Friday, 4 March 2016

Economic Integration in West Africa: Revisiting Jide Olagbaju and Toyin Falola’s ‘Economic Cooperation: The ECOWAS Example’ By SMB Johnson

by Sesan M. JOHNSON

This tome by Olagbaju and Falola re-evaluates the activities of ECOWAS since its inception in 1975 with a view to highlighting its major constraints and critical issues for the future of the sub-region. In doing this, this chapter tries to look into the rationale for economic cooperation in West Africa. The chapter agrees with Charles Penthard in defining Economic Cooperation as ‘the coming together of geographically approximate states which share a sense of inadequacy in dealing with the problems of security and warfare’. It also affirms that economic integration as a strategy of socio-political and economic development is now recognised by most countries. Therefore, the desire to achieve increase in living standards of the people through economic cooperation has given rise to ECOWAS.

Peter Robson in the ‘The Economic of International Integration’ identified the conditions necessary for a trade creating economic cooperation as:

1.      a large economic area and large number of countries in the union;

2.      a lower average post-union tariff level than the pre-union level;

3.      competitive member states’ economies such that the range of products produced by higher cost industries in the different parts of the union is similar but their raw materials should be complementary and

4.      larger intra-union trade than trade with non-members.

Significantly, Olagbaju and Falola agree with Peter Robison, they further observe that these conditions that are favourable to a successful economic integration based on Orthodox Theory are apparently absent in West African countries using ‘Intra West African Trade Matrix 1975’ published by the United Nations Foreign Trade Statistics for Africa to buttress this observation.

The paper also outlines the historical development of cooperation, especially, economic cooperation in West Africa. It observes that only the French colonies continued with their pre-independence cooperative efforts, especially in the economic fields. All links among the former British colonies except the existence of West African Examination Council were dissolved after independence. The Union Donaniere les Etated de l’Afrique Orridentale (UDAO) was formed in the early 1960s by Cote d’Ivoire, Dahomey (now Republic of Benin), Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, Niger and Upper Volta. UDAO later became UDEAO (Union Donaiere des Etas de l’Afrique de Qu’est) in 1966 and was transformed to CEAO (Communate Economique de l’Afrique de L’Afrique de l’Quest) in 1973.

Olagbaju and Falola also point out that most of the organisations which sprang up short after independence were either more or less a continuation of colonial groupings or patterned and monitored by colonial administrators. They are reputed for their failures for reasons highlighted by Abdul Zalloh in ‘Political Integration in French-speaking Africa: Institute of International Studies, Berkeley, 1973’. Of high significance today, there are about thirty economic groupings with predominantly West African membership. Eighteen of these organisations were founded in the 1970s and ECOWAS was one of them.


Categorically, the tome states that ECOWAS was formed when the Head of States and governments or their representatives from 15 West African nations met in Lagos 18th July 1975 and signed the treaty providing for the establishment of ECOWAS, although this idea had been conceived before this date.


The paper reiterates it earlier position that the various disparities between member-states particularly in population, land area and resources endowment and economic development are serious obstacles to integration between and among ECOWAS member-states.

It was also observed in the tome that the low per-capital income in West Africa means low purchasing power in turn limits the scope of industrialisation and diversification. West African economies are also competitive in terms of raw materials and production instead of being complimentary. Other problems include the low level of trade between West African countries, poor infrastructural links among West African states, the railroad and telecommunications systems were built to serve individual country. Transport facilities are also geared to the need of overseas rather intra-regional trade. Intra-regional trade among ECOWAS is therefore physically difficult, time consuming and costly. A further area of problem pointed by these writers is the distribution of benefits from integration. The issue of distributing equitably the gains and/or losses from integration has been repeatedly identified as a potential threat to the success of ECOWAS, judging from the experience of similar groupings among developing countries. In addition, there are other administrative and political problems such as the effects of colonialism, concentration of power to representatives of Heads of States (the Authority) and Ministers (in the Council of Ministers) and frequent political changes in West Africa.


Fundamentally, Olagbaju and Falola did not mince words in observing that there is a widespread belief among developing countries especially ECOWAS member-states that economic integration could be a panacea for encouraging economic development and interchange. Also, significantly, these writers outlined the historical development of economic groupings in West Africa especially that of ECOWAS. They go on to highlight ECOWAS’ goal and aims, and identify the various problems militating against the progress.

I am of the opinion that the paper has pointed out the potential problems not out of pessimism concerning ECOWAS, but as a warming to the decision makers in West Africa to be better prepared to tackle them. I also pitch my tent with Olagbaju and Falola that, hopefully, ECOWAS can succeed if there is the sufficient determination and the right political commitment by member-states

No comments:

Post a Comment