Western and Central Africa (AFW) is a vast region with diverse cultures, beliefs, languages, and lifestyles.
Stretching from the most western 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 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 AFW, economic activity is expected to grow at an annual average rate of 4.2% in 2024-2025 (up from 3.3% in 2023). However, the economic performance of the AFW region is dragged down by the lower-than-average regional performance of Nigeria—its largest economy.
Growth of WAEMU countries (Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte D'Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo) is expected at 6.5% during 2024–25, up from 5.1% in 2023. The WAEMU countries will reap the benefits of declining food and fuel inflation, expansionary monetary policy, and investment in infrastructure.
Economic performance is expected to remain week among CEMAC countries (Cameroon, Chad, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of Congo). Growth is expected to accelerate slightly from 2.8% in 2023 to 2.9% in 2025 as lower global prices for crude petroleum along with below quota production of oil weigh on economic activity.
Countries in AFW are suffering from the impacts of multiple overlapping crises over the last years including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – primarily through higher global commodity prices, especially for wheat and energy – as well as the ongoing consequences of climate change and increasing levels of debt distress.
Recent political instability events in Niger, and Gabon and the resulting economic sanctions have dampened growth prospects in the affected countries.
The region also faces rising food insecurity driven by structural challenges such as fragility, high levels of poverty, environmental degradation, and low agricultural productivity. Over 41 million people are at risk of food insecurity and 29 million are currently dependent on emergency food assistance.
Fragility issues on the continent are amplified by vulnerabilities to climate shocks and risks arising from macroeconomic instability.
World Bank support
The World Bank is a long-standing partner of Western and Central Africa. In fiscal 2023, the World Bank approved $12.0 billion in lending to Western and Central Africa for 73 operations, including $564 million in IBRD commitments and $11.4 billion in IDA commitments. About half of these commitments went to countries affected by fragility, conflict, and violence. The Bank also delivered 98 advisory services and analytics products in fiscal 2023.
The World Bank 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.
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.
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: Oct 04, 2023