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 You are in: Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security > Bureau of Political-Military Affairs > Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Releases > Bureau of Political-Military Affairs Fact Sheets > 2003
Fact Sheet
Bureau of Political-Military Affairs
Washington, DC
July 16, 2003

Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is a regional group of 15 countries that was founded by treaty in May 1975. ECOWAS was conceived as a means toward economic integration and development intended to lead to the eventual establishment of an economic union in West Africa, enhancing economic stability and enhancing relations between member states. In actuality, ECOWAS was an attempt to overcome the isolation of most West African countries following the colonial period and the period of post-independence nationalism. Less than a year after its founding, the heads of State of Nigeria and Togo proposed a formal defense treaty that resulted two years later in a non-aggression Pact. This pact entered into force in September 1986. In July of 1991, members agreed to a declaration of political principles, committing them to uphold democracy and the rule of law.

Additionally, ECOWAS leaders adopted two important defense protocols in 1978 and 1981. These protocols call for mutual respect and non-interference in internal affairs and the establishment of a regional mechanism for mutual assistance in defense matters. Uniquely, however, these protocols place equal emphasis on threats from without and within--domestic fissures and fission. It states in Article 4 that ECOWAS is compelled to intervene in "internal armed conflict within any member state engineered and supported actively from outside likely to endanger the security and peace in the entire Community." The protocol allows for legitimate intervention in internal affairs of member states, unlike the non-intervention clauses in the UN and OAU charters.

These provisions have facilitated regional conflict resolution efforts initiated by ECOWAS. The ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) was established initially on an ad hoc basis as a multinational peacekeeping/peace enforcement force, and was the first such group to be established by a regional body. ECOMOG was principally responsible for the restoration of peace in Liberia. In addition, ECOMOG forces have been deployed to Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone as well to address conflicts in those states. These recent civil wars and other political unrest in some West African countries have forcefully revealed the need for social and political stability in the development process. Widespread political instability has also hindered progress in ECOWAS' primary mandate to promote economic integration and regional cooperation. In December of 1999, ECOWAS Heads of State signed a protocol establishing a Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security.

The institutions of the Community are: The Authority of Heads of State and Government; the Council of Ministers; the Community Parliament; the Economic and Social Council; the Community Court of Justice; the Executive Secretariat; the Mediation and Security Council [established by the Mechanism]; and the fund for Cooperation, Compensation and Development.

ECOWAS members are: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d'Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo. 


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