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 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 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.
Excluding Nigeria, AFW’s growth is projected at 5 % in 2023 (up from 4.2 %), and growth will firm in 2024 (5.6 %). Growth in 2023 and 2024 is forecast to lose 0.6 and 0.4 percentage point, respectively, from the April forecasts (Africa Pulse, figure 1.28).
The Nigerian economy is projected to slow in 2023, down to 3.2% (from 3.3%) and persist at this level the following year. Growth will be supported mainly by the rebound in private consumption prompted mostly by accommodative monetary policy as inflationary pressures subside. This performance will likely continue in 2024.
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.
Rising global food prices—which were already observed in the pre-pandemic period—have accelerated since the onset of the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine and the lockdowns due to the zero-COVID-19 policy followed by China amid new COVID-19 outbreaks. Since many countries in Africa are dependent on food and fuel imports, the impact of global commodity prices on domestic food, energy, and consumer prices is likely to be large. These new challenges, coupled with the COVID-19 pandemic, underscore the importance of regional integration in Africa's recovery efforts.
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.
As of June 2022, the World Bank approved $12.6 billion in lending to the Africa Western and Central region for 92 operations, including $386 million in IBRD commitments and $12.2 billion in IDA commitments. More than half of these commitments went to countries affected by FCV. The Bank Group has moved quickly to help countries strengthen their pandemic preparedness and health systems, including $772 million to procure and deploy COVID-19 vaccines across the region in fiscal 2022.
Key focus areas of long-term engagement for both AFR East & Southern and AFR Western & Central include boosting human capital and empowering women, strengthening governance and stimulating job creation and economic transformation, 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.
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 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 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.
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: Oct 05, 2022