Economy of Western Africa


Benin was for a long time a Marxist one-party state. In 1991, the first general elections were held. According to COUNTRYAAH, the country is one of the poorest in the world. Basic trade union rights exist, but for example child labor is common. There are several main trade unions, five of which are affiliated to the World Trade Union Confederation (ITUC).


Country Facts

State condition: Republic

Surface: 122,622 km

Capital: Parliament of Porto Novo, President and Government of Cotonou

Language: French official language

Labor market and economy:

The agricultural sector dominates and the country is dependent on world market prices for cotton, which have varied greatly in recent years. Benin’s dominant trading partner is Nigeria and the country is sensitive to developments there.

Although Benin has ratified the Convention against the Worst Forms of Child Labor, the country has long been a center for trafficking in children to plantations and households in West Africa. In 2012, 1 in 3 children between the ages of 5 and 17 worked, the majority of them – over 500,000 – in jobs classified as the worst form of child labor. The government has begun to act under international pressure and many child smugglers have been arrested. Children under the age of 15 must have a special permit to leave the country.


Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. Illiteracy in Burkina Faso is considered to be the highest in the world. There is a long trade union tradition in the country, but the trade union movement is divided.

Burkina Faso

Country Facts

State condition: Republic, unitary state

Surface: 274 200 km²

Capital: Ouagadougou

Language: French official language

Labor market and economy:

Agriculture dominates the economy, but gold exports now bring in more export earnings than cotton. The meager soils and recurring drought mean that you have to import food. The economy is characterized by a large trade deficit and export earnings cover only a third of imports. The country is heavily dependent on foreign aid.

The International Trade Union Confederation, ITUC, has stated in a report on “The Washington Consensus” that the cotton industry is an example of how successful export initiatives do not solve economic problems for the country’s population. Many residents have sought refuge in neighboring countries, mainly Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire, to make ends meet. Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso have joined forces in an economic cooperation organization called the G5 Sahel.


The small Cape Verde archipelago 600 kilometers off the west coast of Africa gained its independence in 1975 after a long war of liberation against Portugal. The country lacks natural resources and the shortage of freshwater makes the country dependent on food imports. Violations of trade union rights are common.

Country Facts

State condition: Republic, unitary state

Surface: 4 033 km²

Capital: Praia

Language: Creole and Portuguese. Both official languages

Labor market and economy:

A serious obstacle to the supply and economic development of the islands is the lack of fresh water. 90 percent of the food must be imported. To enable the cultivations that exist, an extensive terrace system is required. For many years, poor people have been looking for work abroad. More Cape values ​​have paid work in Portugal than at home in Cape Verde. The money that migrant workers send back to their families has become an important source of income for the Treasury.

The economy is now market-driven, largely privatized and foreign investment is encouraged. The government has mainly succeeded with the new economic policy, the budget is balanced, inflation is moderate and the currency is relatively stable. The tourism industry is the most important source of income for the country.


The French colony of Côte d’Ivoire gained independence in 1960 and was then ruled as a one-party state for over 30 years by President Houphouët-Boigny. The country has a well-developed agriculture, but after the civil war in the early 2000’s, the economy was in crisis and there was political chaos. Now the economy is developing rapidly. The trade union movement is divided and partly follows party lines.

Ivory Coast

Country Facts

State condition: Republic

Surface: 322 km²

Capital: Abidjan (eco), Yamoussoukro (off)

Language: French official language

Labor market and economy:

Ivory Coast is a distinctly agricultural country and about 2/3 of the population is employed in agriculture. The country is the world’s largest exporter of cocoa and a major exporter of coffee and palm oil. Exports of gold and electricity complement the earth burquet and are under development. During the 1960’s and 70’s, the economy developed positively. However, growth was very unevenly distributed with large regional differences and huge class gaps.

The twentieth century was a turbulent decade when the great conflicts between the peoples of the northern part of the country and the south led to serious military confrontations. Since then, the economy has recovered unexpectedly fast with a growth of about 10 percent per year since 2015. The infrastructure has been able to be improved in a way that has benefited large parts of the population.

The relatively well-developed business community has led to a fairly extensive immigration of labor. Immigrants are often discriminated against and Côte d’Ivoire is also singled out by UNICEF as one of the countries that imports children as labor, despite ratifying the two ILO conventions on child labor. In the cocoa industry, child labor is particularly widespread. The unions support a government initiative to invest in schools in villages dominated by cocoa farmers.

Many work in the informal sector and unemployment is high.


Gambia consists of a narrow coastal strip along the Gamiba River surrounded by Senegal. The country became a British colony in 1888. Independence was achieved in 1965. After a military coup in 1994, tourism – the country’s main source of income – has declined. There is a long trade union tradition in The Gambia, but trade union rights are constantly being violated. There are three central trade union organizations, but none are affiliated with the World Trade Union Confederation, ITUC.


Country Facts

State condition: Republic of the State of Unity

Surface: 11 295 km²

Capital: Banjul

Language: English official language

Labor market and economy:

The Gambia is extremely dependent on peanut production, which accounts for 90 percent of export earnings. Less important exports are cotton, rice and fishing. China is Gamibia’s largest trading partner. About 70 percent of the population lives on agriculture, often in small family units.

Tourism that has been in crisis has now begun to recover since the country received a democratically elected leadership in 2017. Many Gambians are dependent on tourism for their livelihood; such as taxi drivers, souvenir vendors, various services. A problem is then also that tourism is seasonal. Aid dependence is very high and aid from gamibers abroad corresponds to 20 percent of the state budget.