Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: An agreement for collective self-sufficiency in West Africa (1975)
On 28th May 1975, a group of West African nations met in Lagos, Nigeria to sign a treaty calling for the establishment of an economic and trading union to work toward achieving collective self-sufficiency.
Efforts aiming at integration had begun in the decades prior to Lagos, with the introduction of the CFA franc currency in the 1940s, and a 1965 agreement between Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, proposed by Liberian president William Tubman. The greatest impact was made by Nigerian and Togolese heads of state Yakubu Gowon and Gnassingbe Eyadema, who toured the region in 1972, promoting integration.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was created soon thereafter, to promote economic integration and create a single trading bloc in West Africa as a means to achieving significant development and a higher standard of living for the people of the region.
The ECOWAS region, now comprising of fifteen countries -- Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo and Cape Verde -- has a population of roughly 245 million (as of 2002), with Nigeria accounting for about half the population and aggregate GDP.
Industry, transport, telecommunications, energy, agriculture, natural resources and commerce make up the critical integrated economic activities, and have a cumulative GDP of $734.8 billion.
The organization has undergone many changes since it was first established. Mauritania withdrew from the community in 1990 due to conflicting ideologies. Prompted by conflicts and political strife in the region, ECOWAS has expanded its mandate from a purely economic one, to include political matters.
In 1990, the community set up the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), a West African multilateral armed force that was established to intervene in the civil war in Liberia. While the initiative was intended to enforce regional security, the ECOMOG came under scrutiny for its alleged human rights abuses and acts of corruption in Liberia. The collective force was later deployed in Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau.
Over the past two decades, revisions to the treaty have furthered the call for integration, promoting the institution of a common market and shared currency. Specialized agencies such as the ECOWAS Gender and Development Centre, Youth and Sports Development Centre as well as the Water Resources Coordination Centre have been set up.
West African nations currently enjoy the highest growth in the continent, with growth close to 7% in 2013, attributed largely to the oil and mineral sectors. However, due to differences in policies and issues of governance, ECOWAS still has a ways to go before it achieves its vision of a borderless, self-sufficient region.