ECOWAS versus AES: Who needs whom for economic survival?

Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

On May 28, 1975, the heads of state and governments of 15 West African countries established the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) when they signed the ECOWAS Treaty in Lagos, Nigeria. The Treaty of Lagos, as it came to be known, was signed by the 15 Heads of State and Government of Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sénégal, and Togo.

The regional body was tasked with promoting economic integration across the region. Cape Verde joined the union in 1977. The only Arabic-speaking member, Mauritania, withdrew in December 2000. Mauritania signed a new associate membership agreement in August 2017. Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, three countries in the Sahel, also withdrew their membership in 2023 and formed a splinter group called the Alliance of Sahel States (AES/ASS), a mutual defence pact, on September 16, 2023. According to the ECOWAS website, the region spans an area of 5.2 million square kilometres.

Considered one of the pillars of the African Economic Community, ECOWAS was set up to foster the ideal of collective self-sufficiency for its member states. As a trading union, it is also meant to create a single, large trading bloc through economic cooperation. Integrated economic activities as envisaged in the area, which has a combined GDP of $734.8 billion, revolve around but are not limited to industry, transport, telecommunications, energy, agriculture, natural resources, commerce, monetary and financial issues, and social as well as cultural matters. In 2007, the ECOWAS Secretariat was transformed into a commission. The Commission, headed by the President and assisted by a Vice President, thirteen Commissioners, and an Auditor-General of ECOWAS Institutions, comprises experienced bureaucrats who are providing the leadership in this new orientation.

ECOWAS says that as part of this renewal process, it is implementing critical and strategic programmes that will deepen cohesion and progressively eliminate identified barriers to full integration. In this way, the estimated 300 million citizens of the community can ultimately take ownership of the realisation of the new vision of moving from an ECOWAS of States to an “ECOWAS of the People: Peace and Prosperity to All” by 2050.

Headquartered in Abuja, Nigeria, ECOWAS aims to promote cooperation and integration, leading to the establishment of an economic union in West Africa to raise the living standards of its peoples as well as maintain and enhance economic stability, foster relations among Member States, and contribute to the progress and development of the African continent.

Among its objectives are the harmonisation and coordination of national policies and the promotion of integration programmes, projects, and activities, particularly in food, agriculture, and natural resources; industry, transport, and communications; energy, trade, money, and finance; taxation; economic reform policies; human resources; education; information; culture; science; technology; services; health; tourism; and legal matters.

In addition, ECOWAS seeks to harmonise and coordinate policies for the protection of the environment, promote the establishment of joint production enterprises, and establish a common market through the liberalisation of trade through the abolition, among member states, of customs duties levied on imports and exports and the abolition of non-tariff barriers to establish a free-trade area at the community level; adopt a common external tariff and a common trade policy vis-à-vis third countries; remove obstacles to the free movement of persons, goods, services, and capital between member states; and.

The regional bloc has also outlined a comprehensive programme to establish an economic union through the adoption of common policies in the economic, financial, social, and cultural sectors and the creation of a monetary union for the sub-regional body. The programme will also promote joint ventures by private sector enterprises and other economic operators through the adoption of a regional agreement on cross-border investments. It will further adopt measures for the integration of the private sector, particularly the creation of an enabling environment to promote small and medium-scale enterprises and establish an enabling legal environment.

In addition, it seeks to harmonise national investment codes that would lead to the adoption of a single community investment code, harmonise standards and measures, and promote a balanced development of the region by paying attention to the special problems of each member state, particularly those of landlocked and small island member states.

ECOWAS also encourages and strengthens relations as well as promotes the flow of information, particularly among rural populations, women and youth organizations, and socio-professional organisations such as associations of the media, businessmen and women, workers, and trade unions.

The adoption of a community population policy that takes into account the need for a balance between demographic factors and socio-economic development is high on the agenda of ECOWAS, as is the planned establishment of a fund for cooperation, compensation, and development. ECOWAS also has the authority to undertake any other activity that Member States may deem necessary for the attainment of community objectives.

