An Open Access Article

Type: Research Article
Volume: 2023
Keywords: ECOWAS, Regional Integration, Cross Border, Policy Barriers, Harmonization, Mali, The Gambia, Senegal, Guinea Conakry, Treaty, Protocol, Economic Development, Free movement

Article History at IRPJ

Date Received: 08/11/2023
Date Revised:
Date Accepted:
Date Published: 08/21/2023
Assigned ID: 20230821

Barriers, and Prospects Associated with Regional Integration and Economic Development in Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS): The Case of Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea Conakry, and Mali

Amulai Touray

Ph.D. Candidate – DSDD Euclid University


Corresponding Author:


As a solid foundation to promote economic growth and development, ECOWAS regional integration has attracted significant academic and professional discussions over the years. Although numerous studies have widely agreed that regional integration has the potential to unlock economic growth and development, the focus on the problems of barriers of individual countries within ECOWAS  is limited.

This paper investigates regional integration challenges, barriers, and prospects within ECOWAS, particularly in Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, and Guinea Conakry. It contributes to the ECOWAS Vision 2050 by providing policy options to address the cross-border challenges and policy barriers to effective integration for improved development and well-being of the ECOWAS community.

The study employs an explanatory or descriptive research design based on a mixed research approach. A total of 330 individuals were surveyed using an online survey platform (Zoho Surveys). For results triangulation, 15 Key Informant Interviews (KII) and three Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) were undertaken.

(1) This study analyses cross-border challenges of the movement of goods and people within ECOWAS, especially in selected countries.

(2) This study then considers identifying policy barriers to ECOWAS integration and how these barriers could be eliminated or reduced.

(3) An additional contribution to knowledge takes the form of recommending a pathway for greater integration with shared and inclusive economic and human development.

This research significantly contributes to ECOWAS regional integration by providing community, policymakers, and experts’ perceptions on regional integration progress, challenges, and opportunities.

It contributes to the existing literature by determining the severity of cross-border barriers to the movement of goods and people and addressing policy barriers to attaining sustained regional integration.


  1. Introduction

African countries have pursued regional integration arrangements since the 1960s to accelerate economic development. There is no doubt that in this new economic age, global competitiveness is the only way to unlock economic development to bring about meaningful changes in people’s lives and reduce inequalities among nations and people. Developed countries, especially in the European Union (EU) and the United States (U.S.) achieved economic progress by promoting regional and global integration in economics, finance, technology, and human resources[1]. The new paradigm of the global economy shows that nations are moving to integrate their economies with those of their neighbors and the other parts of the world to create a re extensive and more competitive regional economic blocs and partners to engage in international trade as not just individual states but as regional or economic grouping powers[2]. The shift towards regional integration is nowhere more urgent than in Africa. The combined impact of her relatively small economies, the international terms of trade, the legacy of colonialism, misrule, and conflict has meant that Africa has not yet assumed its global market share— despite its significant market size and natural resources.

Well before the term globalization was introduced, Africa recognized integration through the creation of the Organization of African Unity in 1964, reflecting the awareness of its leaders, and its strength was rooted in Pan-African Cooperation. The fundamental objective of the formation of OAU was to promote regional solidary and cooperation for development[3]. The OAU and ECOWAS were policy choices promoted by Nkrumah, Nyerere, Seiko Touré, and other prominent African heads of state. However, Africa remains the poorest continent, with numerous integration challenges ranging from economic, political, socio-cultural, and infrastructural integration.


The West African countries formed the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 1975 by ratifying the Treaty of Lagos, and the treaty was revised in 1993.

Article 3 of the treaty indicates the aims and objectives as stated below:

The community aims to promote cooperation and integration, leading to the establishment of an economic union in West Africa in order to raise the living standards of its peoples, and to maintain and enhance economic stability, foster relations-among Member States and contribute to the progress and development of the African Continent.

“In order to achieve the aims set out in the paragraph above, and in accordance with the relevant provisions of this Treaty, the community shall, by stages, ensure; a) the harmonization and co-ordination of national policies and the promotion of integration programs, projects and activities, particularly in food, agriculture and natural resources, industry, transport and communications, energy, trade, money and finance, taxation, economic reform policies, human resources, education, information, culture, science, technology, services, health, tourism, legal matters;

  1. b) the harmonization and co-ordination of policies for the protection of the environment.
  2. c) the promotion of the establishment of joint production enterprises.
  3. d) the establishment of a common market through; i) the liberalization of trade by the abolition, among Member States, of customs duties levied on imports and exports, and the abolition, among Member States, of non-tariff barriers in order to establish a free trade area at the Community level; ii) the adoption of a common external tariff and a common trade policy vis-a-vis third countries; iii) the removal, between Member States, of obstacles to the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital, and to the right of residence and establishment”.[4]

ECOWAS is the pioneer and one of the African Economic Community (AEC) pillars to create a single trade bloc through full economic integration to achieve collective self-sufficiency.

Numerous further steps were taken to promote regional integration in Africa. The Lagos Plan of Action for the Economic Recovery of Africa (LPA) and its Final Act ratified in 1980 further echoed the zeal of African leaders to deepen integration efforts. These efforts culminated in ratifying the treaty establishing the Africa Economic Community (AEC) in 1991 to establish an African common market and promote the LPA’s integration efforts. The strengthening of regional blocs to promote economic integration with a target date of 2028 to achieve the various stages of economic integration was envisaged.

These early efforts to promote regional integration have genuine reasons, but the impact on Africa’s regional economic communities is limited. The study investigates the challenges and prospects of ECOWAS integration with recommendations that could bring about progress and development to the ECOWAS community.

