ECOWAS: As Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali’s Withdrawal Threatens Regional Economic Integration

ECOWAS: As Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali’s Withdrawal Threatens Regional Economic Integration

The recent withdrawal of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) poses significant regional integration challenges. The trio’s withdrawal from ECOWAS is likely to have far-reaching implications for regional stability, economic cooperation, and security.

ECOWAS has several economic integration plans, including the promotion of economic cooperation among its member states to raise living standards and develop the region’s economy.

The block has established a free trade area and adopted a common external tariff to decrease regional barriers to trade while it also aims to create an integrated region where the population enjoys free movement, efficient education and health systems, and engages in economic and commercial activities

To achieve this, ECOWAS has been working on integrated economic activities such as industry, transport, telecommunications, energy, agriculture, natural resources, commerce, monetary and financial issues, and social and cultural matters and has also made efforts to harmonise macroeconomic policies and promote the private sector to achieve its economic integration goals, including a proposed common currency.

Stakeholders have said that a peaceful resolution of the current political impasse should be reached speedily in view of the potential impact on the fight against terrorism and insecurity and these are key concerns arising from this development.

The bloc’s commitment to finding a negotiated solution to the Stakeholders have advocated for dialogue in resolving disputes among the member states of West Africa.


With the three’s pullout and the indefinite postponement of elections in Senegal by President Macky Sall, amongst others, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), led by Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), West Africa Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) and Transition Monitoring Group (TMG), alongside practitioners from various media organisations, believe the stability of the ECOWAS as a regional bloc of economic, human and political development has been threatened in recent years by political instability and security challenges in some member states.

Since August 2020, the region has recorded several coups where democratic governments have been toppled and constitutional procedures trampled.

To address these challenges, civil society organisations (CSOs) in West Africa, particularly in Nigeria, including the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF), Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), the Transition Monitoring (TMG), the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP-Nigeria), Nigeria Network of NGOs (NGOs) and Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA) organised a CSOs and Media Interactive Meeting on State of ECOWAS and Regional Integration in West Africa.

The meeting which was held in Lagos, centred on the state of affairs within ECOWAS and measures required to avoid further instability and possible disintegration of the regional bloc which before now had been regarded as the template for regional integration in Africa.

The CSOs and media organisations acknowledged the relevance of ECOWAS to the integration of the region with notable achievements among which include the free movement of persons, the trade liberalisation scheme and, above all, the establishment of the Customs Union, with the entry into force of the Common External Tariff (CET) in 2015 which have contributed to furthering integration of the region.

Advocacy for a more integrated West Africa

The executive director, of CISLAC, and chairman, of Transition Monitoring Group, Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani), noted that, among other things, a more integrated West Africa is required to defeat violent extremism, terrorism and other trans-border crimes currently bedevilling the ECOWAS region.

He noted that the withdrawal of the three countries from ECOWAS will have a big significance on trade in the region, more so due to the significant land area controlled by them. “As we all know, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso constitute almost 50 per cent of the landmass of West Africa. So that means that they are huge countries landwise. And they also have a lot of mineral resources and also have the population. So we do not want to get these countries out of ECOWAS as it will threaten the vision of a united and stabilised region. And because of the terrorism that is going on in various countries in West Africa, we need one united and stable ECOWAS that will mitigate the problems that we are facing. So definitely their leaving will have repercussions security wise.

It will also have economic repercussions. It will also affect the freedom of movement of the people within the region.

“We are talking about transport facilitation within the region, common currency within the region, virtually all the countries in the region have close ties so it will have serious consequences.

The ECOWAS need to do everything possible to ensure that this disintegration does not happen by commencing on dialogue and also peaceful resolution of whatever problems and removal of sanctions,” he said.

Speaking on ECOWAS Vision 2050, TMG’s senior programme officer, Solomon Adoga, said ECOWAS integration process is one of the most successful among all the Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in Africa.

“Adopted in 2007, and aimed at the eradication of poverty and the consolidation of regional peace and security as well as the promotion of sustainable social and economic development, the vision 2020 anchored on its slogan ‘moving from an ECOWAS of States to an ECOWAS of Peoples’, was based on five pillars.

