2015-16: Cross-border co-operation: mapping policy networks



The SWAC Secretariat's 2015-16 strategic reflection cycle analyses major challenges and opportunities of cross-border co-operation. A mapping study is currently being conducted on high-potential cross-border areas in West Africa. It is based on ten indicators including the proximity between population centres, access to urban centres and border markets, production centres, linguistic areas and the existence of cross-border co-operation mechanisms. In parallel, at the local level, the team will conduct three case studies on the Liptako-Gourma Authority, the Senegal River Basin Development Authority (OMVS) and the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC). Intermediary results will be discussed in working sessions and during the 2015 SWAC Forum. Key findings will also be shared in policy papers and briefs. A final report will be published within the OECD West African Studies series at the end of 2016.

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Key Questions

  1. What is the most appropriate level of activity for cross-border co-operation?

    One major challenge of regional integration lies in adapting the spatial scale of institutions to the scale of economic activities. The appropriate level of economic activities is usually defined by the boundaries of functional regions, i.e. internally cohesive and well-connected areas, whereas institutions are usually based on administrative units. Actual institutional units rarely match their functional counterparts and, as a result, the economic challenges faced by regions are not adequately addressed, particularly if legal and regulatory frameworks differ. By identifying the economic potential of border areas, this strategic reflexion cycle will adress the following questions: how to develop opportunities and respond to the needs of cross-border regions? How can these areas be more strongly connected; and what role could they play in the context of organising the West African territory?

  2. How do cross-border policy networks work?

    Very little is known about how actors engaged in policy networks co-operate across national borders, especially regarding the cross-border circulation of information and resources. A mapping study will analyse the relationships between public actors: How do social context and informal ties shape relationships between border actors in West Africa? Who are the actors or groups of actors, which have formal power and which may influence decisions in a more informal way? How do these actors co-operate when faced with different or conflicting institutional frameworks?

  3. How can a network approach to cross-border co-operation help decision-making?

    A network approach illustrates how actors co-operate and may influence decisions. A better understanding of the overall structure of policy networks can improve the co-ordination between the various partners (donors, regional organisations, private actors, state actors, local municipalities) involved in cross-border co-operation. What are their conflicting or co-operative goals, and how do they influence each other? How could the network evolve with a view to strengthening cross-border governance in the region? The data visualisation of this network approach will offer a complementary reading to the more traditional forms of analysis.


Work methods

At the regional level


An inventory of existing cross-border co-operation structures will help identify key actors and their perception of cross-border challenges in the 15 ECOWAS countries plus Chad and Mauritania. The team will highlight some indicators describing the more potentially favorable regions for cross-border co-operation initiatives. 

The mapping study is based on ten indicators including the proximity between population centres, access to urban centres and border markets, production centres, linguistic areas and the existence of cross-border co-operation mechanisms.

The comparision between the functional view of cross-border co-operation with the existing institutional frameworks will help identify possible mismatches.

Case studies

In three borders areas, interviews will be conducted with key cross-border actors. They will aim to:

  1. Analyse interrelationships between policy actors engaged in cross-border co-operation
  2. Identify the policy areas characterised by overlap of responsibilities or by a lack of co-ordination
  3. Identify most prominent actors in the field of cross-border co-operation

The applied social network analysis and data visualisation will offer a complementary reading to the more traditional development approaches.

Three case studies will be conducted on the following cross-border organisations:

  • The Liptako-Gourma Authority (LGA), comprising Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali
  • The Senegal River Basin Development Authority (OMVS), comprising Mali, Mauritania and Senegal
  • The Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), comprising Cameroon, Libya, Niger, Nigeria and the Central African Republic (CAR)




The SWAC Secretariat teams up with the Department of Border Region Studies at the University of Southern Denmark (SDU) which co-ordinates work with an international team of researchers. The Secretariat is also collaborating with the African Union Border Programme (AUBP), the NEPAD Agency, the ECOWAS Cross-Border Initiatives Programme, and the UEMOA Council for Territorial Panning, and consolidate connections with international partners.

