Western Africa Economy


Since independence from France in 1960, Mauritania has been largely ruled by the military. Slave labor still occurs. There are major differences between the Arab and black populations. The economy is undeveloped and trade union rights are severely curtailed. Four central trade union organizations are members of the World Trade Union Confederation, ITUC.


Country Facts

State condition: Republic, unitary state

Surface: 1 030 700 km²

Capital: Nouackchott

Language: Arabic, Wolof official language

Labor market and economy:

The basis for the country’s economy is the fishing and mining industry, mainly consisting of iron and copper, and the extraction of oil. The waters off the coast belong to the earth’s richest fishing waters, but are overexploited by foreign fishing fleets. Fisheries still contribute 15 percent of GDP and 45 percent of export earnings.

Only in the south, along the Senegal River, is there arable land. The country is therefore dependent on food imports. Despite the fact that many people have been forced to leave agriculture and move to the cities in recent decades due to extreme drought, about 50 percent of the population is still dependent on agriculture and livestock farming for their livelihood.

Poor infrastructure and a shortage of skilled labor are an obstacle to development. There are no reliable figures on unemployment, but it is judged to be high.

Mauritania has ratified the Convention against Child Labor, but the ILO estimates that there are 68,000 children aged 10-14 who are forced to work in difficult conditions.

Despite a law that can provide 15 years in prison for those who exploit slaves, forced labor is common. There is a law on the minimum wage, but the minimum wage is so small that it is not possible to live on it.


Niger became independent in 1960. Most of its independence has been ruled by the military. According to Countryaah, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. There are many trade unions, three of which are affiliated with the World Trade Union Confederation, ITUC.


Country Facts

State condition: Republic, unitary state

Surface: 1 267 000 km²

Capital: Niamey

Language: French is the official language. Hausa is the largest of about 20 African languages.

Labor market and economy:

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and has the lowest measured value in the world on the UNDP’s Human Development Index, HDI 2018. 80 percent of the population are self-sufficient farmers. Agriculture accounts for 40 percent of GDP. The land can only be farmed a few months a year, the rest of the year the men often go to the neighboring countries to take temporary jobs.

The economy is damaged by recurring droughts and the declining world market price of peanuts and uranium. Niger is a significant uranium exporter, i.a. to France, but many of the 75 mining companies have struck back. Only a small part of the labor force has a formal employment. The largest employer is the state, but there is also some industry, a construction sector that provides jobs, and mines.


With 201 million residents and large oil resources, Nigeria is the undisputed superpower in West Africa. In 1999, free elections were held for the first time in 20 years. The situation for the unions then improved rapidly but has now deteriorated again. The terrorist organization Boko Haram is a threat to security. Nigeria Labor Congress (NLC) is Africa’s largest trade union central organization.


Country Facts

State condition: Republic, federal state

Surface: 923 768 km²

Capital: Abuja

Language: Official English language, Hausa (north), Yoruba (southwest), Ibo (southeast) plus about 300 other African languages

Labor market and economy:

Nigeria has long concentrated development investment in the oil industry, which has led to other parts of the business community being neglected. This was especially true of the agricultural sector, which has, however, been given higher priority in recent years, and in 2019 Nigeria became the country in Africa that produced the most rice. Despite this, the country is at risk of a famine disaster in 2020, according to a report from the UN agency WFP, World Food program.

The oil boom also accelerated the urbanization process and Lagos, the country’s commercial center, is growing unabated and is – in competition with Cairo – Africa’s largest city with about 16 million residents.

The terrorist organization Boko Haram has caused major security problems, especially in the northeastern part of the country.

Nigeria is by far West Africa’s largest economy and has a relatively broad industrial production. Unemployment is widespread and, in particular, high youth unemployment in the big cities is a gigantic problem. A large proportion of the workforce is in the informal sector.

The labor market is regulated by law. There are, among other things, provisions on the right to vacation, working time legislation and the minimum wage. The minimum wage was raised for the first time in several years in 2019. This took place after long and hard negotiations with the union.


The French colony of Senegal became independent in 1960. The country is a constitutional democracy. The economy, which has been in crisis for a long time, has begun to recover in recent years. Human and trade union rights are protected by law, but violations occur. The trade union movement is deeply divided.


Country Facts

State condition: Republic, unitary state

Surface: 196 722 km²

Capital: Dakar

Language: French official language, wolof largest African language

Labor market and economy:

Senegal’s economy has long been in crisis when traditional industry has run into problems and the country now has a large trade deficit. However, growth in the economy has been good in recent years. The main industries are mining, tourism, fishing and agriculture, and fish, oil products, peanuts, cotton and phosphate are exported. Imports consist of food, capital goods and oil.

The vast majority of Senegalese work in the informal sector, mostly with cultivation for their own use, but also street sales and various services. Unemployment is very high, especially among young people. Many Senegalese apply abroad for work, most to France.


Since independence in 1961, one-party rule and unrest have characterized the country. When the country began to recover after the civil war 1991 – 2002, a new catastrophe came; The Ebola epidemic in 2014. The trade union movement has traditionally had a strong position in society.

Sierra Leone

Country Facts

State condition: Republic, unitary state

Surface: 71 740 km²

Capital: Freetown

Language: English official language, krio is widely spoken

Labor market and economy:

The vast majority of the population earns their living through work in the informal sector. Most with agriculture for their own household but many, mainly young men, seek happiness by looking for diamonds. The mining industry, mainly iron ore and diamonds, generates the largest export earnings. There are no reliable figures on the size of unemployment, but it is judged to be very high, especially among the younger ones.


The French colony of Togo became independent in 1960. After a few years, Gnassingbé Eyadéma seized power in a coup and ruled the country for 40 years until his death in 2005. The political situation has since been uncertain. The economy is based on agriculture with exports of coffee, cocoa and cotton. There are several central trade unions in the country. Violations of trade union rights occur.


Labor market and economy:

Most Togolese people make a living by growing for their own use. Many also work in the informal sector of the economy. Cocoa, coffee and cotton are exported. In the industrial sector, the extraction of phosphate is an important export commodity. Togo has been granted debt relief, which has meant that large parts of the central government debt have been written off.

While unemployment is high, especially among young people, there is a shortage of skilled labor in some sectors.

There is a statutory minimum wage, but it is very low and means that many must have several jobs to be able to support the family.