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ECOWAS and the revival of the trans-Sahara trade



West Africa and the North African incursion

By John Eche

For those who are knowledgeable about the historical fortunes of Africa, there was once a booming trans-Sahara trade that predated the coming of the Europeans.

Now, in a most interesting development that took place on the sidelines of the 51st ECOWAS summit in Monrovia, the North African nation of Morocco, this week was granted provisional admission into the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS to join in and participate in the activities of the grouping.

Auspiciously, the admission is coming only Days after Africa marked the 53rd edition of the formation of the Organisation of African Unity, OAU..

At the same event, Tunisia’s bid to become an observer in ECOWAS was similarly considered. Clearly, the trans-Sahara trade has revived.

One critical factor for the increasing attractiveness of West Africa is its large population, which at the most elementary level, translates to markets.

Records made available to The Difference indicate that the population of West Africa grew from 100m in 1970 to 340m in 2016.

However, while one nation, Nigeria, accounts for over half of this population and about 80 percent of the sub-region’s composite GDP, in North Africa, it is a more diversified terrain.

Of the nations of North Africa, Egypt leads the pack with a GDP of $257.29 billion and a population of 85.29 million; Algeria posts a GDP of $207.96 billion and a population of 38.09 million; Morocco has a GDP of  $115 billion and a population of 32.65 million; Tunisia has a GDP of $45.66 billion and a population of 10.84 million; and Libya a GDP of $62.36 billion and a population of 6 million.

And then there are issues relating to the implications of this move on the Agenda 2063 Integration project of the African Union which has already begun with the Common All-Africa Passport project and the expanded Pan-African Customs Area arrangements.

Across the continent, the debate is already raging as to the implications of Morocco being granted provisional membership of ECOWAS. Of course there will be many factors for this bid but the one that interests us at the moment is the economics of it all. On current count, the  ECOWAS economy grosses US$630 billion, making it the world’s 21st GDP. By integrating Morocco, the bloc would become the 16th largest world economy with an additional $115 billion and a GDP approaching US$745 billion. Morocco has also benefited from its strategic geographic and economic position as per its proximity to Europe and is presently in competition to take a huge chunk of the lucrative Nigerian fertilizer market.

The request from the Northern African country to join the West African regional body was approved in principle by ECOWAS, but West African leaders also reportedly noted that they were further studying the implications of its membership before its membership can be formally endorsed.

One caveat which is being raised is a clause in the ECOWAS protocols that insists that all member states be democracies. Morocco is a constitutional monarchy.

And then there is another concern. Indeed, the formal entry session was to have seen King Mohammed VI of Morocco taking part in the 51st ECOWAS summit but then he at the last minute, canceled his trip to Liberia due to the controversy surrounding the presence of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the event. So, are we also going now to see a re-enactment of the Arab-Israeli conflict more forcefully once again on African soil? We wait.


Sierra Leone President, Ernest Bai Koroma

Nigeria is hurting ECOWAS badly and it is senseless!

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