As Africa yarns to achieve the SDGs and the Agenda 2030, regional integration is one of the top priorities for unlocking Africa’s potential to bring about progress and development to its people.

  1. ECOWAS Conceptual and Theoretical Framework for Regional Integration

Regional integration has dominated economic thinking over the centuries, although the concept gained international momentum among theoreticians in light of international relations after World War II. Most regionalism theories aim to achieve collective security, create interdependent communities through alliances, and build regional economic blocs to promote shared economic prosperity.[5]  The establishment of the World Trade Organization (WTO), World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and United Nations (UN) sped up the globalization prospects leading to the push for regional blocs to promote shared interests on the global scene. The coming into force of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) in 1947[6] provided the platform for countries to negotiate trade agreements to increase international trade and economic integration. The push for trade liberalization has its roots in neoclassical economic thinking through the signing of numerous bilateral and multilateral trade agreements in different regional blocs to enhance the international integration process.

Regional integration was limited to the theory of international trade to obtain benefits from economic integration.[7] However, other scholars such as Langhammer inferred that integration in Africa could only be a long-term solution for Africa’s economic problems since international trade will only replace one form of dependence for the other.[8] Other scholars illustrated the need to harmonize “industrial, fiscal, commercial, and monetary guarantee market integration”.[9]

Numerous theoretical approaches for economic integration were put forward for developing countries to adopt. The import substitution and export orientation policy embedded in the customs union theory and the structuralist paradigm dominated the economic integration of developing countries’ thinking in the 1950s. It was considered that opening up the economies of developing countries would worsen economic growth and development hence the need to promote import substitution policies to protect infant industries through tariffs from uneven competition from advanced economies. These policy options resulted in inefficiencies due to a lack of technological advancements. The export-oriented policies were then promoted to exploit the comparative advantages of domestic industries. The approach worked well to promote economic growth in Asia. However, due to a lack of technological and management know-how, inefficient public administration, and broad political support, the export orientation policies did not yield the desired outcomes in Africa.

The Custom Union Theory was eventually promoted as a theoretical framework that serves as the foundation for regionalism to replace high-cost of domestic production with lower-cost imports from partner countries, thereby creating regional blocs to increase welfare and promote regional protection from unfair trade with the rest of the world.[10] The creation of regional blocs demands that certain conditions must be met, such as removing trade barriers like tariffs and other non-trade barriers to deepen integration efforts. Furthermore, regional blocs may have common security, social and environmental concerns. Integration efforts, therefore, included mutual political support, security cooperation, and the promotion of the free movement of goods and people to bring about shared prosperity for human development. The theory of development integration is to cater for economies of different sizes and promote cooperation and interdependencies of member states which is expected to result in equitable distribution of the benefits of regional integration and political union. The goal is to put the  African continent at a higher comparative advantage to demand fair cooperation with the rest of the world. Regional integration, therefore, is the “outcome of intergovernmental negotiations, in which governments’ relative bargaining power determines to which extent they can realize their preferences.”[11]

This paper’s theoretical and conceptual framework is based on a comprehensive regional integration approach, including functionalism, neo-functional theory, and regional public goods.

The functional approach aims to create an interdisciplinary theory of integration that include more realistic definitions of benefits that could be obtained by developing countries through regional integration as well as looking into the political and economic factors that determine the successes and failures of regional integration. The degree of political, institutional, and policy integration is essential in analyzing the effects of regional integration prospects and barriers.[12]

The neo-functionalist approach promotes integration through the gradual development of transnational networks of economic and social organizations as promoted with the African continent to prevent aggression.[13] This approach is preferred to creating supernational systems that will demand the surrendering of national sovereignty to these supernational entities, as in the case of the European Union integration efforts where EU states have subjected most of their sovereignty to the European Union.

There is a need for a clear distinction between integration and cooperation. The main goal of the integration process is to abolish discrimination between local and foreign products, services, and factors of production in member countries and to maintain protection against third countries. The process can take place on many different levels and has at least four stages and usually include a Free Trade Area (FTA), a customs union, a common market, and an economic (and political) union. The integration process is generally characterized as a linear movement from an FTA to an economic and political union.[14]

Regional Public Good (RPG) approach aims to provide nonexclusive and nonrival benefits to people across countries.[15] It promotes higher economies of scale in market size and enhances regional development and regional peace and stability.[16]

The African Regional Integration Index (ARII)[17]  developed by the African Development Bank (AfDB), which consists of five key dimensions, is used for comparative analysis of the selected countries. These five dimensions are trade, productive, macroeconomics, infrastructural integration, and free movement of people.[18] However, given the broad consensus at the African continental level, eight dimensions are adopted as the basis to review the progress of the level of integration.

The ECOWAS integration level by the identified five dimensions varies from country to country. Figure 1 below shows that Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, and Togo are the most integrated countries. At the same time, Cape Verde, Niger, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Bissau, and Liberia are the least integrated member states of ECOWAS. However, all the member state countries have room for improvement to achieve an index above 0.8.






Figure 1 – ECOWAS Integration Performance by Dimension

Source: Africa Regional Integration Index 2019

3.     Cross Border Challenges of Movement of Goods and People

This section presents the analysis of the survey results on regional integration and its challenges regarding the free movement of goods and people within the selected countries.

The results are interpreted following a computerized analysis using the Zoho survey tool, given its possibility for automated analysis to eliminate human errors.