“Peace and security, good governance, development of the region’s resources, economic and monetary integration; and promotion of the private sector.”

He said, while ECOWAS made significant strides in various areas, especially in the advancements of regional integration, peace and security, economic cooperation, and infrastructure development, they were lacking in the area of peace, security and stability, with Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso, and Niger as example.

He further explained that the ECOWAS Vision 2050, tagged, ‘ECOWAS of the Peoples: Peace and Prosperity for All’, has five pillars.

“Pillar 1, Peace, Security and Stability; “Pillar 2, Governance and Rule of Law; Pillar 3, Economic Integration and Interconnectivity; “Pillar 4, Transformation, Inclusive and Sustainable Development; and lastly, pillar five has to do with social inclusion. This pillar places the ECOWAS citizens, mainly women, children and youth, and all vulnerable people (including people with disabilities and the elderly) at the heart of development and the integration process.

“By 2050, ECOWAS will have to meet the challenges of social cohesion among its people, create the conditions of a sense of belonging that is characteristic of Community citizenship that would foster the emergence of a cultural identity based on shared values.”

Speaking on the imperativeness of ECOWAS security, also, group editor, THISDAY Newspaper Features Desk, Chiemelie Ezeobi, said, the objective of the ECOWAS SSRG is to strengthen States’ capacities to respond to present and emerging threats and to deliver security and justice services to the State and its peoples.

However, while ECOWAS has also worked to address some security issues by developing a peacekeeping force for conflicts in the region, they have not been able to address the issues of coups by some of its members as seen in recent years.

According to her, “There are reasons why members of the ECOWAS may never be united, “For instance, how can Africa come together when we don’t even believe they are one? North Africa is like another continent entirely. A Cape Verdean, Moroccan, Egyptian or even Sudanese do not believe they are Africans.

“But let’s even bring it closer to home. How can ECOWAS members come together and stop seeing each other as the enemy?  They do not even trust each other. The cost of flight tickets to each ECOWAS state is too high, talk more about xenophobic attacks. They would rather foreigners thrive and prosper than a fellow ECOWAS nation

“Also, where are we with the Africa Continental Free Trade Area? When this act was brought up, it was supposed to be the game changer like how we have that for the Schengen Nations

“How far have we even gone to open up the AfCFTA region? Remember the Abidjan-Lagos corridor? The overreaching plan was for that corridor to serve as an emerging transnational on the coast of southern West Africa.

“Stretching from Abidjan to Lagos, it crosses five independent states (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Nigeria) from west to east, and includes two political capitals and many regional economic centres.

“It is to serve over 40 million commuters travelling to Ivory Coast, while one of the flanks of the Abidjan–Lagos corridor, the construction of the Lagos-Badagry expressway was sectioned off into three independent contracts.

“While section one was constructed by the Lagos State government and kicked off from Eric Moore to Okokomaiko, the second section by FERMA involves rehabilitation from Igboelerin to Agbara and the last part is by the Federal Ministry of Works from Agbara to Seme Border.

“The remaining flank was from Agbara to the Badagry border, which is about 22 kilometres left. Mind you, this is just one lane. The other lane is still untouched from Okokomaiko.”

Ezeobi noted that the language barrier remains another major issue in integrating ECOWAS members’ security apparatus.

According to her, “I was part of Operation Safe Domain 11 involving the ECOWAS ZONE E comprising Benin, Nigeria, Togo and Niger. Niger didn’t come because of the coup. Nigeria spoke English and the rest in Ghana. At sea, it was a Herculean task to communicate, thus, somewhat defeating the aim of the exercise.

“Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Niger Activate Joint Maritime, Air Surveillance, Intervention in the Gulf of Guinea. Also in Cameroon, during the second Operation Obangame Express in 2011 or so hosted by the Cameroon government, they refused our Aircraft to fly over their air space. The idea to have a regional sea power was defeated because, after that instance, they have broken the operations into regions since then.”

