In December 1981, the leaders of the Customs and Economic Union of Central African States (UDEAC) agreed to form a wider economic community of Central African States. The Economic Community of Central African States was established on October 1983 by members of UDEAC, Sao Tome and Principe and members of the Economic Community of the Great Lakes Countries, Zaire, Burundi and Rwanda. ECCAS was however inactive for several years due to financial constraints, conflicts in the Great Lakes area as well as the war in Democratic Republic of Congo where member States (Rwanda and Angola) were fighting on different sides. Nevertheless, in October 1999, ECCAS was formally designated into the African Economic Community as one of the eight pillars of the African Union.
ECCAS aims at promoting and strengthening a harmonious cooperation in order to realize a balanced and self-sustained economic development, particularly in the fields of industry, transport and communications, energy, agriculture, natural resources, trade, customs, monetary and financial matters, human resources, tourism, education, culture, science and technology and the movement of persons with a view to achieving collective self-reliance, raising the standards of living, maintaining economic stability and fostering peaceful relations between the member States and contributing to the development of the African continent.
 Zaire was renamed the Democratic Republic of the Congo in May 1997.
 Rwanda pulled out of ECCAS in 2008 to concentrate on its membership to the East African Community (EAC) and COMESA. Rwanda officially confirmed its return to ECCAS on 18 August 2016.