This section focuses on understanding the perception of ECOWAS citizens in selected countries on the pillars of integration and cross-border challenges of the movement of goods and people within these countries. The survey and some Key Informant Interviews (KII) also aim to provide an in-depth understanding of awareness of ECOWAS protocols among ECOWAS citizens, especially the regular commuters within the subregion.


3.1 Demography of Respondents

The gender analysis shows a representative of females (54.29 percent) and males (45.71 percent). The main reason for the high female ratio is the prevailing dominance in cross-border trade by women who travel using public transport. The researcher’s judgment to have a more representative sample is another reason for the near gender parity among respondents.

The individuals’ age group analysis shows that most participants were between 36-50 years of age (58.57 percent),  18-35 years (30.48 percent), and very few participants were found to be 50 or above (10.95 percent).

Most respondents (40.48 percent) are businessmen and women, followed by drivers (29.52 percent). Some respondents (16.19 percent) indicated others. This category ranges from housewives, students, and others in seasonal employment. The farmers make up 12.86 percent. Civil servants and NGO workers were very insignificant. The main probable reason is that civil servants rarely commute by road or public transport within the subregion.

Respondents’ employment status depicts that self-employed (58.10 percent) is dominant among participants, followed by employed (27.62 percent). The total number of participants employed is 85.72 percent, while the unemployed, including students, is 14.28 percent.

Participants’ nationality was deliberately distributed among the selected countries for a more representative sample. The intentional approach was to have a quarter of the total respondents per country. However, Guinea (30.48 percent) has the highest, and Mali (20.95 percent) has the lowest, although no significant outliers exist. Gambians and Senegalese nationals are 24.76 percent and 23.81 percent, respectively.

The majority of the participants reside in The Gambia (51.90 percent), followed by Senegal (20.95 percent), Guinea (14.76 percent), and Mali (12.95 percent). Since The Gambia is only bordering Senegal, the two countries are the primary residence of the respondents. Furthermore, the respondents primarily reside in Urban areas (68.57 percent) compared to rural areas (31.34 percent).

3.2 Cross-Border Challenges within Selected Countries

Participants were asked if they encountered challenges in the cross-border movement of goods and people. Ninety-six percent of responded in the affirmative, with only four percent indicating that no challenges were faced. The Survey found that challenges encountered were predominantly complicated paperwork and security harassment ranked first and second by severity. The results resonated with the WB small-scale cross-border trade survey in Africa, which found that border clearance procedures are complex, especially in certain corridors.[19]  The KIIs and FGDs confirm the survey finding. However, Security harassment and instability within most selected countries are primary concerns, especially for drivers, commuters, and the business community.

The severity of the challenges can be noticed, as depicted in Figure 2 .

Figure 2 – Main Cross-Border Challenges by Severity


Analysis of the KII and FDG indicates similar outcomes with the survey in terms of minimal government willingness to enforce the ECOWAS protocol. The groupings of the codes in NVivo suggest that most of the respondents from both the FGDs and KIIs are concerned with the cross-border challenges of the free movement of goods and people by road.

One of the respondents (a 45-year businessman) stated that: “there are so many challenges, but the one that comes to my attention is the documentation of people moving within the sub-region, and the type of documentation the Gambia have does not match the one the Senegalese have, likewise the one you will find in Mali and Conakry. The amount of documentation asked for by the board official is too much, and this is making movement difficult within the sub-region”.

The lack of the necessary technological infrastructures and equipment for rapid assessment of goods and services hinders the smooth movement of goods and people. Vehicles, including private cars plying the road, often need to offload their goods for inspection and document verification of travelers at various border posts, posing greater challenges to the timely movement of goods. This affects businessmen/women especially petty traders involved in the cross-border trade in perishable goods, which could be lost as a result of the delays.

As found out by Hailu, the focus group discussions conducted in the study reached the same conclusion that poor infrastructure poses another major constraint to economic integration and free movement of goods and people between Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, and Guinea Conakry.[20] Some women interviewed separately during the data collection indicated that complicated paperwork, requests for bribery, and lack of good road networks for effective market linkages resulted in the loss of perishable goods and valuable investment capital.

The border restrictions affected trade volume and promoted illegal smuggling of goods, especially between The Gambia and Senegal, with a high risk of confiscating valuable goods rendering businesses unprofitable due to loss of valuable capital. The lack of knowledge of customs clearance procedures poses security threats to women[21]. The study revealed that security harassment was more common among women. Some women lamented the demand for sex in favor of ease of goods clearance. In contrast, others experienced other forms of harassment, such as verbal abuse, sexual assault, and other bodily harassments.

As stated by Ezeh,

“Based on the fragmented markets in the West African sub-region with immense internal challenges deeply confronting ECOWAS, the leadership of ECOWAS should be objective and pragmatic enough in its effort to attain regional integration. Rather than chasing shadows, ECOWAS is expected to look inwards in tackling some of the intractable internal socioeconomic and political contradictions standing against the desirable development of the member states in the community.[22]

Other challenges included confiscation of goods, differences in official languages, demand for payment, and frustration from security officers through soliciting gifts and facilitation fees. Request for bribery and multiple checkpoints go hand in the globe, and both are considered a major challenge and a hindering factor to the free movement of persons and goods.

The following key challenges were unveiled during the study:

  • 90 Percent of respondents have paid fees to be allowed entry into the selected countries apart from their country of nationality.
  • Ninety-three percent of respondents strongly disagree or disagree with the statement that the free movement of goods is generally smooth.
  • Fifty-four percent of respondents had passed 11-20 checkpoints before reaching their destinations.
  • Sixteen percent have to cross between 21-30 checkpoints, while 10 percent have to cross between 31-40 checkpoints before reaching their final destinations.
  • Ninety-four percent of respondents have paid bribes ranging from $11 to $30 during a single journey. The findings showed that Senegal has the most checkpoints where payments are demanded, followed by The Gambia. Guinea Conakry and Mali are ranked 3rd and 4th, respectively.