The fundamental principles guiding ECOWAS are equality and interdependence of Member States; solidarity and collective self-reliance; inter-state cooperation; harmonisation of policies and integration of programmes; non-aggression between Member States; and the maintenance of regional peace, stability, and security through the promotion and strengthening of good neighbourliness. Other fundamental principles of ECOWAS include the peaceful settlement of disputes among Member States, active cooperation between neighbouring countries, and the promotion of a peaceful environment as a prerequisite for economic development.

ECOWAS also recognises, promotes, and protects human and people’s rights in line with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and cherishes accountability, economic and social justice, as well as popular participation in development. The sub-regional body recognises and observes the rules and principles of the Community, as well as advocates the promotion and consolidation of a democratic system of governance in each Member State as envisaged by the Declaration of Political Principles adopted in Abuja on July 6, 1991. Lastly, ECOWAS stands for the equitable and just distribution of the costs and benefits of economic cooperation and integration.

ECOWAS envisages a borderless region where the population has access to its abundant resources and can exploit them through the creation of opportunities in a sustainable environment. As part of its broad vision, it foresees the creation of an integrated region where the population enjoys free movement across borders, access to efficient education and health systems, engages in economic and commercial activities, and lives in dignity in an environment of peace and security.

The Alliance of African States:

On September 16, 2023, in Bamako, Mali, the governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger established a new regional alliance known as the Alliance of Sahel States (AES). The agreement, formalised by the Liptako-Gourma Charter, aims to create a collective defence and mutual assistance framework to better protect and serve their populations. Economically, they are aiming to adopt a new common currency, the Sahel, to replace the CFA franc. Colonel Assimi Gota, leader of Mali’s transitional government, emphasised the importance of this alliance in addressing the common challenges faced by these nations. “The Liptako-Gourma Charter is designed to ensure our populations benefit from a robust structure of collective defence and mutual assistance,” he wrote, highlighting the urgency of regional cooperation.

The pursuit of such regional solidarity dates back to the immediate post-colonial era, when African nations sought to forge unity and cooperation. Between 1958 and 1963, Ghana and Guinea were part of the Union of African States, envisioned as the foundation for broader pan-African unity. Mali joined this union between 1961 and 1963, reflecting an early aspiration for collective strength and shared progress on the continent.

In recent years, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and other Sahel countries have grappled with the surge of radical Islamic forces, exacerbated by the destabilisation following NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya. This instability has been a significant driver of the desire for closer regional cooperation.

The frustration with former colonial power France has been palpable across the region, leading to a series of coups: two in Burkina Faso, two in Mali, and one each in Guinea, Niger, and Gabon. This widespread discontent has sparked mass protests from Algeria to the Congo and most recently in Benin, demanding an end to French influence.

The anti-French sentiment has resulted in significant geopolitical shifts. French troops have been expelled from the Sahel; Mali has removed French as an official language; and in Niger, French Ambassador Sylvain Itté found himself effectively detained. French President Emmanuel Macron described the ambassador’s situation as being held “hostage,” underscoring his deep resentment towards France’s actions and presence in the region.

The formation of the AES marks a significant step towards self-reliance and regional unity for Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. As these nations navigate the complex landscape of post-colonial legacies and contemporary security threats, their alliance represents a concerted effort to forge a future of mutual support and collective resilience.

Highlights of the Economies of Countries in the Alliance:

Burkina Faso:

According to the African Development Bank’s African Economic Outlook 2023, real GDP growth for Burkina Faso dropped to 3.2% in 2022 from 6.9% in 2021 because extractive activities fell by 13.6% in 2022 despite growing by 7.3% in 2021. The tumble was a result of the closure of several mines for security reasons. Other factors in the economic slowdown were socio-political instability, military coups, a deteriorating security environment and the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The report said contributors to growth included agriculture (up by 10.3% in 2022 after declining by 12.3% in 2021) and the tertiary sector (up by 6.6% in 2022 compared with 13.5% in 2021). On the demand side, public investment fell. Inflation jumped to 14.4% in 2022 due to higher imports of food products and oil. Private sector funding in the banking sector rose to 16% in 2022. The budget deficit widened to 8.5% of GDP in 2022 from 6.3% in 2021 after public spending rose to 26.1% of GDP in 2022 from 25.6% in 2021 to address security and humanitarian challenges and provide oil subsidies. But tax revenue also increased to 16.3% of GDP in 2022 from 15.2% in 2021.

