ECOWAS: The Ideals And Practice Of Regional Economic Integration

Project and Seminar Material for Political Science

ECOWAS: The Ideals And Practice Of Regional Economic Integration

Chapter One


1.1 Background to the Study

One of the most discussed themes over the past two decades in scholarly studies, political discourse, and international media is regional integration. The extent of the emergence of regional integration remains closely linked to the rise of globalization and the need for countries to negotiate agreements to facilitate all forms of exchanges and transactions. Regional integration has been an evolving process over many decades now and different regions have embraced it. Its evolution was very much in the form of integrating actors concern with economic and security issues to the inclusion of other concerns such as social, cultural, environmental, other developmental needs. It is however, the commitment and the achievement of set goals by the member states in the various regional integrating bodies that have determined how far they have gone with the process, and have distinguished very successful regional integration organisations from others.

It is worthy to note that the promises of regional integration since the publication of Viner (1950) and Balassa (1967) have had positive feedback for some groups of countries (Northern America Free Trade Agreement – NAFTA; MERCOSUR; Association of Southeast Asian Nations – ASEAN) and negative for others mostly African economies (Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa – COMESA; Economic Community of West African States – ECOWAS; Economic Community of Central African States – ECCAS) (Tinta, 2017). However, regional integration remains crucial for Africa to increase its competitiveness and diversify its economy, and especially for fragile economies such as ECOWAS.

The inauguration of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Lagos, Nigeria on 28 May 1975 was greeted as a critical breakthrough in efforts to institute a framework for economic co-operation and integration that embraced the entire sub-region. Forty-three (43) years down the line, two treaties in, and several reforms to the institutional structure of the organisation, question marks still hang over the relevance of the institution to the teeming population of the West African Sub-region. Most observers have raised doubts over the success of ECOWAS as an economic organisation due to the slow pace of integration, which is the primary goal of the organisation (Kufour, 2006).

Numerous problems plagued the first regime of the organization. Some of these problems include inadequacy of the legal framework, failure to meet objectives of the community such as the Trade Liberalization Scheme (TLS), non-ratification of community protocols and a general sense of distrust towards the intentions of the regional hegemony, Nigeria. In essence, ECOWAS under the first regime was nothing short of an agora, or a platform for discussion, ‘where things cannot just get done. The emergence of violent conflicts in the early 90s changed the trajectory of the community’s objectives culminating in the revision of its treaty and giving it a human rights overlay. The intervention of ECOWAS in troubled Member States notably Liberia and Sierra Leone triggered legal and political debates not just on the role of the ECOWAS in peace and security but also culminated in greater emphasis on protecting universal values such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law (Klabbers, 2005).

Indeed regional integration is regarded as beneficial in numerous senses and serves substantial economic aims in addition to presenting a stabilizing factor in inter-state relations. Scholars of all disciplines, however, stress the fact that regionalism as such, is emerging as a phenomenon in its own right and may not be situated without extreme care into diverse geographical and socioeconomic contexts. In this light, regional economic integration may also have worrying implications. Where it does not play out in accordance with liberal assumptions of perfect markets and perfect competition, it may even be sub-optimal in systemic and political terms, in part due to the fact that grave situational and structural constraints may pose threats to the functionality of given configurations with alarming implications for overall stability, efficiency, coherence and trade costs.

Economic integration still remains one of the key objectives of the Community and the general continent. The benefits of economic integration are not in dispute. The urgency with which it should be pursued is expressed in the following words of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA):

This shift (the global move to integrate economies) is nowhere more urgent than in Africa, where the combined impact of relatively small economies, international terms of trade, and the legacy of colonialism, mis-rule, and conflict has meant that we have not yet assumed our global market share-despite our significant market size (UNCTAD, 2009: ix).

However, the limited progress in economic integration and the pre-occupation of the organisation with human rights protection, peace and security has drawn the attention of scholars to the initial ideals upon which ECOWAS was established. The emergent norms in the practice of the organization since its intervention in troubled Member States has also raised important questions about the limits an organisation originally dedicated to economic integration, but whose mandate has extended to peace and security, and human rights spheres. The ideals and practices of ECOWAS as an international organisation within the West Africa region is where the inquest of this study lies. It is argued that the capacity of community institutions to deliver the vast mandate in human rights protection, peace and security, and the rule of law in line with a paradigm shift in regional integration in the continent is fundamental to the long term success of the organisation.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

ECOWAS, like most international organisations, is faced with the challenge of establishing its legitimacy, especially when it concerns delivering on its mandate of regional integration. At first, the legitimacy of ECOWAS was hardly contested, perhaps due to Cold War and the limitations it imposed on the organisation’s role. It was viewed by both its members and other states as focused on, and established primarily for economic integration. However, the emergence of violent domestic conflicts which has had lasting repercussions on the role of ECOWAS in member states has expanded the understanding of peace and security and human rights in the organisation. More importantly, the legitimacy question was brought to the fore primarily due to the military interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Going by the tenets upon which ECOWAS was established, it was supposed to ensure that the countries in the region as member states get substantial benefits in trade and development. It has been observed that uniting African economies will permit exploitation of economies of scale, ensure competitive markets, provide access to wider trading and investment environments promote exports to regional markets, provide the requisite experience to compete in the multilateral trade system, and to provide a framework for them to co-operate in developing common services for finance, transportation and communication.

