Discussion Papers (series)

Regional integration in West Africa: Wasteful overlaps or necessary options?

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Bruce Byiers and Cheikh Tidiane Dièye, ECDPM and ENDA-CACID paper, May 2022

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This paper analyses the interests and incentives around two overlapping regional organisations in West Africa: ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), which has fifteen members, and UEMOA (the West African Economic and Monetary Union), whose eight members are also ECOWAS members. We explore the interaction of the formal mandates and cooperation structures of the two organisations, looking at their history, legitimacy and member state interests, and focusing particularly on regional trade.

While overlapping UEMOA-ECOWAS memberships have a history and a logic, they create practical difficulties, particularly in the case of promoting regional trade. UEMOA’s greater apparent integration and longevity compared to ECOWAS partly explains why recorded trade flows seem more concentrated among UEMOA member states. At the same time, ECOWAS derives its legitimacy from its greater scope of membership, its peace and security role, and by being one of eight regional economic communities that is recognised by the African Union.

Although the two organisations serve a different purpose, incompatibilities essentially arise from incorrect implementation of agreed ECOWAS policies. Even if efforts continue to harmonise trade procedures between ECOWAS and UEMOA, both bodies seem destined to co-exist. If member states and their firms selectively use UEMOA or ECOWAS rules for different purposes, policymakers and their external partners must take this as a starting point in their support – and not merely an anomaly.

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African economic integrationDiscussion Papers (series)

External authors

Cheikh Tidiane Dièye