Public debt was estimated at 57.2% of GDP in 2022, up from 47.1% in 2021, suggesting a moderate risk of overindebtedness. The current account balance turned to a deficit of 5.2% of GDP following a surplus of 0.4% in 2021 due to higher costs for food and energy imports and a weak rise in exports. The security context and resulting humanitarian crisis have exacerbated poverty in rural areas (estimated at 51.1% in 2019) as well as unemployment (57% of the population aged 15 and older).

Outlook and Risks

The report noted that real GDP was projected to grow 3.7% in 2023 and 3.9% in 2024, less than the 6% average for 2017–19, due to socio-political instability and the deteriorating security environment. The restrictive monetary policy of the Central Bank of West African States and improved food availability are expected to reduce inflation to 6.1% in 2023 and 3.7% in 2024. The budget deficit is projected to fall to 6.1% of GDP in 2023 and 5.2% in 2024, despite increased needs to address security and humanitarian challenges, thanks to higher tax revenue. Public debt is projected to remain sustainable, rising to 62% of GDP in 2023 and 2024 due to an increase in Treasury bonds issued to fill the budget deficit. The current account deficit is projected to narrow to 3.1% of GDP in 2023 and 2.9% in 2024. Possible headwinds include a delay in re-establishing constitutional order, a pronounced deterioration in the security situation, inflationary pressures, and lower prices for exported raw materials (gold and cotton).

Climate Change Issues and Policy Options:

According to the Africa Economic Outlook (2023), Burkina Faso remains highly vulnerable to climate change and aims to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 29.4% by 2030. An estimated $636.9 million a year in climate finance is needed over 2021–30 for adaptation and mitigation, but only $284.5 million a year was mobilised over 2010–20, primarily from international partners. Both the private and banking sectors are involved in climate finance through the Intervention Fund for the Environment and through Coris Bank International (from the Green Climate Fund).

Yet, the private sector faces several obstacles, including low availability of resources dedicated to green investment, high cost of investment in climate change adaptation and lack of awareness of how to access climate funds. The country should thus adopt green financial instruments such as green bonds to mobilise additional resources, adopt tax incentives to encourage green investment and strengthen private capacity to design bankable ecological projects. The agricultural, forestry, and pastoral sectors (which accounted for 22% of GDP in 2011–22) and the mining sector (10.7%) are key to creating wealth. These sectors employ nearly 80% of the labour force. If sustainably exploited, natural capital, estimated at $50.8 billion in 2018, could contribute to climate finance and green growth.

The Republic of Mali:

The African Economic Outlook report said real GDP for Mali grew 3.7% in 2022, up from 3.1% in 2021, driven by the primary and secondary sectors, particularly cereal production (up 16.7%) and industrial gold production (up 4.4%), and higher consumption by households and government agencies. Inflation rose to 9.7% in 2022 from 3.9% in 2021, leading to three 25-basis-point increases in key Central Bank of West African States rates. The budget deficit widened to 5.0% of GDP in 2022 from 4.9% in 2021. Of the 1,348.0 billion CFA francs ($2.3 billion) in funding need in 2022, 83.3% was covered through domestic financing, especially from the West African Economic and Monetary Union financial market (96.8% of domestic financing), where Mali’s Public Treasury raised only 71.9% of its resource objectives.

