What is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)?

And what states belong to it?

Headquarters of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), Lome, Togo
De Agostini / C. Sappa / Getty Images

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was created by the Treaty of Lagos in Lagos, Nigeria, on 28 May 1975. It was created to promote economic trade, national cooperation, and monetary union, for growth and development throughout West Africa. 

A revised treaty intended to accelerate the integration of economic policy and improve political cooperation was signed on 24 July 1993. It sets out the goals of a common economic market, a single currency, the creation of a West African parliament, economic and social councils, and a court of justice, which primarily interprets and mediates disputes over ECOWAS policies and relations, but has the power to investigate alleged human rights abuses in member countries.


There are currently 15 member countries in the Economic Community of West African States. The founding members of ECOWAS were: Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania (left 2002), Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Burkina Faso (which joined as Upper Volta). Cape Verde joined in 1977.


The structure of the Economic Community has changed several times over the years. As of 2015, ECOWAS listed seven active institutions: the Authority of Heads of State and Government (which is the leading body), the Council of Ministers, the Executive Commission (which is sub-divided into 16 departments), the Community Parliament, the Community Court of Justice, a body of Specialized Technical Committees, and the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID, also known as the Fund). The treaties also provide for an advisory Economic and Social Council, but ECOWAS does not list this as part of its current structure.

In addition to these seven institutions, the Economic Community includes three specialized institutions (the West African Health Organisation, West African Monetary Agency, and the Inter-governmental Action Group against Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing in West Africa) and three specialized agencies (ECOWAS Gender and Development Centre, Youth and Sports Development Centre, and Water Resources Coordination Centre).

Peacekeeping Efforts 

The 1993 treaty also lays the burden of settling regional conflicts on the treaty members, and subsequent policies have established and defined the parameters of ECOWAS peacekeeping forces. These forces are sometimes incorrectly called ECOMOG, but the ECOWAS ceasefire Monitoring Group (or ECOMOG) was created as a peacekeeping force for the civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone and was disbanded at their cessation. ECOWAS does not have a standing force; each force raised is known by the mission for which it is created. 

The peacekeeping efforts undertaken by ECOWAS are just one indication of the increasingly multifaceted nature of the economic community's efforts to ensure the prosperity and development of West Africa and the well-being of its people.

Revised and Expanded by Angela Thompsell


Goodridge, R. B., "The Economic Community of West African States," in Economic Integration of West African Nations: A Synthesis for Sustainable Development (International MBA Thesis, National Cheng Chi University, 2006). Available online.

The Economic Community of West African States, official website