Embargoes and sanctions on West African States

Information on embargoes on West African States and how to apply for an export licence.


This guide contains information about embargoes and sanctions on West African States, and provides information for exporters.

You can find more general information here on Current trade sanctions, including arms embargoes and other restrictions.

The export of military items to West African States is controlled as a result of UK export control policy and legislation and the agreement of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The ECOWAS member states adopted the convention in 2006.

This guide outlines background information on West African States and relevant information about exporting military items into this region. You will also find information on the licences that are required for exporting military items and how to apply for an export licence which is issued by the Export Control Joint Unit (ECJU).

There is also related information on the arms embargoes that are in force for 3 of the member states - Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Liberia and Sierra Leone. These 3 countries have separate United Nations and European Union arms embargoes imposed upon them, all of which are recognised by UK export control and sanctions legislation.

Background information on ECOWAS and the convention

Founded in 1975, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is a regional group of 15 countries whose mission is to promote economic integration in all fields of economic activity.

The countries include:

  • the Republic of Benin
  • the Republic of Burkina Faso
  • the Republic of Cape Verde
  • the Republic of Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)
  • the Republic of Gambia
  • the Republic of Ghana
  • the Republic of Guinea
  • the Republic of Guinea-Bissau
  • the Republic of Liberia
  • the Republic of Mali
  • the Republic of Niger
  • the Federal Republic of Nigeria
  • the Republic of Senegal
  • the Republic of Sierra Leone
  • Togolese Republic

For many years, there has been a problem with the uncontrolled proliferation of small arms and light weapons (SALW) in the ECOWAS member states.

In 1998, ECOWAS defined and adopted a regional document - the Moratorium on Transfers and Manufacture of SALW. The fundamental principle of this document was to preserve human security and reduce armed violence.

Programme for Coordination and Assistance on Security and Development in Africa (PCASED) helped put the moratorium into action and launched several national initiatives, including the creation of a national Small Arms Commissions.

It was decided that the moratorium should be transformed into a legally binding instrument. This instrument was the ECOWAS Convention on Small Arms and Light Weapons, their ammunition and other related materials, adopted on 14 June 2006.

The convention has several objectives, 3 of which are:

  • the control of SALW
  • to prevent build-up of SALW
  • to promote trust between member states

Until the convention is fully accepted by all member states, the moratorium will continue to apply. Also - at the same time as sthe convention - PCASED was replaced by the ECOWAS small arms program (ECOSAP). The mission of ECOSAP is to build the power of member states and the ECOWAS Commission.

Contact details of the ECOWAS Commission

Contact the ECOWAS Commission at:

ECOWAS Commission
101 Yakubu Gowan Crescent
Asokoro District
PMB 401

You can also email ECOWAS at

Arms controls and embargoes on West African States

With the introduction of the Moratorium and the ongoing agreement of the convention, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed to ban small arms and light weapons (SALW), ammunition and other related materials from being:

  • imported
  • exported
  • transferred to mercenaries, armed militia, rebel groups and private security companies
  • possessed, used and sold by civilians

An effective import and export system for SALW - including licensing - was also adopted by ECOWAS member states. National computerised registers and databases are used to aid transparency and the exchange of information, including sub-regional areas.

ECOWAS member states also strengthened their lines of communication and cooperation with arms manufacturers and suppliers.


There are exemptions to the controls - including national authority legislation for possession of SALW by civilians. ECOWAS member states and foreign countries can apply to the ECOWAS Commission Executive Secretariat to import or export SALW for specific reasons, such as:

  • national defence and security
  • peace support

Arms embargoes

Three countries within ECOWAS are subject to a UN and EU arms embargo. These countries are:

The embargo is a ban on exports of arms and related material to these 3 countries. The UK has introduced legislation to support these embargoes. There are also travel bans on all 3 countries and an assets freeze on Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Liberia.

UK government policy on West African export licence applications

It is important that your business follows the correct procedures for applying for an export licence, as explained below.

Applying for an export licence in relation to Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Moratorium listed goods

Exporters can apply for an export licence for their goods. These might be approved or refused on a case by case basis.

For those items that are specifically listed by the ECOWAS Moratorium (see below), export licence applications are assessed by the ECju in relation to:

An export licence for small arms and light weapons (SALW), components or ammunition will not be issued unless the ECOWAS Commission has issued an exception to the moratorium. To apply for the commission’s confirmation that the exception is agreed, the relevant authorities in the ECOWAS Member State must apply to the ECOWAS Commission.