Public debt declined to 49.9% of GDP in 2022 from 52.0% in 2021, but the risk of over-indebtedness remains moderate. The current account deficit narrowed to 7.2% of GDP in 2022 from 7.7% in 2021, as exports rose more than imports (20% versus 10%). The banking system (comprising 14 banks and 3 bank-like financial institutions) recorded a marked improvement in portfolio quality, with a decrease in the nonperforming loan ratio to 4.2% in December 2022 from 4.7% in December 2021. Social conditions deteriorated in 2022, with the poverty rate rising to 45.4% from 44.6% in 2021, 1.3 million additional people in need of humanitarian aid, 20% of schools closed, and 2.5 million people lacking health coverage.

Outlook and Risks:

Real GDP is projected to grow 5.1% in 2023 and 5.3% in 2024, driven by a recovery in cotton production, extractive activities (discovery of lithium), industrial gold production, the launching of new industries, and the restructuring of struggling industries. Inflation is projected to moderate at 2.6% in 2023 and 2.4% in 2024 as a result of strong cereal production (expected to jump 7.7% in 2023 and 5.1% in 2024) coupled with the temporary suspension of grain exports. The budget deficit is projected to narrow to 4.8% of GDP in 2023 and 4.1% in 2024, thanks to the introduction of the Integrated Civil Service Management System.

Public debt is projected to rise to 53.4% of GDP in 2023 but will decline to 53.3% in 2024, with a crowding-out effect on credit to private companies from 2023 and domestic debt (27.6% of GDP) likely to exceed external debt (25.8%). The current account deficit is projected to narrow to 6.6% of GDP in 2023 (with the Export Development Strategy 2022–2025 set to raise exports by 25% by 2025) but widen to 6.8% in 2024. Possible headwinds include new sanctions by the Economic Community of West African States resulting from changes to the consensus timetable for elections, a lack of security, and the impact of climate change.

Climate Change and Policy Options:

The cost of mitigation measures for 2020–30 is $3.0 billion and adaptation finance is estimated to be about $8 billion. To mobilise the needed resources, Mali will have to rely on a range of internal and external financial sources. The financing gap could be substantial, although the number of parties involved makes it difficult to estimate. The private sector has considerable potential, including the Private Sector Guarantee Fund. The government has designated the National Bank for Agricultural Development and the Development Bank of Mali to be accredited by the Green Climate Fund. A strategic plan has been developed to ensure that the private sector has an active role in climate finance. Private climate investment is being directed toward energy, waste management, forestry, and agriculture.

The private sector could profit from the country’s enormous potential, as Mali has some of the greatest solar power potential and the largest reserves of natural hydrogen in the world. The obstacles to private climate finance are the lack of information concerning opportunities, the lack of training in procedures for accessing climate finance, low participation in the development of climate change strategies, and limited access to international finance.

Solutions to these challenges will require training in climate fund access processes, awareness-raising on the nature and impacts of climate change, the issuance of green bonds, providing access to clean development mechanisms, the sale of carbon credits, adopting ecological taxation, and creating a private sector lending window for the Green Climate Fund.


Located in the heart of the Sahel, Niger has a poorly diversified economy and is dependent on agriculture for 40% of its GDP, according to the World Bank. The extreme poverty rate is expected to reach 52.0% in 2023 due to negative per capita growth and rising inflation, which, compared to 2022, will increase the extremely poor population by nearly 1.1 million, bringing the total to 14.1 million people in 2023.

In 2023, UNOCHA reported that 4.3 million people or 17% of the population, required humanitarian assistance in Niger, compared to 3.7 million in 2022. By January 2024, according to UNHCR, Niger had hosted almost 690,000 refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people (IDPs). A majority of these refugees are hosted in Tillaberi, Tahoua, and Diffa regions.

Political Background:

Mohamed Bazoum was elected president in the December 2020 and February 2021 elections. He was the first to democratically succeed his predecessor. But on July 26, 2023, members of his presidential guard dismissed him, justifying their decision by saying they wanted to avoid further economic and security problems.

