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

And which countries 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 May, 28, 1975. It had its roots in earlier attempts at a West African economic community in the 1960s and was spearheaded by Yakuba Gowon of Nigeria and Gnassigbe Eyadema of Togo. The primary purpose of ECOWAS is 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 July 24, 1993. It set 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. The court 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; Morocco requested membership in 2017, and the same year Mauritania requested to rejoin, but the details have yet to be worked out.

ECOWAS member countries have three official state languages (French, English, and Portuguese), and well over a thousand existing local languages including cross-border native tongues such as Ewe, Fulfulde, Hausa, Mandingo, Wolof, Yoruba, and Ga.


The structure of the Economic Community has changed several times over the years. In June 2019, ECOWAS has seven active institutions: the Authority of Heads of State and Government (which is the leading body), the ECOWAS Commission (the administrative instrument), the Community Parliament, the Community Court of Justice, the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID, also known as the Fund), the West African Health Organisation (WAHO), and the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing in West Africa (GIABA). . 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, specialized agencies in ECOWAS include the West African Monetary Agency (WAMA), the Regional Agency for Agriculture and Food (RAAF), ECOWAS Regional Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERERA), ECOWAS Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency(ECREEE), The West African Power Pool (WAPP), ECOWAS BROWN CARD, ECOWAS Gender Development Centre (EGDC), ECOWAS Youth and Sports Development Centre (EYSDC), West African Monetary Institute (WAMI), and ECOWAS infrastructure Projects.

Peacekeeping Efforts 

The 1993 treaty also laid the burden of settling regional conflicts on the treaty members, and subsequent policies have established and defined the parameters of ECOWAS peacekeeping forces. The ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group (known as ECOMOG) was created as a peacekeeping force for the civil wars in Liberia (1990–1998), Sierra Leone (1991–2001), Guinea-Bissau (1998–1999), and Cote D'Ivoire (2002) 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 promote and ensure the prosperity and development of West Africa and the well-being of its people.

Revised and Expanded by Angela Thompsell


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Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "What is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/economic-community-west-african-states-ecowas-43900. Boddy-Evans, Alistair. (2020, August 27). What is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/economic-community-west-african-states-ecowas-43900 Boddy-Evans, Alistair. "What is the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/economic-community-west-african-states-ecowas-43900 (accessed June 8, 2023).