Mapping African regional cooperation

West and Central Africa regional initiatives

The African regional security landscape is something of a multi-layered jigsaw puzzle. Regional conflicts in the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin have led to the creation of multiple and overlapping membership organisations that to seek to deal with cross-border challenges. This project maps African regional initiatives in west and central Africa and provides a data-based and a geographical overview of the ‘à la carte’ nature of African regional cooperation.

Find out more in the policy brief: Mapping African regional cooperation: How to navigate Africa’s institutional landscape

Number of initiatives a country belongs to:

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Many African regional organisations have already invested in the security agenda to deal with regional conflicts (such as the conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Rwanda). In 2002, the African Union, which is a continentwide organisation, set up a new collective security system in 2002 known as the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA). Claiming its primacy in maintaining peace and stability, the AU soon faced difficulties in clarifying its division of labour with African regional organisations. The severe spillover into neighbouring states that can come from conflict means the number of African regional organisations has continued to increase in the last decade. But there is little coordination among them, and no oversight or assessment of what the impact of this could be on how African countries relate to each other and external partners. The African security landscape has thus become a complex and competitive political-institutional environment.

There are two major realities to understand for anyone observing the regional puzzle in west and central Africa, including long-standing European donors that give financial support directly to African regional organisations. The first reality is that, even if cross-border challenges such as terrorism, organised crime, and migration are not new, they still require regional and interregional solutions. This explains why there is increasing institutional overlap among African regional organisations, with many trying to tackle the same issues in the same geographical areas.

The second reality is that is multiple memberships offer African states the opportunity to pick and choose the venue that best suits their particular national interests at any given moment. The proliferation and the expanded scope of African regional organisations in peace and security thus contribute to enabling states to ‘forum shop’.

This mapping project illustrates the institutional landscape of west and central Africa, based on a selection of 13 African regional organisations that have mandates, competencies, and agenda in security. Based on factsheets and maps, it details for each organisation: its membership; normative framework; objectives; and activities.

The mapping project draws on qualitative analysis of 13 African regional organisations and policy documents and more than 36 semi-structured telephone interviews with a variety of European and African civil servants and researchers based in Addis Ababa, Berlin, Brussels, London, Paris, Ouagadougou, Rome, and Stockholm from March to July 2020.


From the outset, it is important to point out that the term ‘African regional organisation’ covers a diverse range of groupings are at different stages of institutionalisation. They include political forums, military arrangements a variety of well-established organisations. For the purpose of this mapping, an African regional organisation is an institutionalised cooperation format involving three or more countries within a defined geographical space. There are five categories of African regional organisation as defined by their relationship with the African Union.

  1. Post-independence organisations focused on regional integration: Examples of this type of African regional organisation include the Conseil de l’Entente, the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU; UEMOA in French). With the exception of the Conseil de l’Entente, which is an African-led initiative and was established a year before independence, the two other African regional organisations are a continuation of colonial arrangements in west and central Africa after decolonisation, in the form of the CFA franc zone.
  2. Regional economic communities (RECs): The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), and the Community of Sahel Saharan States (CENSAD). Although independent and governed by their own specific laws, the RECs became cornerstones of the African Economic Community (AEC), created in 1991. They work closely with the AU as part of the African Peace and Security Architecture (APSA).
  3. Subregional organisations with security arrangements recognised by the AU: These include the G5 Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC). Although these two regional security arrangements are not part of APSA, the AU authorised the deployment of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) led by the LCBC and the Joint Force of the G5 Sahel (FC–G5S).
  4. An initiative under the auspices of the AU: An example of this is the Nouakchott Process. This mechanism offers a framework for discussion and exchange of information. It was created to enhance security cooperation and the operationalisation of the APSA in the Sahelo-Saharan Region. It is overseen by the AU Commission, which is the AU’s permanent secretariat.
  5. Security arrangements not recognised by the AU: Such arrangements include the Accra Initiative, the Gulf of Guinea Commission (GGC), the Liptako Gourma Authority (LGA), and the Mano River Union (MRU). This category includes African regional organisations and regional arrangements established over a longer period of time, from the LGA, which was created in 1970, to the Accra Initiative, which launched in 2017. They share the goal of promoting and enhancing security cooperation, among other issues, by focusing on local cross-border dynamics. That said, the GGC concerns itself with inter-regional (between west and central Africa) rather than local cooperation and focuses on maritime security.