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WAI takes part in the African Week organized under the umbrella of MIREX

Afri Day 2015 pic 1On invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MIREX), the Director General of the West Africa Institute (WAI), Prof. Dr. Djénéba Traoré, hosted on May 28, 2015, in the meeting room of the institution, a conference on the theme "Challenges and Perspectives of Regional Integration in West Africa." The communication was held within the framework of the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the creation of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Four main points were developed during the presentation:
1.The African Continent: Regions and Major Regional Organizations
2. The Challenges of Regional Integration in West Africa
3. What Perspectives for West Africa?
4. The Role of History

Introducing the African continent and its different regions, Professor Traoré gave an overview of the key regional organizations, including:

  • AMU: Arab Maghreb Union. Founded February 17, 1989, when the Constitutive Treaty of the Arab Maghreb Union, was signed by the five Heads of States in Marrakech.
  • ECOWAS: Economic Community of West African States. Intergovernmental organization established on 28th May 1975 and major institution coordinating the actions of the West African countries. Its main purpose is to promote cooperation and integration with the aim of creating an economic union and West African monetary. In 1990, its power is extended to the maintenance of regional stability with the creation of ECOMOG (ECOWAS Military Intervention Group) which becomes permanent in 1999, giving ECOWAS an important means of diplomatic pressure.
  • UEMOA/WAEMU: West African Economic and Monetary Union. Subregional organization working for the realization of economic integration of the Member States, by strengthening the competitiveness of economic activities in the framework of an open and competitive market and a rationalized and harmonized legal environment. Created January 10, 1994.
  • CEMAC: Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa. International organization of several Central African countries, created on 06 mars1994 to take over from the Customs and Economic Union of Central Africa (UDEAC).
  • ECCAS: Economic Community of Central African States. International organization created for the economic, social and cultural development of Africa for the creation of regional structures that can progressively lead to a Common Market. ECCAS is issued from the Lagos Plan of Action in April 1980.
  • COMESA: Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa. International organization with a regional focus in East Africa with the objective of creating a customs union among its twenty members. This common market was founded in December 1994 to reinforce a free trade agreement in place since 1981.
  • SADC: Southern African Development Community. Organization that aims to promote the economic development of Southern Africa. It succeeded 17 August 1992 at the Coordination Conference the development of Southern Africa, founded on 1 April 1980.
  • SACU: Southern African Customs Union. It constitutes the oldest existing customs union in the world. It was created in 1910 as the Customs Union Agreement between the Union of South Africa and the High Commission Territories of Bechuanaland, Basutoland and Swaziland.

Afri Day 2015 pic 2The West African region, space of ancient civilization and ancient history, now tends to recover economically, politically and in terms of nations. According to the IMF, the global PPP GDP of ECOWAS Member States amounted to 564.86 billion dollars ranking it at the 25th economy in the world.

Addressing the issue, Prof. Djénéba outlined seven challenges,which according to her, arise with more or less acuity in ECOWAS Member States:

1. The Challenges of Regional Integration in West Africa
It is recognized that Regional Integration is a response to globalization and aims to implement a strategy promoting sustainable development. To this end, it is urgent to:

  • Create a connection between regional and local structures;
  • Promote free movement of people, goods and capital within the sub region;
  • Promote an industrialization agenda;
  • Connect West Africa to the global economy;
  • Developing the private sector and improve the business climate and Competitiveness;
  • Promote energy sector through renewable energy and energy efficiency;
  • Fill the institutional deficiencies and raise the political, social, economic and cultural;
  • Harmonize sectoral policies of member states;
  • Implement the institutional reforms and political stability ensuring peace in the sub region.

2. The Challenges of Establishing a real Democratic Culture
Face to the democratic demands formulated with more or less increasing intensity and determination on the part of the civil society, the urgency of the establishment of strong and credible democratic institutions appears increasingly. Thus, Prof. Traoré raised the question of  which kind of Constitution, Electoral Code, Charter of Political Parties, internal Rules and Procedures at the National Assembly are best suited to ensure proper application of democratic rules.  Furthermore, the speaker underlined the necessity of the definition of the place and the role of the media and the need of civic training of all social strata.

