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Overview

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 3.7 million and 3.1 million inhabitants, Abidjan and Dakar 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 population 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 and provides income and employment opportunities to 82 million people. 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. The combined GDP at market price of the 22 countries is estimated close to $711 billion in 2019.

Development Challenges

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.

Recently, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought back to the forefront the risks posed by weak health systems and poor surveillance. Many countries in the region that learned difficult lessons from the West Africa Ebola outbreak in 2014 are applying some of the lessons and using all existing instruments and expertise to curb the pandemic while prioritizing the poorest and most vulnerable people.

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 also 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.

As of June 18, 2020, the World Bank approved $8.1 billion in lending to the Africa Western and Central region for 72 operations in fiscal year 2020 and has an active portfolio (IBRD/IDA) in Western and Central Africa of 350 projects totaling $38.1 billion. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than $260 million has been dedicated to COVID-19 emergency operations, with more operations under preparation totaling $4.8 billion for the remainder of FY20 and in FY21.

Key focus areas of long-term engagement for both AFR East & Southern and AFR Western & Central include boosting human capital and empowering women, accelerating Africa’s digital economy, promoting regional integration particularly in the Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes regions , increasing access to affordable renewable energy, building resilience to climate change, and mobilizing all sources of finance for development.

Regional Integration

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 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 has been instrumental in containing the Ebola disease in West Africa and is helping to contain the spread of COVID-19 in West Africa.

The Sahel Women’s Empowerment and Demographic Dividend 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 has recently approved a fourth additional financing to scale-up activities underway in Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali and Mauritania and expand into two new countries, Cameroon.

The West Africa Power Pool (WAPP) is a cooperation of 14 West African countries with 27 national electricity utilities working toward an integrated regional power market to increase access to electricity and reduce costs. Electricity access in West Africa is among the costliest in the world, at $0.25 per kilowatt-hour (more than twice the global average), with shortages of up to 80 hours per month. Since 2005, the World Bank, along with other development partners, has supported the WAPP to improve the physical connectivity and integration of electricity grids.

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: July 2, 2020