Source: The Hindu. Relevance: GS Paper lll (Defence and Security) Context : The military administrations of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger have recently announced their swift departure from the West African bloc, ECOWAS.


Geographical Boundaries:

  • The West African region is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and south.

  • The Sahara Desert marks the northern boundary, with the Ranishanu Bend typically considered the northernmost point.

  • The eastern border extends between the Benue Trough and a line from Mount Cameroon to Lake Chad.

Colonial Legacy:

  • Modern borders of West African states still reflect colonial boundaries.

  • These boundaries often cut across ethnic and cultural lines, leading to the division of single ethnic groups among multiple states.

Formation of ECOWAS:

  • ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, is an intergovernmental organisation fostering economic integration and collaboration among West African nations.

  • The ECOWAS Treaty was signed on May 28, 1975, in Lagos, Nigeria.

  • The Treaty of Lagos involved the 15 Heads of State and Government from Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sénégal, and Togo.

Mission of ECOWAS:

  • ECOWAS aims to promote economic integration throughout the region.

Membership Changes:

  • Mauritania, the only Arabic-speaking member, withdrew in December 2000.

  • However, Mauritania later re-engaged by signing a new associate membership agreement in August 2017.

ECOWAS Headquarters:

  • The headquarters of ECOWAS is situated in Abuja, Nigeria.

Withdrawal of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso from ECOWAS

Explanation :

➢ Suspension and Democratic Governance: The decision to withdraw follows the suspension of the three nations due to military coups, causing tensions with ECOWAS, which has consistently advocated for a return to democratic governance.

Sovereign Decision Emphasised: The joint statement, broadcasted on state media, underscores the withdrawal as a sovereign decision.

  • Allegations include ECOWAS deviating from its founding principles, Pan-African ideals, foreign influence, and a failure to address jihadist violence within their borders.

Dissatisfaction of Founding Members: Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso, founding members since 1975, express dissatisfaction, accusing ECOWAS of betraying foundational principles.

  • The joint statement portrays ECOWAS as a threat to member states and peoples, reflecting broader discontent.

Tensions Post-Military Coups: Relations soured after military coups in Niger (2022), Burkina Faso (2022), and Mali (2020).

  • ECOWAS consistently called for a return to civilian rule, escalating tensions as the junta-led nations resisted.

Ecowas Response and Diplomacy: ECOWAS responds to the withdrawal, expressing commitment to finding a negotiated solution.

  • Emphasises the importance of the departing nations and states that no formal notification about their withdrawal has been received.

  • Diplomatically, ECOWAS faces the challenge of maintaining regional stability while addressing the concerns raised.

Formal Withdrawal Procedures: Ecowas treaty outlines formal withdrawal procedures, requiring a year’s notice and adherence to provisions.

  • Raises questions about the legality and timing of the announced exit by Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso.

Objectives of ECOWAS:

Promoting Economic Integration: ECOWAS aims to establish a common market and customs union, facilitating the unrestricted flow of goods, services, and capital among member nations.

Peace and Security: The organisation strives to ensure political stability and prevent conflicts within the region.

  • ECOWAS actively engages in conflict resolution and peacekeeping efforts, particularly in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast.

Strengthening Cooperation: ECOWAS advocates collaboration across various sectors such as agriculture, health, education, and infrastructure to boost the overall development of the region.

Facilitating Free Movement of People: The organisation works towards enabling the unrestricted movement of people across member states by harmonising immigration and residency policies.

Promoting Economic Development: ECOWAS endeavours to foster economic development through initiatives supporting industrialization, agriculture, and infrastructure development.

ECOWAS Institutional Framework:

The Executive Commission: Functions as the executive arm, responsible for policy implementation.

  • Headed by a President and supported by Commissioners.

The Consultative Parliament: Serves as a consultative body, providing input on regional policies.

  • Comprises members selected from national parliaments of member states.

The Judiciary - ECOWAS Court: Adjudicates legal disputes and ensures the interpretation and application of the ECOWAS Treaty.

➢ Council for Mediation and Security: Holds responsibility for conflict prevention, management, resolution, and post-conflict peace-building within the region.

Achievements and Challenges of ECOWAS:

Collective Self-Sufficiency: Established as a pillar of the African Economic Community, ECOWAS aims to promote collective self-sufficiency among member states.

  • Functions as a trading union, aspiring to create a large trading bloc through economic cooperation.

Peacekeeping: Successfully intervened in conflicts, contributing to peace restoration in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Economic Integration: Progress in economic integration with the adoption of a common external tariff and initiatives towards a single currency.

Security Concerns: Persistent security challenges, including terrorism and transnational organised crime, pose threats to regional stability.

Economic Disparities: Wide economic disparities and structural challenges hinder the complete realisation of economic integration.

Political Instability: Some member states face political instability and governance issues, impacting the overall cohesion of the organisation.

  • Military coups in different member states are a significant concern.

India and ECOWAS Relations:

Observer Status: India and ECOWAS established strong ties, with India attaining Observer status in 2004 within ECOWAS.

Financial Support: After gaining Observer status, India provided Line of Credit (LOCs) to ECOWAS in 2006.

Supplementing India’s Focus Africa Program: The LOCs aimed to complement India’s Focus Africa program and enhance regional integration for ECOWAS.

  • Provided additional opportunities for Indian companies to contribute to sectors like energy, telecom, and transportation in West Africa.

Memorandum of Understanding (MoU): In 2010, FICCI and ECOWAS entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to strengthen trade ties and expedite investment prospects.

Mutual Support at International Forums: ECOWAS has backed India’s claim to a seat in the United Nations Security Council, reflecting a mutual understanding and support on the international stage.

ECOWAS has been instrumental in influencing the economic and political dynamics of West Africa. Despite encountering obstacles, the organisation persists in endeavours to promote regional integration, peace, and development. Amidst the intricacies of the changing geopolitical environment, ECOWAS retains its significance as a crucial player in addressing the shared aspirations and challenges of West African nations.

Advait IAS