The KII and FGD confirmed the challenges of the movement of goods and people, including differences in official languages, lack of government enforcement of ECOWAS protocol, multiple checkpoints, and political instability in selected countries. Multiple checkpoints and bribery stood out among all the challenges brought up in the FDG and KII.

According to a statement unanimously agreed by the FDG participants, “Commuters are not denied entering countries, but they are subjected to practices that are not expected in terms of facilitating their movements, and this includes the number of checkpoints, and when you reach at the borders sometimes, you are required to pay thing you should not pay.” Therefore, this reaffirms the magnificence of the corrupt practices commuters encounter at various border crossings.

3.4 Section Discussion and Conclusion

Regional integration has several dimensions. Using the core integration pillars of ECOWAS and the Africa Regional Integration Index (ARII), it was discovered from the survey that ECOWAS is far from achieving the desired integration levels. The most significant achievement registered is around the free movement of people. This finding corresponds with the Africa Integration Report 2021 and Africa Integration Index Report 2019[23]. The community perceptions on the level of integration are far from satisfactory even though ECOWAS continues to be a beacon of integration model in Africa. The lack of implementation of ECOWAS decisions and agreements could impede the free movement of goods and people. The study by Hailu found that treaties, protocols, and any decision made by ECOWAS leaders are far from satisfactory.[24] This statement is collaborated by the findings from this study.

Bilateral and multilateral cooperation is paramount in address cross-border challenges within the sub-region.

A 42-year-old Female FGD 1 respondent states:

“If you strengthen bilateral cooperation, we can share information so that each of the countries is mindful of what is being practiced in their country, and they would be able to reach out to their officials, border officials for that matter, sensitize them on the need to ensure that the protocols of ECOWAS that lay out the procedures and the rights of citizens to move freely. So, at the level of the Ministry, we have signed trade and transit cooperation agreements with Senegal. We have also tried to sign one with Conakry, and we are working with one with Bissau and one with Serre Leone, and all are geared towards strengthening our cooperation, how we work together, and the structures that we put together in terms of engagements”.

Promoting better cross-border cooperation among countries and public and private stakeholders is prudent to give a greater chance of integration success.[25] The study shows that selected countries, irrespective of the regional blocs and treaties they ratified, are obligated to fulfill, without which regional integration efforts will be threatened[26]. Without the political will and greater compliance, regional integration will be a farfetched dream for the ECOWAS community.

4.     Policy Barriers to Regional Integration and Economic Development in the Selected Countries

Here, we present the analysis of the survey results of the perception of government officials, policymakers, and other professionals. Six-nine percent of respondents are male, and 31 percent are female.

The individuals’ age group analysis shows that most of the participants are between 36 to 50 years of age (46.67 percent), followed by 18 to 35 years (36.67 percent), and >50 years (16.67 percent). The age dynamics are typical in many organizations, including public, private, and NGOs, primarily due to West Africa’s youthful population demographics.

Most respondents (45 percent) are employed in the private sector, followed by 40.83 percent in the public sector. A small fraction is employed in civil society and other sectors. The main probable reason is the intentionality of the researcher to have  more representative respondents.

The citizenships of participants were primarily Gambians due to the resource limitation of the researcher traveling to other countries for data collection and the lack of enough referrals to effectively target respondents. Although the research intends to have a representative sample across all the selected countries, this was not feasible due to the abovementioned limitations. Most respondents (69.17 percent) are Gambians, 14 percent Senegalese, 12.50 percent Guineans, and a few from Mali. An explanation for this is that more Senegalese are present in The Gambia compared to nationalities of the other two countries.


4.1 Awareness and Perceptions of ECOWAS Integration Progress

The overall respondents’ knowledge and awareness of the selected integration pillars are mainly rated below average, indicating colossal knowledge and awareness gaps in the integration efforts of the ECOWAS region.

Despite the numerous summits and conferences targeting this group of people, the results suggest that policymakers, governmental officials, and other professionals must be better oriented and informed of the policies and agreements undertaken by states of the ECOWAS community. The significant knowledge gaps could hinder integration efforts and outcomes by failing to address implementation lapses.

Figure 3 – Ratings of Implementation Progress of the Sectoral Interventions

On the perception of implementation progress, the study revealed that more than 40 percent of the respondents perceived regional integration across the selected pillars in ECOWAS as poor. Between 20-42 percent perceived integration levels across different pillars as fair, and a very insignificant margin considered integration as very good, excellent, and exceptional. Between 10-13 percent of respondents consider the integration level of a common market, monetary integration, and customs unions as good. This is mainly because some customs union heads and trade and finance ministry staff hold the notion that policies are in place and people are generally aware of what ECOWAS integration entails. However, participants have reservations regarding the political will and implementation efforts, especially in some selected countries, particularly Senegal.

The responses for the sectoral intervention areas revealed that 34-62 percent of respondents perceived that sectoral interventions are poor ( see Figure 3). Only some sectoral programs such as peace, security and good government, infrastructure, free movement of people and goods, and the productive sector received ratings greater than 10 percent. The results inferred that although ECOWAS had developed numerous agreements, policies, and programs, the perception remains unfavorable in achieving progress in the selected sectoral intervention areas.

The survey results on the participants’ national priority areas revealed mixed results. However, the weighted ranking of respondents indicates priority choices of improving the free movement of people and goods, security and good governance, and financial and infrastructural linkages. The respondents do not consider political and environmental policy integration as key priority areas.


4.2 Main Policy Barriers to ECOWAS Regional Integration


The study revealed the following policy barriers to regional integration. The study showed that the lack of a clear mandate, funding constraints by national governments, and overlapping memberships and regional agreements that states ratified are the primary barriers to ECOWAS integration efforts. The respondents also believe that integration policies are generally not articulated in national strategies for effective implementation. Furthermore, the lack of political will and awareness of the protocols and agreements are precarious policy barriers that hinder the deepening of regional integration in the ECOWAS bloc. Similarly, intra and extra-regional trade constraints include complex customs and border procedures, informal restrictions, and physio-sanity requirements identified by respondents. In addition, Seventy-five percent of the respondents indicated other constraints ranging from lack of capital, technological transfer, greenfield foreign direct investment, and corrupt practices in securing trade licenses from their home countries to carry out external trade. Furthermore, respondents indicated the lack of export-led economic policies from their home countries despite the call for foreign investment.

The finding of the KIIs confirmed these barriers. Further, it revealed additional barriers to regional integration, including political instability, limited infrastructure, other  barriers such as Non-Trade Barriers (NTBs), poor trade facilitation, and lack of punitive measures by ECOWAS Commission for noncompliance.

One of the KII respondents (a 40-year-old female expert) stated:

“Government should adhere to the regional integration protocols and commitment they signed. The private sector should understand the ideas of supernatural bodies and move toward multilateralism and regional trade enhancement. The civil society should vehemently advocate the benefits and prospect of regional integration for greater cooperation”.

Another respondent (47-year-old male economic expert) indicated that the “Government should ensure the policy and regulatory framework are in place for advocating regional integration. The private sector should provide investment in different regional infrastructure projects and contribute towards job creation. Finally, the civil society role should be to ensure advocacy is done on regional integration matters and awareness raising”.

Similar findings were found in the FGDs, including the lack of proper infrastructure and equipment to properly and timely inspect vehicles, including private cars, to facilitate trade and ease of movement of goods and people.

Figure 4 – Main Constraints to Intra-regional Trade

The survey investigates the constraints to intra-regional trade within the selected countries and the ECOWAS bloc. The results in Figure 4 show significant intra-regional trade constraints across all the predefined parameters chosen for the survey. Inadequate transport linkages are the main constraints to intra-regional trade. This is corroborated by the low investment of ECOWAS in infrastructural development projects despite the dire need for good roads, air, sea, and railway to enhance trade. The lack of political will, informal linkage, transportation costs, and adherence to ECOWAS protocols are other vital areas that respondents identified as constraints to achieving more significant intra-regional trade, especially in the selected countries.

Figure 5 – Main Constraints to Extra-regional Trade

The survey also investigates the constraints to extra-regional trade within the selected countries and the overall ECOWAS bloc. The results in Figure 5 show that there are major extra-regional trade constraints as rated by respondents in the predefined list provided by the researcher. Customs, border procedures, and informal restrictions are major stumbling blocks to extra-regional trade. The survey also indicated that other barriers, such as physio-sanity requirements and tariffs, are other major elements that pose constraints to trade with the rest of the world. Seventy-five percent of the respondents indicated other constraints, such as lack of capital, technological transfer, greenfield foreign direct investment, and corrupt practices in securing trade licenses from other countries to carry out external trade.

Local and regional investors are frustrated by the numerous bureaucratic requirements and the demand for bribes to set up businesses to promote export. The need for capital and the cost of doing business is largely a barrier that is not easily addressed without government export-led development approach. Export-led development policy has provided the enabling environment to spiral development, as with the Asian tigers[27]. Governments have a pivotal role in enabling investors to achieve economies of scale by diplomatically delivering market linkages with foreign governments and entering into trade agreements that promote domestic production and exports outside the region. Competitiveness is essential and could be achieved through government intentionality to encourage domestic investment and macroeconomic policies promoting ease of business.

The FDG, with the Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration executive, revealed that market liberalization could harness economic development through trade. However, there is a tendency for small countries to lose if a country’s comparative advantage does not inform liberation. This is well stated in their closing remarks below, delivered during the FDG session held at the Ministry.

“Well, for us as a Ministry, we see regional integration as a way forward because globally, at the multilateral level, we are talking about trade liberalization, and we know that the process is very slow at both the bilateral and multilateral levels. Our level of development differs significantly from the developed world. So, suppose all of us want to be opening our markets to each other in a way that has been pushed by WTO, in that case, the small countries are likely not going to benefit because we have limited capacity in terms of production to be able to take advantage of the global opportunity. Still, within the regional integration, we think this is something that we will be able to leverage on the opportunities present. So regional integration is the way forward, but then it is not a readymade thing. We have to be prepared to be able to compete within the region. There is a strong need if we want to benefit from regional integration, to strengthen trade infrastructure, and trade facilitation so that you are more efficient in whatever you are doing so that you can compete effectively”.


4.3 Prospects of Regional Integration

Both OAU and ECOWAS were established on the premise that integration of the community of states and governments could promote economic and social development to achieve self-sufficiency and promote economic integration.[28] It is widely accepted that regional integration with a strong emphasis on targeted policies for poverty reduction, youth empowerment, and equitable income distribution would translate into inclusive development.

