Author : Aarushi Gupta

Occasional PapersPublished on Dec 05, 2015 PDF Download
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Regional Integration in West Africa: The Evolution of ECOWAS

  • Aarushi Gupta

    The paradox of the African continent is that it is resource-rich but remains poor in many parts. Has regional integration improved economic performance and does it pave the way to a better future? This paper examines West African integration--its evolution, the successes it has scored and the challenges that remain.


Many countries in Africa have an abundance of natural resources but lack the regulatory capacity to harness them. Economic inequality is also more serious in some of the resource-rich countries of the continent: their economic performance is poorer than other countries with less resources. This so-called ‘resource curse’ is explained by experts through various lenses. For one, these countries fail to invest their resource wealth productively and end up poorer. Conflict over resource rent further leads to undemocratic and corrupt governments.

Over the past few decades, in spite of its ‘resource curse’, Africa has been among the world’s fastest growing continents with an annual average growth rate of more than four percent, supported by improved governance and economic reforms. This is expected to reach 5.1 percent in 2015. Yet poverty is rife, and 75 percent of West African states are classified by the UN as among the world’s Least Developed Countries (LDCs). The 15 states comprising the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)—which is the subject of this paper—account for 35 percent of Africa’s LDCs, making West Africa the pre-eminent LDC region not only in Africa but also in the world.

Historically, Africa has faced many problems arising out of its colonial legacy, the creation of geographically artificial states, and the ethnolinguistic diversity of its people. This has contributed to conflicts among countries and high trade and communication costs.

The integration of West African states into the ECOWAS was largely influenced by the processes of integration in Western Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere in Africa. The rationale was both political and
economic: to promote the unity of states and their faster economic development. The process of economic integration is also a political process because of two main reasons: first, it requires the surrender of major national economic instruments to a supranational authority and second, it calls for governments of member states to implement subregional policies. At the same time, many West African countries wanted to ensure their political independence.

It is important for developing economies like India to understand other developing economies and strengthen ties with them. This paper examines West African regional integration, initiatives and challenges. It discusses the need to develop infrastructure in the region to accelerate economic growth and explores the structure of ECOWAS as well as the steps it has taken to achieve its goals.

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Aarushi Gupta

Aarushi Gupta

Aarushi Gupta is the Research Manager at Digital Futures Lab. With an academic background in public policy and economics her research has focused on social ...

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Aarushi Gupta

Aarushi Gupta