Throughout the past century much has changed in the governance of the global economy. Stemming from the increasingly complex dynamics of economic integration, scholarly interest therein has increased almost exponentially. In addition to improving growth rates in many parts of the world these developments have, however, also given rise to substantial challenges. As economic and financial markets mature and the ramifications of globalisation become ever more apparent, underlying economic deficiencies take their toll on actors’ competitiveness in the global system, regardless of their economic and political standing. In Africa, the problems stemming from this evolution are even more pronounced. Political instability, poverty and civil unrest exacerbated by lacking infrastructure, poorly developed human resources and a weak private sector depict African economic realities.

Though regional economic integration initially emerged to ease West African integration into the world economy, the stagnation of intraregional trade brought about increased interest in the (in-) efficiency of ECOWAS as an economic integration scheme, having been treated with benign neglect for the best part of the past four decades. In the Sub-Saharan region, the outcome of integration has been far from promising. Africa’s internal trade has remained minimal, with more than 80 per cent of exports destined for external markets, not least due to external ‘post-colonial’ ties. Not only may regionalism therefore advance from faulty theoretical premises, the lack of political will and internal legitimacy as endogenous determinants of failure are particularly excruciating. Challenges are rooted in chronic structural and institutional weaknesses, whereby regional economic integration suffers from duplication as well as lacking political bases, deeply entrenched in the incompatibility of the divide between regional economic integration and critical national priorities.

The problem of this study is whether the present state of regional economic integration as implemented by ECOWAS is effective in its prevalent structural form, with a specific focus on trade, regional industrial development, food security as well as road and railway infrastructures.

1.3 Objectives of the Study

Main Objective:

To examine how the implementation of ECOWAS treaties and policies impacts on free movement of goods and trade; regional industrial development; food security as well as road and railway infrastructures among member states in the region.

Specific Objectives:
  1. To access the impact of Free Trade Areas and Common External Tariffs on the free movement of goods and services within the ECOWAS region.
  2. To examine the contribution of the West African Common Industrial Policy (WACIP) on regional industrial development in the region.
  3. To examine the impact of the ECOWAS Regional Agricultural Investment Programme (RAIP) on the level of food security in the region.
  4. To establish how the implementation of the ECOWAS Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) has contributed to the development of road and railway infrastructures in the region.
  5. To suggest measures that should be employed by ECOWAS to deliver on its mandate of regional economic integration for member states.

1.4 Research Questions

The following research questions guided the formulation of objectives for the study:

  1. What is the impact of Free Trade Areas and Common External Tariffs on the free movement of goods and services within the ECOWAS region?
  2. How has the West African Common Industrial Policy (WACIP) contributed to regional industrial development in the region?
  3. What is the impact of the ECOWAS Regional Agricultural Investment Programme (RAIP) on the level of food security in the region?
  4. How has the implementation of the ECOWAS Programme for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA) contributed to the development of road and railway infrastructures in the region?
  5. What measures should be employed by ECOWAS to deliver on its mandate of regional economic integration for member states?

1.5 Significance of the Study

This study will be useful to ECOWAS member states in identifying future options open to them with regards to the benefits that come with the effective implementation of the treaties and policies of the regional body.

The findings of this study will be of immense importance to scholars and graduate students intent to study the role of regional economic integration in multi-cultural societies such as ECOWAS sub-region and Africa in general.

The study will form a reference material for students of international relations studies and public administrators mainly in areas of regional economic integration. It will also stimulate further studies on regional and economic integration initiative as exemplified by ECOWAS.

1.6 Scope of the Study

This study is focused on the role of ECOWAS in regional economic integration among member states in the region. Specifically, the researcher narrowed the domain to four as follows: trade, regional industrial development, food security as well as road and railway infrastructures.

1.7 Definition of Key Concepts

Free Trade Areas (FTAs):

This can be referred to as a process to reduce or abolish tariff and non-tariff restrictions to trade in goods and services among a group of countries in a given geographical area.

Economic Integration:

This is referred to as the commercial policy of discriminatively reducing or eliminating protectionist policies only among participating countries.


