[10] Söderbaum Fredrik – African regionalism and EU-African interregionalism, in European Union and new regionalism: regional actors and global governance in a post-hegemonic era, edited by Mario Telò, Aldershot ; Burlington, VT : Ashgate, ©2007, page 185.

[11] Ibidem, page 193.

[12] FAO Corporate Document Repository, Regional integration and food security in developing countries, Technical Cooperation Department, Chapter 6: Regional Integration in Africa. Available at: