People often wonder what the history of the Economic Community of West African States  (ECOWAS) is? Who was the first to start it? I is it a legacy of colonialism? The truth is that it’s hard to pinpoint one country in particular that “pioneered” ECOWAS.

The Short Answer is that leaders from Nigeria and Togo (General Yakubu Gowon and Gnassingbe Eyadema, respectively) started pushing for the idea in the early 1970s. Subsequently, ECOWAS was born out of the 1975 Treaty of Lagos.

General Yakubu Gowon

General Yakubu Gowon

 

Gnassingbe Eyadema

Gnassingbe Eyadema

The Long Answer is that the people of Africa share a long history of commonality. Although there are thousands of languages and peoples throughout the region, some sense of unity was brought about in the past by African kingdoms (Ghana, Mali Songhai, Benin, etc.) and in the present day by European Colonialists. Obviously the latter caused a lot of problems, but at the same time it united the people of the region through somewhat standardized policies and language. Today most West African nations boast English, French, or Portuguese as official languages (in addition to their own unique regional ones).

Before General Yakubu Gowon and Gnassingbe Eyadema began their push for a economic collaboration, the French made a push of their own with the CFA (“french community of Africa) Franc.

The CFA Franc functioned much like the Euro does in the EU, serving as a single currency for all of the francophone countries in the region. In 1964, a grassroots push came from William Tubman, the President of Liberia. In 1965, Tubman succeed in forming a free trade zone between Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Although a step towards economic union, this agreement is generally viewed as not being that fruitful.

So you see, Nigerian and Togo can be cited for the most recent move toward economic union, but the truth goes back many more years.

You can find further documentation on the ECOWAS site.

Corey Engelen