Western and Central Africa is a vast region with diverse cultures, beliefs, languages, and lifestyles.
Stretching from the westernmost point of Africa, across the equator, and partly along the Atlantic Ocean till the Republic of Congo in the South, it encompasses 22 countries that spread across semi-arid areas in the Sahel, large coastal areas on the Atlantic Ocean and along the Gulf of Guinea and tropical forest covering many countries from Guinea to the Republic of Congo, through Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, and Gabon.
Home to about half a billion people, the sub-region has seen its population multiplied by 4 in the last 50 years. The population is mostly concentrated in the coastal areas, while landlocked countries generally experience lower density. The region has experienced accelerated urbanization, with cities hosting 48% of the population. With respectively 5.4 million and 4.6 million inhabitants, Abidjan and Yaoundé are the largest francophone cities in the world after Kinshasa and Paris, and Lagos is among the largest English-speaking agglomerations in the World. And this rapid urbanization is expected to continue in the coming years. With 12% of its population being under the age of 15, Western and Central Africa has one of the youngest populations in the world.
Many countries are resource-rich and export commodities such as oil (Gabon, Nigeria, Republic of Congo), cocoa (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana) and cotton (Benin, Burkina Faso). The agriculture and food sector remains however central in most countries with agriculture providing 42% employment in 2019.
The sub-region is rich in resources and brimming of opportunities. It has experienced high economic growth from the mid-2000's, powered by high commodity prices across natural resource-rich, before slowing down over the recent period.
In Western and Central Africa, economic activity is expected to grow at 3.4% in 2023 (down from 3.7% in 2022) and accelerate to 3.9% and 4.0% in 2024 and 2025, respectively. The economic performance of the region is dragged down by the lower than the average regional performance of Nigeria—its largest economy. The Nigerian economy is set to grow by 2.8% in 2023 (down from 3.3% in 2022) and expected to accelerate slightly to an average annual rate of 3% in 2024–2025.
Economic activity in the region excluding Nigeria is expected to grow at 4.2% in 2023, rising to 5.3% in 2024-2025. Growth of WAEMU countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte D’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo) is expected at 5.5% in 2023, and these countries will grow at a faster pace in 2024 (7.0%). The WAEMU countries will reap the benefits of declining food and fuel inflation, expansionary monetary policy, as well as investment in infrastructure. Economic activity in Côte d’Ivoire is projected to decelerate slightly in 2023 (6.2%) due to global headwinds affecting exports and cutting private investments, while Senegal’s growth is projected to slightly accelerate to 4.7% in 2023 and to firm at 9.9% in 2024. At the same time, weak economic performance is expected among CEMAC countries (Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo) in 2023 (2.7%). As the global economy slows down, the international price of oil—the main export commodity for many of the CEMAC countries—will drop, thus weighing on economic activity. In Cameroon, the economy will maintain its post-pandemic growth with an annual average growth rate of 4.2% in 2023–25, supported by investment and private consumption. Economic growth in Gabon will remain unchanged at 3.1% in 2023 and drop slightly to 3.0% in 2024 and 2025.
Yet these vast opportunities are tempered by persistent gaps in education, health, and skills, which have Africa only reaching 40% of its estimated potential. Moreover, conflicts, food insecurity, population growth, and the disruptive forces of climate change threaten to curtail or even reverse the progress that has been made over the past decades.
With many African countries dependent on food and fuel imports, the impact of global commodity prices on domestic food, energy, and consumption prices is significant. Despite generally favorable harvests in the 2022/23 season, food prices in West Africa will remain high due to high food demand, widespread insecurity, and macroeconomic challenges.
Building on a long history of regional trade, the sub-region made impressive progress in regional cooperation. With ECOWAS, it hosts the largest economic and political union in Africa and includes two monetary unions - the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) and the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC) that cover 14 countries between them.
The World Bank is a dedicated partner for Western and Central African countries, helping them deliver strong development outcomes for their people by focusing on priorities detailed in the World Bank Africa strategy. The strategy also prioritizes regional integration and research to maximize development impact for clients.
World Bank support
The World Bank Group is a long-standing partner of Western and Central Africa. Between April 2020 and up to its last completed fiscal year ending on June 30, 2022, the World Bank (IBRD and IDA) approved an unprecedented total of $28.5 billion in lending for 234 projects covering key priority sectors in the region. More than half of these commitments went to countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence. The World Bank also delivered 357 advisory services and analytics products during this period. In fiscal year 2022, IFC made $9.4 billion in investments across 36 countries in Africa, its largest ever annual commitment for the continent. Over the past ten years, the World Bank Group has more than quadrupled its resources in the Sahel and mobilized more than $8.5 billion between 2020 and 2023, making it the leading contributor to development in the sub-region.
To support countries facing economic shocks and recovering from the COVID-19 crisis, the World Bank Group is engaged in strengthening governance, bolstering job creation and economic transformation, improving human capital, empowering women, and boosting climate resilience. We also support recovery by investing in health and expanding safety nets for the region’s most vulnerable people.
The World Bank Group is expanding its support for regional integration to address the key priorities of the African continent. Priority areas of engagement in West and Central Africa cover regional infrastructure networks, economic diversification, trade and transport facilitation, finance, human capital development, resilience, and fragility. A special focus is also put on addressing fragility in the Lake Chad and Sahel regions.
Key regional programs in West and Central African countries include:
The Regional Emergency Solar Power Intervention Project (RESPITE) aims to increase grid-connected renewable energy capacity and strengthen regional integration in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Chad and Togo. It will finance the installation and operation of approximately 106 megawatts of solar photovoltaic power with battery energy storage systems, the expansion of 41 megawatts of hydropower capacity, and the distribution and transmission of electricity in the four countries. In addition to improving the reliability of electricity supply in each of the beneficiary countries, the project has developed a regional approach to enhance the potential for electricity trade in West Africa.
West Africa Coastal Areas Resilience Investment Project (WACA) was launched in 2018 in response to country demand for solutions and funding to protect and restore the ecological, social, and economic assets of West Africa's coastal zones. The WACA program enables participating countries to stabilize the coastline, prevent the loss of critical infrastructure such as coastal roads for transportation, and preserve the health and productivity of coastal waters essential to food security and natural capital. With the approval of the second WACA project, total World Bank funding amounts $492 million (including $20 million from the Global Environment Facility and $5 million from the PROBLUE Fund), covering commitments in nine countries: Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, and Togo, plus WAEMU and associated regional institutions.
The Western Africa Regional Disease Surveillance Systems Enhancement (REDISSE) project aims to strengthen health systems and intercountry collaboration to detect and respond to outbreaks of communicable diseases. The project was instrumental in containing the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and in the initial COVID-19 emergency response activities in the countries. The World Bank Group has approved two additional financings in December 2022.
The Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend (SWEDD) project aims to empower women and adolescent girls and increase their access to quality education and reproductive, child and maternal health services. The World Bank Group approved a fourth additional financing in May 2020 to scale-up activities underway in Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, and Mauritania and expand into two new countries, Cameroon and Guinea.
Research and Analysis
Knowledge is essential for governments to make better policies and institutions to make aid more effective. Our most recent regional studies can be found here and analytical work by country is published on each country’s website. This paired with strong analytical work by sector can help promote substantive discussions and drive evidence-based policy making around key development issues.
Last Updated: Apr 06, 2023