ECOWAS: History

Although the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was not officially established until 1975, there were several events which preceded the signing and led to what is now known as ECOWAS.  Former Liberian President William Tubman is credited with developing the idea of creating a West African economic community.  His idea spurred the signing of an agreement between Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in February 1965; however, the agreement was more of a formality than an actual call to action. 

General Gowon of Nigeria and General Eyadema of Togo reintroduced the idea in April 1972.  These generals drafted proposals for a new community and then spent July and August of 1973 traveling to 12 countries in West Africa to assess interest and to elicit support.  The treaty draft was further examined at a meeting of potential member states in Lomé, Togo, during December 1973; at a meeting of experts and jurists in Accra, Ghana, during January 1974; and at a meeting of ministers in Monrovia, Liberia, during January 1975. 

Finally, on May 28, 1975, 15 West African countries met in Lagos, Nigeria, to sign the ECOWAS Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Lagos.  These fifteen countries were Benin, Burkina Faso (then known as Upper Volta), Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.  The ECOWAS Treaty, which created the Economic Community of West African States, was intended to promote cooperation and integration within West Africa and to eventually establish an economic and monetary union.   

Two years later, in 1977, Cape Verde became the sixteenth member of ECOWAS. 

On July 24, 1993, the 16 members of ECOWAS signed a revised treaty.  In accordance with the text of the revised treaty, all community conventions, protocols, decisions, and resolutions made in the 1975 treaty were to remain valid and enforced, except for those that were inconsistent with the revised treaty.  The revisions that were presented in the 1993 version of the treaty were made with the two basic goals of accelerating the integration of economic policy and improving political cooperation. 

To accelerate economic integration, the revised treaty outlined the necessary steps for the establishment of a common market and a shared currency.  Some of the steps of this outline, as stated in the revised treaty, call for the study and research of monetary and financial development, the promotion of activities ensuring convertibility of currencies, and the establishment of a common currency zone. 

To achieve the goal of improving political cooperation, the revised treaty established a West African Parliament, an Economic and Social Council, and an ECOWAS Court of Justice, to replace the existing Tribunal and to enforce community decisions.  The revised treaty designated the responsibility of preventing and settling regional conflicts to the member states.  This was later formalized at the ECOWAS Summit of December 1999, when the Community agreed on a Protocol for the Establishment of a Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution, Peace and Security. 

Also in December 1999, Mauritania withdrew from ECOWAS because of conflicting opinions on some of the decisions that were made during the Summit, lowering the number of member states back to 15. 

Although the governing bodies within ECOWAS have changed along the course of the community’s existence, the revised treaty lists eight institutions: the Authority of Heads of State and Government, the Council of Ministers; the 115-member Community Parliament; the Economic and Social Council; the Community Court of Justice; the Executive Secretariat; the Fund for Cooperation, Compensation, and Development; and Specialized Technical Commissions.  Each institution is tasked with certain duties and delegated a specified degree of power, but the Authority of Heads of State and Government is the supreme institution. 

Other related agreements include the Georgetown Agreement on the Organization of the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP Countries), the Cotonou Agreement, and a Cooperation Agreement for Regional Integration.  Only a month after the original ECOWAS Treaty was signed in 1975, ECOWAS became a member of the ACP Group.  This group was created by the Georgetown Agreement in 1975 and is composed of other African regional trade organizations along with Caribbean and Pacific countries.  This agreement expands the ECOWAS goal of economic integration in West Africa through its objective of greater integration into the world economy. 

On June 23, 2000, ECOWAS, as a member of the ACP Countries, signed a treaty with the European Union (EU) in Cotonou, Benin.  This treaty, which is known as the Cotonou Agreement, was a replacement for the Lomé Convention, which was a trade and aid agreement between the European Community and ACP states before the establishment of ECOWAS.  The Cotonou Agreement entered into force on April 1, 2003, based on the four main principles of equality of partners and ownership of development strategies; participation; dialogue and mutual obligations; and differentiation and regionalization.  The original version of the agreement allowed the EU to trade with the ACP Countries on a non-reciprocal basis, meaning that the ACP Countries would have tax-free access to EU markets but the EU would have to pay taxes to enter the markets of the ACP Countries.  The EU and ACP Countries implemented the concept of non-reciprocity for the benefit of the developing African countries, but its existence was against the policies of the World Trade Agreement.  Therefore, in 2005, with the introduction of the revised Cotonou Agreement, a provision was added to transform from non-reciprocity to an Economic Partnership Agreement in 2008.  The Cotonou Agreement has been revised every five years since its original signing in 2000, in accordance with the original agreement.

ECOWAS and the Economic and Monetary Union of West Africa (UEMOA) signed a Cooperation Agreement for Regional Integration on May 5, 2004, at the ECOWAS Secretariat in Abuja, Nigeria. This agreement is intended to enhance the coordination and harmonization of ECOWAS and UEMOA programs and to address areas of common interest. 


Africa Union: ECOWAS Profile

European Commission: Partnership Agreement ACP-EC

Official ECOWAS Website

The Secretariat of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States: Treaties & Agreements