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The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is an economic union of sixteen (16) West African States. It was formally established in 1975 with the signing of the ECOWAS treaty in Lagos, by some West African Heads of State.

Aims and Objectives of ECOWAS
Article 2 of the treaty spelt out the aims and objectives of ECOWAS as follows:

(i) The major objective of ECOWAS is economic emancipation of West African States from external interference. To achieve this feat, the West African States have to form an economic block as a front for achieving their targets.
(ii) Promotion of co-operation and development among member countries in the areas of industry, transport, energy, agriculture, etc. This is intended to raise the standard of living of member countries.
(iii) Trade Liberalisation is another aim of ECOWAS. The establishment of a common external tariff measure against non-member states. This unified commercial policy makes for easy economic relations among member States.
(iv) Another important objective of ECOWAS is to alleviate and eventually, eliminate poverty in WestAfrica, through a strong and buoyant economy.
(v) It also aims at achieving progress and development of the African continent through maintaining economic stability among member countries.
(vi) ECOWAS intends to establish a common fund which will enhance development in the member states.

Achievements of ECOWAS
The ECOWAS made some tremendous progress towards the realisation of its aims and objectives in that it has been able to achieve the following:

(i) Trade among member countries increased greatly through its ability to eliminate the barriers to trade. Today, there is common customs and statistical standards subsisting among members.
(ii) Fostering of unity among member countries. Since its formation, most member countries have continued to live in harmony. Even intra or inter disputes of its members attracts quick intervention of the ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). This has restored peace in the warring countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia.
(iii) ECOWAS has achieved, among other things, free movement of citizens of member countries within the West African Sub-region. People are grateful to ECOWAS for enabling travelling without visa.
(iv) In Agriculture, ECOWAS has established a common agricultural policy, and regional agricultural development strategy aimed at eliminating hunger and achieving self-reliance in food production.
(v) ECOWAS has also put effort in the area of transport and communication in the region. It has given loans to the Republic of Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone, for the construction of major bridges in parts of the costal highway.
(vi) ECOWAS has established a computer centre at Lome in Togo, valued at about ₦4 million. The wide area network (WAN) covers all member countries, with branches located in all member states. This will enhance trade exchange in the sub-region.
(vii) Other areas of achievement include establishment of ECOWAS Bank, energy, monetary, social and cultural co-operations.

Problems of ECOWAS
Not much has been achieved in the community since its inception because of the following problems:

(i) Failure of member countries to implement the resolutions or decisions of the community.
(ii) Different interpretations of articles e.g. on free movement. This heightens the problem of illegal immigrants.
(iii) Political instability of member states, coupled with intermittent military coups, weaken the community.
(iv) Irregular contributions by member states affect the finances of the community. For instance, it is observed that unpaid arrears of dues amounted to over eleven (11) million dollars in 1998. This scarcity of funds militates against the smooth implementation of the community’s decisions.
(v) The member countries of ECOWAS are at various stages of development. This accounts for the differences in their national incomes and their financial contributions to the community. This may create problems unless decisions and discussions take place with open minds and no inferiority complex.
(vi) Uncontrolled emigration from the neighbouring countries has also led to massive immigration of beggars, and other socially undesirable persons. This led to closure of borders, thus affecting the free movement policy of ECOWAS.
(vii) Most member states suffer from adverse balance of payment, and this may result in the adoption of policies to reduce imports in order to correct deficit balance of payment.
(viii)There is an absence of adequate transportation and communication network among member countries. This poses a big obstacle in the way of achieving greater cooperation.