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The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS): Aim, Objectives & Fundamental Principles


In May 1975, the Heads of State and Government of fifteen West African nations formalized the creation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) by signing the ECOWAS Treaty in Lagos, Nigeria.

The Treaty of Lagos saw the participation of leaders from Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sénégal, and Togo.

The mission outlined in the treaty aimed to facilitate economic integration in the region. Cabo Verde joined the union in 1977, and while Mauritania withdrew in December 2000, it later rejoined as an associate member in August 2017.

Covering an expansive 5.2 million square kilometers, the ECOWAS region comprises Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sénégal, and Togo.

Functioning as a key element within the African Economic Community, ECOWAS was established to foster collective self-sufficiency among its member states.

Its role as a trading union seeks to create a substantial trading bloc through economic cooperation.

The integrated economic activities within the region, boasting a combined GDP of $734.8 billion, span various sectors such as industry, transport, telecommunications, energy, agriculture, natural resources, commerce, monetary and financial matters, as well as social and cultural issues.

In 2007, the ECOWAS Secretariat underwent a transformation into a Commission.

Led by a President, supported by a Vice President, thirteen Commissioners, and the Auditor-General of ECOWAS Institutions, this Commission is comprised of seasoned bureaucrats providing leadership in the new direction.

As part of its renewal process, ECOWAS is actively implementing critical and strategic programs aimed at deepening cohesion and gradually removing identified barriers to full integration.

The ultimate goal is to empower the estimated 300 million citizens of the community to take ownership of realizing the new vision, transforming ECOWAS from a union of states into an “ECOWAS of the People: Peace and Prosperity to All” by the year 2050.

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The headquarters of ECOWAS is situated in Abuja, Nigeria


The primary objective of the Community is to promote cooperation and integration, leading to the establishment of an economic union in West Africa.

This union aims to elevate the living standards of the people, maintain and enhance economic stability, foster relations among Member States, and contribute to the progress and development of the African continent.


The overarching objectives of the organization include:

  • Harmonization and Coordination:
    • Aligning and coordinating national policies.
    • Promoting integration programs, projects, and activities across various sectors.
  • Sectoral Focus:
    • Emphasizing integration in food, agriculture, natural resources, industry, transport, communications, energy, trade, money, finance, taxation, economic reform policies, human resources, education, information, culture, science, technology, services, health, tourism, and legal matters.
  • Environmental Protection:
    • Harmonizing and coordinating policies for the protection of the environment.
  • Joint Production Enterprises:
    • Promoting the establishment of joint production enterprises.
  • Common Market Establishment:
    • Achieving a common market through:
      • Liberalization of trade by abolishing customs duties among Member States.
      • Elimination of non-tariff barriers to establish a free trade area at the Community level.
      • Adoption of a common external tariff and a common trade policy towards third countries.
  • Free Movement and Economic Union:
    • Removing obstacles to the free movement of persons, goods, services, and capital among Member States.
    • Establishing an economic union through the adoption of common policies in economic, financial, social, and cultural sectors, and creating a monetary union.
  • Private Sector Involvement:
    • Promoting joint ventures among private sector enterprises and economic operators.
    • Adoption of a regional agreement on cross-border investments.
  • Integration of Private Sectors:
    • Adopting measures to integrate private sectors, especially creating an enabling environment for small and medium-scale enterprises.
  • Legal Framework:
    • Establishing an enabling legal environment.
  • Uniform Investment Codes:
    • Harmonizing national investment codes leading to the adoption of a single Community investment code.
  • Standards and Measures:
    • Harmonizing standards and measures.
  • Balanced Regional Development:
    • Promoting balanced development, with attention to the unique challenges of each Member State, especially landlocked and small island nations.
  • Community Engagement and Information Flow:
    • Encouraging and strengthening relations.
    • Promoting the flow of information among rural populations, women, youth organizations, media associations, business entities, workers, and trade unions.
  • Population Policy:
    • Adopting a Community population policy that considers the balance between demographic factors and socio-economic development.
  • Cooperation Fund:
    • Establishing a fund for cooperation, compensation, and development.
  • Flexibility for Objectives:
    • Undertaking any other activity that Member States jointly decide on to achieve Community objectives.


The fundamental principles guiding the organization include:

  • Equality and Inter-dependence:
    • Acknowledgment of the equality and inter-dependence of Member States.
  • Solidarity and Collective Self-reliance:
    • Emphasis on solidarity and collective self-reliance among Member States.
  • Inter-State Cooperation:
    • Encouragement of inter-State cooperation, harmonization of policies, and integration of programs.
  • Non-aggression:
    • Commitment to non-aggression between Member States.
  • Regional Peace and Stability:
    • Maintenance of regional peace, stability, and security through the promotion and strengthening of good neighborliness.
  • Peaceful Dispute Settlement:
    • Advocacy for the peaceful settlement of disputes among Member States.
    • Active cooperation between neighboring countries and promotion of a peaceful environment as a prerequisite for economic development.
  • Human and Peoples’ Rights:
    • Recognition, promotion, and protection of human and peoples’ rights in line with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
  • Accountability and Social Justice:
    • Emphasis on accountability, economic and social justice, and popular participation in development.
  • Observance of Community Rules:
    • Recognition and observance of the rules and principles of the Community.
  • Democratic Governance:
    • Promotion and consolidation of a democratic system of governance in each Member State, as outlined in the Declaration of Political Principles adopted in Abuja on 6 July 1991.
  • Equitable Distribution:
    • Advocacy for the equitable and just distribution of the costs and benefits of economic cooperation and integration.


The vision for the organization is characterized by:

  • Borderless Region:
    • A borderless region where the population has access to abundant resources and can exploit them through the creation of opportunities within a sustainable environment.
  • Integrated Region:
    • An integrated region where the population enjoys free movement, access to efficient education and health systems, engages in economic and commercial activities, and lives in dignity, all within an environment of peace and security.
  • Democratic Governance:
    • Governance in accordance with the principles of democracy, the rule of law, and good governance.




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