DAKAR (AFP) – Leaders of the 15-nation west African bloc ECOWAS meet Friday for a special summit in Dakar focused on moving the region towards a common market and a single currency by 2020.
While the economy will top the agenda, the Economic Community of West African States has said it will also discuss political tensions in Mali and Guinea-Bissau and the threat of a post-electoral crisis in Guinea.
“We are used to seeing ECOWAS at the forefront of crises and political issues but we are moving towards… working on building the economies of our countries,” ECOWAS Commission president Kadre Desire Ouedraogo told reporters in the Senegalese capital ahead of the conference.
He said political issues would be aired but underlined that the meeting was called to “talk about issues of economic integration”.
The leaders will discuss a series of recommendations on the creation of a single monetary zone, the establishment of a single customs area within ECOWAS territory and signing off on deals to strengthen trade links with the European Union.
One of the key recommendations on the table is the establishment of common tariffs across the zone on imports from non-member countries.
Founded in 1975, ECOWAS groups around 300 million people in eight French-speaking and five anglophone countries as well as two where Portuguese is the official language.
Eight mostly francophone states that make up the West African Economic and Monetary Union, better known by its French acronym UEMOA, use the CFA franc which is pegged to the euro.
The remaining countries — including English-speaking Nigeria which is the continent’s most populous nation with nearly 175 million people — have their own currencies.
West Africa hopes to see a common currency for these seven nations by 2015, with the ultimate goal being merger with the UEMOA states and a single monetary zone in ECOWAS by 2020.
The regional bloc will also consider contributing more troops to the UN mission in Mali (MINUSMA) following a surge in Islamist attacks there.
MINUSMA is meant to eventually reach 12,640 troops and police. At the end of July it had just over 6,000, but Nigerian and some Chadian troops have since withdrawn.
French troops entered Mali in January to halt an advance on the capital Bamako by Al-Qaeda linked Islamist troops and allied Tuareg rebels. It plans to reduce its presence from 3,000 troops today to 1,000 by the end of January 2014.
Legislative elections are due to take place in Mali on November 24, after Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was elected as president.
Leaders at the summit will also call for calm in Guinea, where the opposition has said it will take its claims of election fraud to the country’s Supreme Court.
Guinea-Bissau, where ECOWAS also has troops, is another source of concern for the west African leaders.
After a military coup in 2012, a caretaker regime is due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on November 24.