Following this move, at an emergency summit held in Nigeria on July 30, 2023, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) strongly condemned the coup and imposed severe sanctions against the country. These included the closure of land and air borders with Niger, as well as financial sanctions such as the freezing of service transactions, including utilities and electricity, and the freezing of Nigerien assets at the regional central bank (BCEAO). These sanctions had a profoundly negative impact on the population, notably by increasing the cost of living and causing a lack of electricity due to Nigeria stopping its electricity service to Niger. The sanctions were lifted by ECOWAS on February 24, 2024, following the announcement by Niger and other countries of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), including Burkina Faso and Mali, of their withdrawal from ECOWAS.

Economic Situation:,

Economic growth in 2023 is expected to be only 1.2% due to the combined effects of political, security and climate crises. ECOWAS trade sanctions and border closures have either reduced or delayed exports, including crude oil exports through the country’s recently completed and commissioned pipeline. Inadequate rainfall, crop pests, localised flooding, declining soil fertility, and insecurity in some key production areas have reduced agricultural production, despite a strong output from irrigated agriculture. The sanctions have also led to losses in the private sector, a liquidity crisis and a deterioration of portfolios in the banking sector.

After declining consecutively between January and July 2023, inflation has risen continuously since August 2023 due to low agricultural production and border closures. To counter inflation across WAEMU countries, the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) raised policy interest rates by a cumulative 150 basis points since mid-2022 to 3.5% for liquidity calls and 5.5% for the marginal lending facility. However, inflation in the region (3.7% in 2023) was still above the 3% target, and foreign exchange reserves have been on a downward trend, estimated at 3.5 months of imports at end-2023, down from 4.3 months at end-2022.

The rise in food prices is expected to increase the poverty rate and has led to rising levels of food insecurity, with 2.3 million people estimated to be severely food insecure during November–December 2023, according to the Cadre Harmonisé analysis.

In response to the sanctions and the disruption in external financing, the authorities revised the 2023 budget by cutting capital expenditures. The budget deficit for 2023 is expected to be 3.9% of GDP, and public debt is expected to reach 58.2% of GDP. The government has accumulated domestic arrears as well as arrears with regional and international development institutions.


With sanctions lifted at the end of February, growth is projected to rebound to 6.9% in 2024 under the following assumptions: (i) Niger, along with Burkina Faso and Mali, will orderly exit ECOWAS in 2025 and remain part of WAEMU; (ii) large-scale oil production and exports are effective; (iii) international development financing will resume in H1-2024; (iv) agricultural campaigns are not subject to climate shocks; and (v) there is no further deterioration of the security situation. However, GDP levels would be significantly lower in 2024 and 2025 compared to their pre-coup projected paths. Inflation is expected to moderate to 3.5% in 2024 following the lifting of the sanctions and moderating food prices following the resumption of large-scale imports.

The extremely high rate of poverty is projected to decrease by 2 percentage points to 50.0% by 2026, given solid growth in the service and agriculture sectors and policies that use increased oil revenues for the population. However, due to demographic growth, the number of extremely poor people would increase by 1.9 million over the period 2023–2026.

Revenue in 2024, including grants, is projected to be around 11.0% of GDP, lower than projected in the approved budget, which would likely lead to capital expenditure rationing. With limited access to financing, the budget deficit is projected to be 2.6% of GDP, including an accumulation of domestic arrears.

The AfDB’s African Economic Outlook for 2023 said Nigeria’s real GDP growth rebounded to 7.2% in 2022, on strong performance across all sectors, particularly primary and tertiary services (which grew 7%), on the supply side, and ongoing major infrastructure projects on the demand side. Inflation exceeded the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) target of 3%, fuelled by higher consumer food prices and the deteriorating international economic situation. The budget deficit widened to 6.6% of GDP in 2022 from 6.1% in 2021 due to public spending rising more than public revenue. Constraints on budgetary performance continue to be both structural (tax base, economic structure, economic and social needs, and the like) and cyclical (lower global price for uranium, closing of the border with Nigeria).