  • Olivier Walther, Associate Professor of Geography, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark
  • Sebastian Vollmer, Ph.D candidate, Programme applied statistics, Department of Border Region Studies, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark
  • Abdoulaye Diagana, Ph.D in Geography, University of Rouen, France
  • Leena Koni Hoffmann, Ph.D, African studies, University of Birmingham, UK
  • Lawali DamboAssistant Professor, University of Niamey, Niger
  • Daniel Bach, Professor, Research Director, Sciences Po Bordeaux, France 


Origin & Concept

Cross-border co-operation is a local initiatives approach through which actions are formulated and implemented by private and public local actors from two or more countries residing in cross-border areas. This approach should be based on the agreement and support of the governments of the countries concerned, with two objectives: i) Improve the living conditions of cross-border populations who are often marginalised; and ii) Concretely build regional co-operation. 

This innovative approach to the regional integration process was first put forward in early 2000 by Alpha Oumar Konaré, ex-President of Mali calling it “cross-border areas”. They share the same geographic space that could not be divided by physical borders. This was the beginning of a conceptual process of the “cross-border area” idea. Successive meetings of experts along with Ghanian and Malian Heads of State in March and May 2002 in Sikasso and subsequently in Accra have made it possible to better understand local border realities, to share various experiences of cross-border co-operation.



What are potential functional regions? 

The concentration of markets along borders suggests the presence of potential functional regions. These are defined as spaces that possess strong internal cohesion based on the relations among socio-economic actors across borders. In the absence of any scientific analysis of cross-border interaction, their identification relies on the presence of border towns and markets. It therefore remains theoretical.

> Extract from the Atlas of the Sahara-Sahel






Previous SWAC Work

The SWAC Secretariat has a long experience in cross-border co-operation issues. Work was launched in March 2002 when the government of Mali organised in Sikasso, Mali, a West African meeting on the cross-border area concept, with the support of SWAC. This meeting provided the initial impetus to launch an ambitious process aimed at promoting the implementation of cross-border co-operation programmes and pilot operations, developing synergies and sharing experiences and information.


  • Launching of the West African Borders and Integration (WABI) network, initiated by the SWAC Secretariat, the government of Mali and the Senegalese-based NGO ENDA-Diapol; it aims at facilitating the implementation of cross-border initiatives and pilot operations.


  • Launching of the ECOWAS Cross-border Initiatives Programme (CIP): ECOWAS hosted a WABI workshop and requested the support of the SWAC Secretariat to facilitate its implementation.
  • UEMOA and CILSS announced the integration of cross-border issues in their regional integration strategy.


  • Implementation of two pilot operations in Sikasso – Bobo Dioulasso and the 'Sénégambie méridionale', defined by local actors with the support of PDM, UNOWA, the UNDP and the Canadian and Austrian co-operations.
  • Draft Convention on cross-border co-operation in the ECOWAS area, prepared with the support of the SWAC Secretariat. It aims to define an institutional framework to promote cross-border co-operation.


  • Implementation of two more pilot operations in the Karakoro basin and the "Kano - Katsina - Maradi" area (K2M), with the support of GRDR, the EU, CCFD, UNDP and the SWAC Secretariat;
  • Launching of a regional programme in support of decentralised cross-border co-operation by ALG in November 2006;
  • Approval of the ECOWAS Convention on cross-border co-operation in the ECOWAS area in November 2006 by an experts meeting.


  • To ensure sustainability of the cross-border programme, the newly created ECOWAS Commission integrated cross-border co-operation issues in its organization structure within its Free Movement of Persons Department.
  • The AU Commission expressed interest in learning from the West African experience to facilitate cross-border co-operation at the continental level. A Steering Committee and a West African Experts Working Group have been set-up.


  • Stakeholders meeting of the Ecowas Cross-border Co-operation Programme, Abuja, May 2009: cross-border actors discussed next steps and priority actions of the ECOWAS Cross-border Co-operation Programme. The programme’s aim is to bring regional integration and local populations closer together by empowering border areas.


  • Validation and restitution workshop on Burkina-Faso-Mali border experiences, Ouagadougou, 29 June 2010; based on the example of the mango industry in the regions of Sikasso (Mali) and Bobo Dioulasso (Burkina Faso), discussions focused on possibilities and constraints to cross-border development between Mali and Burkina Faso. \
  • A practical guide on cross-border co-operation. This CD-ROM provides cross-border co-operation actors with analyses of possible approaches for facilitating financial and legal arrangements of their activities. A selection of maps of West African borders is also included.



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