This can be defined as the growth of societal integration within a region and to the often undirected processes of social and economic interaction.

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The regionalisation process in the West African sub-region has come quite a long way and it is expected to start improving the socio-economic and political conditions of its citizenry. The study identified and analysed some of the efforts that ECOWAS has made to the present time. As stated in the introductory section of the study, the success of any regionalisation process depends mainly on the inputs and commitment of the various member countries involved. However, as also has been noted in the study, the new regionalism phenomenon is not only about the activities of state actors but must also involve the active participation of other sections of society like civil society and private sector groups. Further studies can be conducted in this area to determine how best these sections of the West African community can be involved in the regionalisation effort.

The regionalisation process must be reviewed occasionally to ensure that appropriate strategies are adopted to ensure a speedy development of the sub-region. A look at the ECOWAS strategies shows the involvement of all the member states in the implementation of the sub-regional grouping’s programmes, a situation that has led to the delay in the achievements of set targets. As has been suggested by the development partners of ECOWAS, there should be some flexibility in the implementation of programmes within the region. This will ensure that a few numbers of interested countries can pursue certain specific programmes that will ensure its speedy execution and success.

The EU taking into account relevant lessons learnt from the poor performance of integrating bodies in Africa and other parts of the Third World have proposed the concept of ‘the new regionalism’ as a better approach for pursuing regionalism within these regions. This new regionalism lays emphasis on modest initiatives and a focus on realistic, limited objectives. Drawing on its own experiences, the EU called for strong but flexible institutional arrangements, the full convertibility of national currencies, the existence of economic and social policies to reduce regional disparities, and the opportunity for subgroups to proceed at different speeds (CEC 1992, 1993). The ‘variable geometry’ approach as advocated by the EU makes provisions for the implementation of community policies to vary by different subgroups of states within the larger sub-regional body. Moreover, this flexibility within the integration process is possible as far as there is a strong political commitment among the membership to proceed with the integration process on this basis.

For the World Bank and the IMF, due to the generally ineffective and inefficient ways through which the integration process is being conducted in Africa, with its poor outcomes, they are now advocating for the process to be conducted on short-term viability bases. This will involve the implementation of particular programmes among few countries or regional integration on project-basis. The World Bank has therefore come out with three ways through which integration and cooperation within the region should be conducted: “incremental but comprehensive approaches to regional cooperation and integration, strengthening specific functional forms of cooperation, and creating an enabling environment for the free movement of goods, services, labour and capital” (World Bank, 1989a, p 152). This perspective therefore calls for the regionalisation process to proceed through the promotion and implementation of specific projects by few countries that see it as very essential to their development.

In order for the development of democratic values, structures, and security within the sub-region, ECOWAS must encourage its member states to abide by democratic principles adopted at the regional level as well as those existing in the individual member states. The inability of ECOWAS to achieve this will eventually affect the smooth functioning of regional institutions and hence the development of the regionalisation process. This has been well noted by Professor Gambari when he wrote, “It would be unusual, although not inconceivable, and for a government that itself is not a product of the democratic process to allow democratic elections for members of community parliament. The logic would therefore seem to suggest a certain degree of symmetry between the democratic basis of the major organs of the AEC and the principal organs which constitute the governments of the member states” (Gambari, 1992, p 7). Democratic practices at the national level will therefore be a solid platform on which to build the sub-regional democratic institutions and society.

Furthermore, it will beneficial to the sub-regional body if ECOWAS can encourage the governments of all its Member States to undergo the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). The APRM is an instrument voluntarily agreed to by Member States of the African Union as part of the NEPAD initiative. The scope of authority of the APRM is to guarantee that the policies and practices of participating AU countries conform to the agreed economic, political and corporate governance ethics, codes and criteria contained in the declaration on Democracy, Political, Economic and Corporate Governance. The fundamental aim of the APRM is to advance the adoption of policies, standards and practices that will result into political stability, high economic growth, sustainable development and accelerated sub-regional and continental economic integration. This is to be achieved through the sharing of experiences and reinforcement of successful and best practice, as well as identifying deficiencies and estimating the countries needs for capacity building (African Union Website, 2002). The entrenchment and implementations of democratic principles and ideals are therefore necessary at all levels of governance at both the national levels and at the regional level if ECOWAS is to develop a lasting and stable system of regionalism in West Africa.

It is the expectation of the citizens of West Africa that their leaders will abide by their own commitment to promote the development of the regionalisation process. And as has been noted by President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria “We must resolve…with full commitment to establishing a viable ECOWAS that will be a major plank for progress, peace, security, and development in our sub-region. Given our strong commitment to the vision and objectives of ECOWAS, we urgently need to initiate strategies aimed at accelerating the process of regional economic integration and peace consolidation” (Ayissi, 2001, p viii).

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