The budget deficit was financed primarily by external resources (budgetary support and projects), mainly in the form of grants. Public debt rose slightly to 51.2% of GDP in 2022 from 50.9% in 2021. Foreign loans accounted for 65% of public debt—below the WAEMU target—resulting in a moderate risk of external debt distress. The chronic current account deficit widened to 15.1% of GDP in 2022 from 13.9% in 2021, financed by concessional loans and foreign direct investment, which rose substantially between 2017 and 2020. The social situation remains precarious, with extreme poverty at 42% in 2021.

Outlook and risks:

Real GDP is projected to grow 7.0% in 2023 and 11.8% in 2024, with all sectors growing at least 5%. Consumption and higher oil investment, as well as exports enabled by the new pipeline, are projected to boost GDP growth. Possible headwinds include a lack of security, climate change, a deteriorating international economic situation, and the like. Inflation will be contained below the WAEMU target of 3%.

Public finances are expected to consolidate, with a substantial increase in public revenue from oil production, and the quality of public spending is improving under the new public finance reform strategy. Public debt is projected to remain sustainable, with most external borrowing contracted on concessional terms. The current account and trade deficits are projected to narrow. Social conditions are also expected to improve, thanks to economic recovery and the resilience-building measures in the new Economic and Social Development Plan 2022–2026.

Climate Change Issues and Policy Options:

Niger is highly exposed and vulnerable to the energy-related effects of climate change, as the country has substantial energy requirements for its economic and social development. The country’s objective is to fulfil its commitments under the Paris Agreement, particularly in terms of limiting the rise in temperature to less than 2°C or even 1.5°C by 2050. To meet this challenge and implement the revised Nationally Determined Contribution roadmap, Niger has developed a private-sector financing strategy.

The strategy sets out five areas for intervention: These include the mobilization and involvement of private industry and professional organisations in the adaptation, planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of projects under the strategy.

A second intervention under the strategy is the updating of the overview of the market’s state of progress by identifying the sectors that are most promising and of the most interest to companies, compiling an inventory of companies in these sectors or with the potential to participate in them, and conducting financing needs assessment. Other interventions will be the mobilization of financial resources from private funders as well as private stakeholders and corporations, and the implementation of an annual work plan and budget. The strategy will also include the promotion of climate technology innovation and capacity-building, training and technical support programmes for companies in the sector.

AES economic bloc:

Collectively, the three AES countries, according to the Ecofin Agency, will have a combined GDP of $62.3 billion. Burkina Faso, it noted, will lead the way, overtaking its neighbour Mali, according to the IMF. The agency indicates that Ouagadougou will nevertheless lag far behind the region’s leading economy, Côte d’Ivoire, which will post a GDP of $86.9 billion this year.

Ecofin pointed out that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts Burkina Faso to become the fourth-largest economy in the CFA franc zone in 2024, overtaking its neighbour Mali, which will now fall back to fifth place despite an increase in its economy to $21.6 billion (from $20.6 billion).

According to the institution’s data, Burkina Faso’s economy, estimated at $20.3 billion (at current prices) in 2023, will reach $21.9 billion this year, ranking behind Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, and Senegal. Despite political changes impacting both Burkina Faso and Mali in recent years, particularly their withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), these nations are poised to transition from the CFA franc, which they view as a relic of colonialism, to a new shared currency with Niger. However, the full impact on their GDP remains uncertain, pending further details. Primarily reliant on mining resources, both Mali and Burkina Faso are undergoing significant political shifts with potential economic repercussions.

In the CFA franc zone, Côte d’Ivoire maintains its lead among the top economies, fuelled by sustained economic growth and ongoing oil and gas projects. The Ivorian economy is expected to surpass $100 billion for the first time in 2026, reaching $109 billion by 2027.