She concluded that too much allegiance to world powers and taking orders that favour them as against Africa, difficulty in localising most of ECOWAS laws, the perception that ECOWAS is a ‘toothless bulldog’, partiality when it comes to intervention, and ECOWAS week leadership, remains a major barrier in the growth of the body, and by extension, the members state.

She therefore noted that ECOWAS members needed to remain united for the region to thrive, to be a force to reckon with, to take its place at the global comity of nations and stop being subservient, and to strengthen its member’s passports, and respective currencies against the dollars, pounds, yen, and euros as the rest of the world.

On the role and involvement of civil societies in regional integration in West Africa, the general secretary, of the West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF), Kop’ep Dabugat said because all the regional integration initiatives and processes in West Africa were driven by states, they never gave any explicit reference to the need for civil society engagement in the official sense of the word.

“However, one thing that the ECOWAS revised treaty of 1993 has done is to introduce new principles and institutional changes whose realisation require meaningful involvement by a broad spectrum of stakeholders, specifically civil society, in the regional integration project.

“These new dimensions to the ECOWAS regional integration project include the following; Adoption of a set of fundamental principles to guide the integration agenda and processes. The principles in the revised Treaty include Non-aggression among ECOWAS states and maintenance of regional peace, stability and security.

In a communique issued at the end of the event, the stakeholders recommended that “Given the security challenges in the region, the withdrawal of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger from the ECOWAS will cause set back to the gains of peace and security efforts under the direction of regional authority especially in the fight against terrorism.

“The withdrawal defeats the purpose of regional economic cooperation within the ECOWAS bloc including the establishment of an African Continental Free Trade Area. It will adversely affect the life and livelihood of the citizens of West Africa.

“It will further exacerbate corruption, illicit financial flows (IFFs) and drug and human trafficking across the borders

“Democracy in West Africa has become more fragile despite the principles of zero tolerance for unconstitutional change of government, tenure elongation, fraudulent elections and bad governance contained in the 2001 ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance

“The culture of impunity and disregard for the rule of law by political elites in West Africa has continued to weaken state institutions.”

They therefore recommended the following; “ECOWAS should urgently call for an emergency extraordinary summit to look into the state of affairs in the region to prevent further threats of disintegration.

“Immediate dialogue must be pursued with the affected countries and all sanctions be removed to pave the way for genuine reconciliation. The Authorities of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso rescinded their decisions to withdraw from ECOWAS because of obvious beneficial reasons. State and non-state actors in the region should intensify engagements towards ensuring a more united ECOWAS.

“ECOWAS should work with the authorities in these countries to urgently adopt transition plans with a clear roadmap for a quick restoration of democratic order.

“We urge the military authorities in the affected countries to refrain from attempts to transform themselves from military to civil rulers.

“ECOWAS should work with the Authorities in these countries to ensure free, fair, and credible elections. We urge CSOs and media to engage positively and ensure electoral transparency, popular participation and inclusion in the electoral process.

“In the spirit of the ideals of ECOWAS VISION 2050, we call on ECOWAS to speed up the review of the ECOWAS supplementary protocol on good governance to prevent tenure elongation, electoral manipulation and rigging, and curb unconstitutional changes of government.

“With the adoption of Vision 2050, ECOWAS Parliament should begin to have elective representatives rather than appointive representation. This will contribute to making it a truly ECOWAS of the peoples.

“ECOWAS should operationalise the consultative aspects of the functions of the ECOWAS National Units to ensure connection with the citizens of Member States in the implementation of ECOWAS Agreements at the national levels, in line with the spirit of the ECOWAS Vision 2050

“Civil society and media should embark on peace missions to consult key stakeholders in the affected countries to provide support towards a quick return to constitutional democracy.

“ECOWAS, Civil society and media should demand for quick, transparent, inclusive, free, fair and credible elections in Senegal as earlier scheduled. They should also condemn the arbitrary arrest and banning of political opposition from contesting the election.

“After successful resolution with the aggrieved countries, ECOWAS should support the member countries to strengthen their capacity in responding to present and emerging threats including activation