The Economic Community of the West African States (ECOWAS)
2004/05/17

I. Brief Introduction to ECOWAS

On May 28, 1975, at the suggestion of the Nigerian and Togolese heads of state, leaders of 15 west African countries assembled in Lagos, the then capital of Nigeria, for a summit meeting. At the end of which they signed the Treaty of the Economic Community of the West African States (ECOWAS). Thus, the regional organization was formally set up. Later Cape Verde also joined the Organization. ECOWAS is the largest regional organization for economic cooperation in Africa, with 16 member states, namely Benin, Burkina Faso, Togo, Cape Verde, Gambia, and Guinea. Guinea-Bissau, Ghana, Cote D'Ivoire, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal, covering an area of 6.3 million square kilometers, or about 1/5 of the whole area of Africa, and with a population over 200 millions, approximately 1/3 of Africa's total.
The Organization is aimed at promoting and encouraging the economic, social and cultural development and cooperation among member states, so as to improve the living standards of its peoples; strengthening contacts among member states, and contributing to Africa's progress and development.
Its highest organ of power is the Authority of Heads of State and Government, which shall meet at least once a year. The Executive Chairman shall preside over the summit meeting. The office of Executive Chairman is assumed in the principle of annual rotation among the members of the Authority. The current Executive Chairman is Mali President Alpha Oumar Konare. The ECOWAS Executive Secretariat is now located in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. Mr. Lansana Kouyate is the current Executive Secretary of the Organization. By the end of 2000, twenty-four summit meetings have been held.

On March 27, 2000, the ECOWAS convened a mini summit meeting in Abuja to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Economic Community, which was considered as the 23rd Summit Conference. The presidents of Mali, Nigeria, Niger and Togo, vice president of Ghana, Prime Minister of Burkina Faso, and representative of the president of Benin attended the meeting. The meeting focused on the integration of Western African economy. They discussed the free movement of people in this region, the establishment of free trade zone and compensation mechanism for customs tax loss, and the speed-up of construction of infrastructure in the region in particular. The meeting reaffirmed the set target that the unitary currency system shall be set up and the free trade zone shall be established before 2004.
On Dec.15-16, 2000, the 24th Summit Meeting of the Community was held in Bamako, capital of Mali. Nine presidents, one vice president, one Prime Minister, and four foreign ministers from the fifteen member states attended the meeting. Representatives from the UN, OAU and other international and regional organizations were also invited to the meeting. Mauritania did not attend the meeting as she is going to withdraw from the organization. The focuses of the meeting were the economic integration of West Africa, improvement of the internal mechanism and regional peace and security. In the course of the Summit Meeting, some sub-regional organizations like  Mano River Union and Liptako-Gourma Common Development Organization also held their respective meetings. Gambia, Guinea. Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone (countries of the second monetary area in the ECOWAS ) signed a second agreement on monetary unification.
President Konare of Mali was again chosen as the next Executive Chairman of the Summit Meeting of ECOWAS, which is to convene in Dec. 2001. The venue is still to be fixed.



2. China and ECOWAS

China maintains good relations and cooperation with all the other 12 ECOWAS member states, except Burkina Faso, Gambia, Liberia and Senegal, and has provided assistance to these countries to the best of its ability through bilateral channels. Since early 1990s when ECOMOG started its peacekeeping operation in West Africa, the Chinese Government has expressed its support at the international forums such as the United Nations for the efforts made by ECOWAS for the restoration of peace in the West African sub-region. China also participated in the UN peacekeeping operations by sending its military observers to Liberia and Sierra Leone.
In July 1998, Chinese Vice-Foreign Minister Ji Peiding attended the UN High-Level Special Conference on Sierra Leone. In September of that year, at the 2nd Foreign Ministers' Meeting of the UN Security Council on Africa, Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan appealed the international community to respect and further support the efforts made by the African regional organizations to prevent and resolve the conflicts. He also called on the international community provide necessary material and financial assistance for Africa's security and peacekeeping mechanism without any political preconditions.
China appreciates the ECOWAS for its valuable contributions in the easing the crisis of Sierra Leone. In August 2000, China voted for the resolution on the establishment of special court on Sierra Leone in the UN Security Council at the request of the Sierra Leonean government. In October of the same year, Ambassador Wang Yingfan, China's permanent representative in the UN, visited Sierra Leone with other ambassadors.

China attaches importance to the role played by ECOWAS, and is ready to join the international community in the continued support for positive efforts made by ECOWAS to promote economic integration and peacekeeping in the sub-region. China will strengthen the friendly cooperation with  member states of ECOWAS as always.

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