Ranking of CFA Zone Economies in 2024: IMF Projections:

Côte d’Ivoire: $86.91 billion
Cameroon: $53.20 billion
Senegal: $35.45 billion
Burkina Faso: $21.90 billion
Mali: $21.66 billion
Benin: $21.37 billion
Gabon: $21.01 billion
Niger: $18.81 billion
Chad: $18.69 billion
Republic of Congo: $15.50 billion
Equatorial Guinea: $10.70 billion
Togo: $9.83 billion
Central African Republic: $2.81 billion
Guinea-Bissau: $2.15 billion

According to the office of the United States Trade Representative, in 2022, just before the breakaway of the AES, U.S. goods exports to ECOWAS were $6.7 billion, down 3.3 percent ($226 million) from 2021 and down 20 percent from 2012. The office also said U.S. goods imports from ECOWAS totalled $9.4 billion in 2022, up 38.8 percent ($2.6 billion) from 2021 but down 55 percent from 2012. The U.S. trade balance with ECOWAS shifted from a goods trade surplus of $153 million in 2021 to a goods trade deficit of $2.7 billion in 2022. Also, U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI) in ECOWAS (stock) was $6.8 billion in 2022, a 16.5% decrease from 2021. ECOWAS’ FDI in the United States (stock) was $0.8 billion in 2022, unchanged from 2021.


Even as a united bloc, ECOWAS’ trade with the US kept fluctuating. It is thus possible that the situation could worsen now that Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso have severed ties with the economic bloc. With a lot of the intra-regional trade being informal and normally executed through unapproved border entries, the rift between ECOWAS and the AES members, all of whom are landlocked, could deal regional trade a hefty blow, especially as regional integration has been slow despite the efforts of ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) to weave intra-regional trade among the member states.

The consequences could be even more devastating for ordinary citizens in the AES member states, who might no longer have free trading access to their networks in the ECOWAS region as a result of border closures and restrictions on free movement between the landlocked Sahelian and coastal countries. The effect can be devastating and rippling. The ECOWAS-AES rift risks affecting the livelihoods of millions of farmers, herders, artisans, transport operators, exporters, importers, and freighters, among others. The situation could reverse the hard work and effort put in by ECOWAS these nearly five decades in bridging economic activities between the semi-arid climate-vulnerable terrorism-riddled Sahel and the Gulf of Guinea.

Because they are less industrialised and under-urbanised than their coastal neighbours, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger are more heavily reliant on regional trade than their coastal neighbours. They mainly depend on the ports of their coastal neighbours for pretty much everything that they do not manufacture or are unable to produce at home. Without access to the ports of Cotonou, Lomé, Abidjan, or Tema, the cost of Sahelian imports will skyrocket. Farm produce and livestock, which were major sources of intra-regional trade, could take a heavy blow.

The coastal countries in ECOWAS are large-scale importers of onions, tomatoes, and other produce from the Sahel region. The situation, however, is likely to stir informal and illegal economic activities at the border towns, especially smuggling, which also comes with its own security concerns. The restrictions on the movement of people could also have a significant impact on migration, a situation that might, in turn, open up human smuggling and trafficking routes and worsen the problem of the long and dangerous treks by would-be immigrants from the Sahel to the Gulf of Guinea, who hope to make it to Europe through the Sahara. This means more African migrants are going to die in the desert and the Mediterranean in their quest to make it to Europe for a better life.

ECOWAS at 49 and the Prospects for Progress:

The Deputy Secretary-General of ECOWAS, Babatunde Paul Ajibade, has said that “Over the last 49 years, through collective efforts, ECOWAS has made great strides in regional economic integration and the promotion of democratic governance and sustainable development, as well as an emphasis on peace and stability in West Africa and the Sahel.”

Ajibade, who was speaking at a high-level event on the peace and security forum on the theme “Regionalism, Democracy, and Development in West Africa: Building Blocks to Strengthening Multilateralism,” said, “ECOWAS remains a pioneer for regional integration in Africa. Its progress is a testament to the power of unity and the impact of a shared vision.”

He, however, noted that the region had seen an exponential rise in terrorism that has reversed its development gains. He said this had been further exacerbated by the resurgence of unconstitutional government changes, posing a significant threat to regional stability.

“The growing threat of terrorism spreading from the central Sahel to coastal countries is creating new dynamics and bringing new risks of conflict beyond the region. We are witnessing a rise in humanitarian needs, creating competing demands with the social investments that are required to build resilience and promote equal opportunities for all the people of the region,” he added.


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