The responses from the surveys indicated that:


  1. More than 50 percent of the respondents perceived regional integration as an enabling framework for prosperity. Most respondents believe that regional integration will enhance economic growth, create meaningful jobs, and increase the competitiveness of ECOWAS member states.
  2. More than 50 percent of respondents agree or strongly agree that regional integration could enhance economic growth and development, creating meaningful jobs and increasing global competitiveness.
  3. Most respondents sounded that regional integration tends to reduce inequality, poverty, and improve living standards for the ECOWAS citizens. integration due to nations’ uneven power and economic dynamics. In the Gambia, the in-depthAlthough regional integration holds promise for individual countries and the ECOWAS, they require economic analysis of costs and benefits to inform expectations about what such arrangements can realistically achieve—and to help them succeed. As stated by Mo Ibrahim, “All countries have a vested interest in the unity of the continent, and embracing it will serve to strengthen their own autonomy.”[29]

However, the study revealed that more than 40 percent of the respondents believe regional integration will create winners and losers. Smaller countries and economies tend to be losers due to the size of their economies, level of industrialization, and lack of political influence at the regional and international levels.

The results from the qualitative data also highlight significant prospects of regional integration, including economic, trade, infrastructural, and human development, if the ECOWAS protocol is fully implemented. However, concerns were raised if lack of compliance does not result in punitive measures since noncompliance creates winners and losers when a particular country is compliant while others are not.




4.4 Section Discussion and Conclusion

The findings suggest that even policymakers and other experts are not convinced that significant progress is registered regarding the regional integration of ECOWAS, as indicated in the most recent Africa Integration Report 2021 and Africa Integration Index Report 2019[30]. The perceptions of government officials, policymakers, and other professionals from various sectors on the level of integration are far from satisfactory even though ECOWAS continues to be a beacon of integration model in Africa. The lack of greater integration results from numerous policy factors, as revealed in the study. It is clear from the study findings that without government officials’ knowledge and awareness of ECOWAS protocol, decisions, and agreements, the operationalization of such will be suffocated. The political will and the awareness of government officials of their duties towards regional agreements are paramount to effective implementation and compliance.

Implementation of the various decisions will require concerted efforts from the public, private, and civil society organizations. Promoting better cooperation among countries and public and private stakeholders is prudent to give a greater chance of integration success.[31] The AIR 2021 shows that the selected countries, irrespective of the regional blocs and treaties they ratified, are obligated to fulfill, without which regional integration efforts are threatened[32], which is in line with this study findings.

As found out by Hailu, the focus group discussions conducted in the study reached the same conclusion that poor infrastructure poses another major constraint to economic integration and free movement of goods and people between Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, and Guinea Conakry.[33] Some national assembly members of The Gambia that participated in the study indicated the lack of clear strategies for regional integration due to poor articulation with national strategies. Additionally, it was lamented that some neighboring countries fall short of compliance with the various agreements for effective cross-border movement and trade. The Gambia transport union also lamented the hindrance of free movement of commercial and private vehicles by other state transport unions despite having the ECOWAS brown card, without any repercussions or actions taken by their national governments. Business people are frustrated with policy choices and the lack of a simplified approach for ease of business. The lack of knowledge of customs clearance procedures poses security threats to women.[34]

Although all the participants yarned for greater integration between the selected countries, the political will and leadership are lacking from various state agencies and government arms responsible for effectively implementing the ECOWAS protocol on the free movement of goods and people.

Addressing policy barriers and challenges would need the political will of all ECOWAS member states to implement the protocols and agreements ratified. The deepening of integration and economic development efforts will only be fruitful when countries consider addressing people’s challenges. These resolute decisions require policy choices involving political will and strong leadership. With the right policy choices, the opportunities of creating youth employment and poverty eradication are attainable through regional integration.


  1. General Discussions

Regional integration is a process of economic and political cooperation between countries in a particular region to achieve mutual benefits. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was established in 1975 to promote regional integration among West African countries. Despite several attempts, ECOWAS has not achieved its objectives of creating a common market, a customs union, and a monetary union.

The public perception, including that of professionals, revealed the lack of integration in all dimensions and the lack of tangible human and economic development for greater prosperity.

Regional integration of the sub-group of countries (Senegal, The Gambia, Mali, Guinea Conakry) and the wider ECOWAS member states have the prospects to create a larger market. The ECOWAS region has a population of over 350 million, representing a large market for goods and services. Creating a common market, single currency, and monetary and customs union will deepen integration efforts and enhance regional growth and development. The availability of a wider market through the integration of small fragmented markets is a requisite for the success of the integration.[35]

Cooperation among member states will enhance natural resource management through exploiting and utilizing these resources for the benefit of its people and reduce unemployment and poverty. The relative political stability of the region, if enhanced through presidential term limits, promotion of democracy, and good governance, could provide the enabling environment for more effective integration, economic growth, and development.

Infrastructure development, including roads, railways, and ports, are crucial for regional integration.

The failure of regional integration arrangements to promote economic growth and development in ECOWAS has been attributed to the features of African economies, such as dependence on basic minerals and primary products as main exports, low level of structural complementarity of the African economies, poor infrastructural services, but also the brevity of time of integration and the indirect chain of impact on growth from integration.[36] Economic disparities among ECOWAS member states remain a significant barrier to regional integration. Some countries are more developed than others, affecting the cooperation level among member states. The cases of the selected countries confirmed significant disparities and language barriers.