3. Challenges of Quality Education for All
Identified as the key factor of development, the education sector, however, faces many challenges in the majority of countries in West Africa. Indeed, apart from the Republic of Cabo Verde has achieved the objectives of Education for All (EFA) by 2015, none of the other Member States of ECOWAS has been able to meet the UN requirements.Therefore, education systems in West Africa are characterized generally by deficiencies in:

  • The enrollment rate;
  • The operating budget;
  • The ability to initiate educational reforms geared to national conditions;
  • Infrastructure and equipment;
  • Governance and financial management;
  • The managerial ability of students;
  • The inclusion of pre-school and special education.

4. Regarding the Higher Education and Scientific Research Sector, the picture is not much better
It is notably marked by:

  • The lack of qualified teachers;
  • The inadequacy of the training offer to the labor market;
  • An inefficient scientific research;
  • A absence of a scientific publication;
  • A structural imbalance between the resources allocated to the sector and real needs;
  • A weak governance capacity;
  • A lack of competitiveness in the face of competition;
  • A lack of initiatives at the modernization of teaching practice;
  • Low participation of women;
  • A fragile and hostile environment (repeated strikes, violations of professional ethics, physical violence causing truncated academic years).

Moreover, it seems that at some point, the choice of the quantity had been done at the expense of quality and that significant disparities exist among different provinces and between rural and urban areas.

5. Another challenge of regional integration in West Africa is the access to an effective health system for all
The low life expectancy, the relative high prevalence rate of HIV / AIDS in some ECOWAS Member States, the spread of Ebola fever in late 2013, the low capacity of medical infrastructures are factors hindering the free movement of people in the West African region.

6. One of the major challenges in the sub-region is to maintain peace and security
After the Biafra war, the deadliest civil conflict occurred in West Africa from 6th July 1967 to 15th January 1970, causing the death of two million people, ECOWAS was established May 28th, 1975 with the goals we know.
The creation of ECOMOG (Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group) in 1990 allowed to conduct operations cease-fire in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau.
In 2012, after the economic sanctions, ECOWAS opted for diplomacy and managed to restore constitutional legality during the Malian crisis.
It is also worth mentioning the fight against terrorist and jihadist groups in the Sahel and beyond that required the French military intervention as well as the one of the United Nations.

7. The fight against poverty is one of the key challenges to ensure the necessary economic growth to sustainable development
The causes of poverty are numerous and need to take certain actions including:

  • Conceptualize, develop and adopt national and regional strategic plans for the eradication of poverty;
  • Improve governance at all levels;
  • The creation of jobs;
  • Strengthening of human resource capacity;
  • Stop the brain drain.

Afri Day 2015 pic 3Addressing the topic, Professor Traoré stressed that the future of regional integration in West Africa cannot be decreed, but must be strategically elaborated in a short, medium and a long-term planning. According to her, it is important to pose the following questions:

  • What kind of citizen do we want for West Africa today and tomorrow?
  • How to establish equality between men and women?
  • How to manage the rapid population growth in West Africa?
  • How will the cities and the rural population of West Africa look like?
  • How to develop agriculture in order to eradicate hunger and poverty?
  • How to cover the energy needs for a sustainable development?
  • Which strategies are needed to achieve peace and security in the region and beyond?
  • Are we, West Africans, ready to build a united African Nations and give up part of our national sovereignty for the emergence of a united and prosperous Africa?

According to Prof. Traoré, it will be easier to carry the task out by taking into account the knowledge of the past.  Historical facts are essential for understanding the present and strategically plan the future. The history of West Africa should be therefore part of the process of consolidating the cultural identity and accelerating the process of regional integration.

Questions from the audience were related to economic and social aspects of regional integration in West Africa.

The moderation was provided by Mr. José Agnelo Sanches, Consultant specialised in economic issues, in the presence of Mr. Francisco Mendes, Head of the ECOWAS National Unit.

The conference was followed by the exhibition visit of African paintings and art organized by Mrs. Custódia Lima, Director of Cabinet of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and President of the Organizing Committee of the week of Africa which took place from 23rd to 29th May 2015.

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