Policy implications of the Economic Community of West African states (ECOWAS) in regional development

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This thesis is a critical examination of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) since inception, the institutional protocols, and the operational procedures on regional integration. The study argues that ECOWAS is a transplant of the European Union's neo-functionalism model of regional integration and has been a misapplication. Far from relieving the economic, social and political conditions of West Africa, typical of developing countries, it has contributed to the defeat of the goals and objectives of its Founding Fathers. The chief consequence has been the lack of unanimity among the countries, resulting in the non-implementation of policies. Similarly, the treaties adopted by ECOWAS for a development model are increasingly divorced from the policies applied by member states at the national level because the member countries do not factor the interest of the sub-region into their domestic planning. The study reviews the institutional protocols in the light of the actual practice of regional integration in West Africa. The result is that varying conflicts have compounded the policy inconsistencies resulting from the gap between the formal and informal modes of integration. The failure to address these directly is a primary cause of the slow pace of integration. The study suggests that an iterative planning process grounded in the political realities of one of the continent's most fractured and conflictual sub-regions would have allowed ECOWAS to evolve as an effective regional institution. As it is, ECOWAS operations continue to be fatally undermined by the failure of ECOWAS' institutions to understand the nature of African bureaucracies and to craft policies and instruments which are properly shaped to fit the underlying economic, social and political realities of its environment. The study concludes that the political, economic and social measures so far adopted by ECOWAS have not had a major impact in West Africa and cannot be said to have contributed to the formation of a self-reliant economic grouping for regional development. Like many other regional organisations in Africa, the Community has adapted an "alien model" without regard to the prevailing conditions and realities of the West African sub-region. Regional integration is an absolute necessity for West Africa. But it has to be built from the bottom up, with institutions in each national state reflecting the key constraints of its particular polity. It is only on this basis that regional plans can be devised, into which local plans can dovetail.

Bibliography: pages 189-208.