Table of technical specifications for SALW covered by the ECOWAS Moratorium

Category Weapon Description
I Pistol Firearm designed to be held and fired with one hand
  Revolver Pistol using a revolving cylinder with several cartridge chambers
  Semi-automatic Pistol using gas energy to feed cartridges from a magazine into a chamber
II Shotgun Firearm that shoots ammunition through a smooth bore
  Single/bolt/pump Shotgun using a mechanical action to chamber cartridges
  Semi-automatic Rifle using gas energy to chamber cartridges
III A Rifle (non-military) For sporting and hunting purposes
III B Rifle (military) Firearm with a rifled bore, designed to be used with two hands, fired from shoulder and using very high velocity cartridges
  Simple/bolt/pump Rifle using mechanical energy to chamber the next cartridge
  Semi-automatic Rifle using gas energy to chamber cartridges from a magazine single chamber
  Automatic Rifle that fires more than one cartridge when triggered, normally with a selector switch for operation in this mode
IV Sub-machine gun Full or semi-automatic firearm which fires pistol ammunition and requires two hands to hold
V Machine gun Pneumatic, automatic firearm fitted with a carbine barrel which uses carbine bullets or bullets of even heavier calibre
  Light weight One-man machine gun usually fired from bipod legs using magazine belted cartridges
  General purpose Two or more men, crew-served machine gun fired from a big tripod, usually using belted cartridges
  Heavy Two or more men, crew-served machine gun fired from a tripod vehicle mount using belted cartridges
  Auto cannons Two or more men, crew-served machine gun fired from a vehicle ground mount
VI Anti-tank mortars, Howitzers Weapon firing projectiles which use chemical energy to explode shrapnel
  Portable - 1 man One shot or semi-automatic explosive launcher carried and fired by a single person
  Portable - crew One shot explosive launcher transported by vehicle or by its crew
  Automatic - crew Semi or fully automatic explosive launcher transported by vehicle or by its crew
VII Landmines High explosive device placed on or beneath the soil, that is designed to explode either on contact or in near proximity to a person or vehicle

Table of small arms category descriptions

Category Weapon Undersized Medium/Normal Oversized Special Munitions
I Pistol        
  Revolver 32 cal .38 to .40 cal .41 cal Hollow point teflon liquid filled
    6 mm 7 to 9 mm 10 mm  
  Semi-automatic .32 cal .38 to .40 cal .41 cal Hollow point teflon lquid filled
    6 mm 7 to 9 mm 10 mm  
II Shotgun        
  Single/bolt/pump 10 gauge 16 to 12 gauge 20 gauge Flé-chette
  Semi-automatic 10 gauge 16 to 12 gauge 20 gauge Flé-chette
III A Rifle (non-military)        
    5 mm 5.1 to 8 mm 9 mm  
III B Rifle (military)        
  Single/bolt/pump 5 mm 5.1 to 8 mm 9 mm  
  Semi-automatic 5 mm 5.1 to 8 mm 9 mm  
  Automatic 5 mm 5.1 to 8 mm 9 mm  
  Special       Grenade
IV Sub-machine gun        
    .32 cal .38 to .40 cal .41 cal Hollow point teflon
    6 mm 7 to 9 mm 10 mm Liquid filled
V Machine gun        
  Light weight 5 mm      
  General purpose 5 mm 5.54 to 8 mm 9 mm  
  Heavy   5.54 to 8 mm 9 mm  
  Auto cannons     12 to 16 mm Grenade
        17 mm Explosive
VI Anti-tank mortars, Howitzers        
  Portable - 1 man < 30 mm 30 to 40 mm 41 mm Flé-chette
  Portable - 1 crew 60 mm 61 to 84 mm 85 mm White phosphorous
  Automatic - crew <30 mm 30 to 40 mm 41 mm Grenade
VII Landmines        
    200 g 200 g to 1.4 Kg 1.5 Kg  

Making a licence application

For details on different export licences available see the guide on licences - export, trade control and transhipment.

As with all other export licence applications made to ECJU, you should be aware of your responsibilities as an exporter and meet all the terms and conditions of your licence.

When you make your application online, you should ensure that you attach the appropriate extra supporting documentation. The exact information needed depends on the application made.

UK exporters in possession of an order from an end user in an ECOWAS country

If you receive an export order for SALW from an end user in one of the ECOWAS member states, you must have proof from the ECOWAS Commission that no other member state objects to this importation.

A copy of the ECOWAS Commission’s confirmation must be provided, along with other documentation on End Use, together with the export licence application.

To apply for the confirmation, the relevant authorities in the ECOWAS member state must apply to the ECOWAS Commission based in Abuja, Nigeria.

For more details on end-use documentation requirements, including the End-User Undertaking form, see the guide on end-user and stockist undertakings for SIELs and consignee undertakings for OIELs.

UK exporters in possession of an order from an individual resident of an ECOWAS member country

The ECOWAS Moratorium includes strict provisions for controlling and regulating the possession, use and sale of SALW by individuals.

Where an order is from an individual, your export application made via SPIRE should include a copy of the ECOWAS Commission’s approval and any other documentation on end-use.

For instance, if you receive an export order for SALW from residents of an ECOWAS member state - for the purpose of hunting or sport - the application must be accompanied by appropriate documentation.

These types of applications are processed within the ECOWAS countries by the relevant national commission and then sent to the ECOWAS Commission for approval. You should provide the relevant end-use documentation on SPIRE demonstrating this approval.

As above you need to apply for an export licence and provide the Commission approval documentation in conjunction with your licence application.

Visitors to a West African (ECOWAS) country

People travelling to and wishing to take SALW physically into any ECOWAS member state must also note that they need to apply in advance to the relevant authorities in the country of destination - in addition to meeting export control requirements in the UK. This includes if you are planning to travel with a SALW on a temporary basis.

All arms must be declared on entry to an ECOWAS member state. You will be issued with an entry and exit certificate on arrival and departure.

Further guidance on export controls

Export Control Joint Unit

Contact ECJU


Export Control Joint Unit
Department for International Trade
Old Admiralty Building
Admiralty Place


Telephone 020 7215 4594

Contact for general queries about strategic export licensing.

ECOWAS Commission information on the ECOWAS website

Published 12 September 2012