Trade barriers, including tariffs, quotas, and non-tariff barriers, hinder regional integration. “Eliminating abnormal practices along all corridors, establishing “smart corridors,” accelerating the introduction of Juxtaposed Checkpoints, and improving regional transport infrastructure are crucial for regional integration.”[37] Most ECOWAS countries have not eliminated these barriers, making it challenging to create a common market. In addition, conflicts, terrorism, and insecurity pose significant challenges to regional integration by affecting the political will to open up borders for the free movement of goods and persons due to fear of spillover effects of conflicts and terrorism activities within the region. This is one of the fundamental reasons individual member states hesitate to transfer authority to supernatural blocs like ECOWAS.

Despite all these challenges, there are huge prospects of integration in reducing poverty and unemployment and improved trade, economic and human development within the selected countries and the wider ECOWAS region. Implementing the ECOWAS protocol and other decisions could potentially convert these prospects into noticeable economic, social, and human development for the members of the ECOWAS community.


  1. General Conclusion

Regional integration is a critical tool for promoting economic growth and development. ECOWAS has made progress in promoting regional integration, but several challenges remain. To overcome these challenges, member states must work together to create an enabling environment for regional integration. The development of infrastructure, elimination of trade and non-trade barriers, and promotion of political stability are critical for regional integration in ECOWAS.

Additionally, member states must prioritize policies that promote inclusivity and equitable growth. This will require political will, institutional capacity, and financial resources. It is also essential for ECOWAS to enhance its institutional and organizational capacity to ensure that its regional integration objectives are achieved. This includes strengthening the legal and institutional framework for regional integration, building a common approach to development and trade policies, and developing mechanisms to ensure compliance with regional agreements.

In light of the challenges and opportunities for regional integration in the selected countries, it is recommended that member states collaborate more closely on policy harmonization and implementation, infrastructure development, and trade facilitation. Additionally, regional organizations such as ECOWAS must work to build strong partnerships with external forces such as the African Union, international financial institutions, and development partners to promote peace, stability, and investments.

Overall, the prospects for regional integration in ECOWAS are promising, but the challenges are significant. The improvement of the ECOWAS integration index for member states has not yet resulted in inclusive growth and development. However, with the right policies, political will, institutional frameworks, and financial resources, ECOWAS, and its member states can work together to achieve their regional integration objectives, promote sustainable economic growth, and enhance the well-being of their citizens.

  1. Policy Recommendations

This research recommends some of the following actions by governmental authorities. These recommendations are meant not only for the selected countries but also the whole ECOWAS member states due to shared challenges and development aspirations.

  • Adequate capacity strengthening through funding and unlocking human resources potentials to carry out their functions effectively through standard policies and physical and institutional infrastructure to yield desired outcomes. Specifically, regional integration requires cooperation between States in trade and investment, transport, information and communication technologies and energy infrastructure, macroeconomic and financial policies, management of shared or transborder natural resources, security, education, and financial and political institutions. Cooperation in these areas may take different institutional forms, with varying levels of policy commitments and priorities and shared authority.[38] The continent should dig into its labor goldmine by identifying skills gaps and developing cross-border skills enhancement programs.[39] Policy harmonization and addressing language barriers, especially for member states of different economic and political groups, is essential to address compliance lapses. The domestication of ECOWAS protocols, rules, and regulations into national laws and policies is of utmost importance to ensure compliance.
  • Concerning freedom of movement and the elimination of non-tariff measures, it is recommended that regional solidarity and compensation be strengthened utilizing a new approach relating to customs levies, allowing all goods entering the total space freedom of movement without any further control, as would be expected with the establishment of a common external tariff entailing free circulation[40]. Member states should eliminate trade barriers to create a common market. Eliminating tariffs, quotas, and non-tariff barriers will promote trade and investment among member states.
  • Infrastructure Development prioritization is crucial to facilitate regional integration. Developing transport networks, energy infrastructure, and telecommunications will enhance economic growth and development.
  • The private sector should play a key role in regional integration by investing in infrastructure development and promoting trade and investment among member states.
  • Member states should work together to promote regional political stability. Promoting democracy, human rights, and good governance will enhance political stability and promote regional integration.


  • Tackling integration barriers and challenges requires adequate institutional and human resources and political will at national and international levels. Without the absolute political commitment to implementing integration policies and programs at the national level, there can be little progress at the sub-regional or regional levels.[41] A crucial task is enhancing macroeconomic policies’ efficacy, coherence, and consistency.
  • The need for continuous awareness raising for public and government officials, especially border officials and policymakers, on the international obligations and protocols ratified is highly overdue. This will inform all persons, irrespective of gender, class, and social status, of the rights to the free movement of persons and goods within the sub-region without any hindrance, extortion, or harassment. ECOWAS member states should create unsophisticated and easy access avenues where people and states whose’ rights are violated under the ECOWAS protocol could find redress without any bureaucratic obstacles.
  • Finally, any further assessment of the integration progress through the ARII should consider the public perceptions of the impact of the integration levels. The ultimate objective of deepening ECOWAS member states’ integration efforts is to enhance their citizens’ well-being. Any assessment model employed to measure the degree of integration of ECOWAS member states that fails to consider the perception of the people in terms of their well-being is not comprehensive enough to gauge regional integration progress and effects.


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[1] F. O. Ndukwe, ‘Promoting Trade: Regional Integration and the Global Economy’, in New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Washington DC: International Monetary Fund, 2004), 88,

[2] Saleh M. Nsouli, ‘The New Partnership for Africa’s Development: Opportunities and Challenges’, in New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Washington DC: International Monetary Fund, 2004), 38,

[3] Africa Union, ‘About the African Union | African Union’, About the African Union, 2023,

[4] ECOWAS Commission, ‘Economic Community of West African States – Revised Treaty’ (1993), 5.

