West African leaders have pushed back plans to launch a single currency this year, citing the global downturn. The regional bloc announced a new launch date in 2015.
Member states not ready
A statement issued at the end of their meeting in Abuja said the leaders of Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone now plan to introduce a common currency by 2015. The five countries form the West African Monetary Zone. The group attributed the delay in arriving at a single currency to the inability of member states to meet the convergence criteria.
Gambian Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy said the global economic crisis has eroded recent gains in the region, making it impossible to achieve the indices that could support the new currency.
"Our progress towards achieving all the convergence criteria to form the monetary union in December 2009 has been affected as a result," said Njie-Saidy. "All of us face serious challenges in the attainment of the monetary union. The outgoing financial crisis and economic slowdown in developed countries has led to the reversal of these positive factors and gains we have made in our different countries, thus impacting adversely on the African economy, particularly our won zone the West African monetary zone."
'ECO' to exist alongside CFA franc
The proposed currency, dubbed ECO, will exist alongside the CFA franc, a currency tied to the euro, which is used by French-speaking West African countries.
The Economic Community of West African States regional grouping expects that the ECO and CFA franc would make it easier to adopt a single currency for the whole region by 2020.
ECOWAS commission president Mohammed Ibn Chambas observed that the fragile economy of most West African countries makes the regional integration process even more compelling.
"The general nature of the pressures on the world and the weakness of our economies have made it impossible for any member state to be able to confront them alone. This is why strengthening the regional integration process becomes imperative," he said.
Introduction of a common currency in West Africa, which would be similar to the European currency unit, has suffered numerous setbacks over the years and raised doubts about commitment of member states to the plan.