[5] Francis Onditi, ‘Dominatarian Theory of Regional Integration’, Insight on Africa 13, no. 1 (January 2021): 77,

[6] World Trade Organization, ‘The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT 1947)’ (WTO, 1947),

[7] Bela A. Balassa, The Theory of Economic Integration. (Homewood, Ill: R.D. Irwin, 1961); Robert Loring Allen, ‘Economic Integration: Analytical and Empirical Survey’, ed. Bela Balassa, Economic Development and Cultural Change 11, no. 4 (1963): 449–54.

[8] Rolf J. Langhammer, ‘Regional Integration and Cooperation in Africa: A History of Disappointments?’, Intereconomics 12, no. 9 (1 September 1977): 257–62,

[9] Bolaao Bonilla and Andrea Gabriela, ‘A Step Further in the Theory of Regional Integration: A Look at the Unasur’s Integration Strategy’, SSRN Electronic Journal, 2016, 6,

[10] Michael Keating and John Loughlin, eds., The Political Economy of Regionalism (London: Routledge, 1997), 11–12,

[11] Frank Schimmelfennig, ‘Regional Integration Theory’, ETH Zurich, 1 March 2018, 11,

[12] Bonilla and Gabriela, ‘A Step Further in the Theory of Regional Integration’, 6.

[13] Keating and Loughlin, The Political Economy of Regionalism, 17.

[14] Keating and Loughlin, 9.

[15] Teng Liu and Theodore Kahn, ‘Regional Public Goods Cooperation: An Inductive Approach to Measuring Regional Public Goods’, in 21st Century Cooperation (London: Routledge, 2017).

[16] CABRI, ‘3rd Africa Policy Seminar on Regional Public Goods’, 2011,

[17] African Development Bank, ‘Measuring an Africa on the Move’, Africa Regional Integration Index, accessed 20 November 2022,

[18] Africa Regional Integration Index, ‘ECOWAS Integration Dimensions’, Africa Regional Integration Index, 10 April 2023,

[19] World Bank, ‘Small-Scale Cross-Border Trade Survey’ (Washington DC: World Bank Group, 2020), 32.

[20] Hailu, 323.

[21] S. Olabisi Yusuff, ‘Gender Dimensions of Informal Cross Border Trade in West-African Sub-Region (ECOWAS) Borders’, International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences, no. 18 (2014): 19–33.

[22] Chubah Ezeh, Victor Obikaeze, and Chibuike Obikaeze, ‘Cross Border Trade in West Africa at the Cross Roads: Issues on ECOWAS Regional Integration Initiatives’ VOL 1 (1 January 2013): 88.

[23] African Union, ‘African Integration Report:2021 – Putting Free Movement of Persons at the Centre of Continental Integration’ (Addis Ababa: African Union, 2021), 77,; African Union, African Development Bank, and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, ‘Africa Regional Integration Index Report 2019’ (Tunis: Africa Development Bank, 2019), 24,

[24] Mb Hailu, ‘Regional Economic Integration in Africa: Challenges and Prospects’, Mizan Law Review 8, no. 2 (26 May 2015): 318–19,

[25] African Union, African Development Bank, and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, ‘Africa Regional Integration Index Report 2019’, 16.

[26] Hailu, ‘Regional Economic Integration in Africa’, 319.

[27] Anne O. Krueger, ‘Asian Trade and Growth Lessons’, The American Economic Review 80, no. 2 (1990): 108; J. Megan Greene and Robert Ash, Taiwan in the 21st Century: Aspects and Limitations of a Development Model (Routledge, 2007), 6; Michael P. Todaro and Stephen C. Smith, Economic Development, 9th ed, The Addison-Wesley Series in Economics (Boston: Pearson Addison Wesley, 2006), 656.

[28] See Paragraph 1 of AHG/ST.3(XVI)Rev.1, adopted by the Assembly of states

and Government of the OAU adopted in July 1979 in Monrovia, Liberia.

[29] Mo Ibrahim Foundation, ‘Facts & Figures – Regional Integration: Uniting to Complete’ (London, 2014).

[30] African Union, ‘African Integration Report:2021 – Putting Free Movement of Persons at the Centre of Continental Integration’, 77; African Union, African Development Bank, and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, ‘Africa Regional Integration Index Report 2019’, 24.

[31] African Union, African Development Bank, and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, ‘Africa Regional Integration Index Report 2019’, 16.

[32] Hailu, ‘Regional Economic Integration in Africa’, 319.

[33] Hailu, 323.

[34] Yusuff, ‘Gender Dimensions of Informal Cross Border Trade in West-African Sub-Region (ECOWAS) Borders’.

[35] Hailu, ‘Regional Economic Integration in Africa’, 325.

[36] Henry Karamuriro Tumwebaze and Alex Thomas Ijjo, ‘Regional Economic Integration and Economic Growth in the COMESA Region, 1980–2010’, African Development Review 27, no. 1 (2015): 74.

[37] African Development Bank, ‘Regional Integration in West Africa : Challenges and Opportunities for Senegal’, Summary Report (Tunis: Africa Development Bank, 2014), 12,

[38] African Union, ‘African Integration Report:2021 – Putting Free Movement of Persons at the Centre of Continental Integration’, 17.

[39] African Union, African Development Bank, and United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, ‘Africa Regional Integration Index Report 2019’, 16.

[40] ‘Regional_Integration_in_West_Africa_Challenges_and_Opportunities_for_Senegal_-_01_2015.Pdf’, 11, accessed 5 November 2022,

[41] Hailu, ‘Regional Economic Integration in Africa’, 326.

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