Burkina, Mali and Niger unite in confederation and formalize divorce from ECOWAS

Burkina, Mali and Niger unite in confederation and formalize divorce from ECOWAS

The military regimes in power in Burkina, Mali and Niger took another step towards divorce from the rest of the West African bloc by announcing on Saturday the creation of a confederation between their three states, during an unprecedented summit in Niamey.

This summit brought together for the first time the presidents of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), an organization created in September 2023 which brings together Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, where soldiers seized power through coups between 2020 and 2023 and which all face recurring jihadist violence.

The alliance became a confederation of some 72 million people on Saturday, in order to “take a further step towards deeper integration between member states,” according to the summit’s final communiqué.

These three countries announced in January their departure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), an organisation which they consider to be exploited by France, the former colonial power with which they have repeatedly broken ties.

And they don’t seem willing to back down.

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On Saturday, at the opening of the summit, the head of the Niger military regime Abdourahamane Tiani affirmed that the people of their three countries had “irrevocably turned its back on ECOWAS.”

General Tiani was speaking before his Burkinabe counterpart, Captain Ibrahim Traoré, and his Malian counterpart, Colonel Assimi Goïta.

The three men, all dressed in military uniform, arrived at around 1 p.m. (12 p.m. GMT) at the Niamey conference center where the summit was held under tight security.

General Tiani called for making the AES a “alternative to any artificial regional grouping by building a sovereign community of peoples, a community far removed from the control of foreign powers”.

AES-ECOWAS relations deteriorated significantly following the July 26, 2023 coup that brought General Tiani to power.

ECOWAS then imposed heavy economic sanctions against Niger and threatened to intervene militarily to restore the deposed president, Mohamed Bazoum, to his functions.

The sanctions have since been lifted in February, but relations between the two sides remain frosty, despite calls from certain presidents – notably Senegalese and Mauritanian – to resume dialogue.

Joint force

ECOWAS is due to hold a summit of its heads of state in Abuja on Sunday, where the issue of relations with the AES will be on the agenda for discussions.

“The AES constitutes the only efficient sub-regional grouping in the field of the fight against terrorism, ECOWAS having shone by its lack of involvement in this fight”, General Tiani also said on Saturday.

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Before him, Captain Traoré had estimated that Africa continued to “suffer at the hands of the imperialists.” “We will wage a merciless war on anyone who dares to attack our states.”he added.

Assimi Goïta assured him that the armies of the three countries “operate in complete complementarity in the face of terrorist attacks.”

At the beginning of March, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger announced the creation of a joint anti-jihadist force, the outlines and numbers of which have not been specified.

The ESA countries have made sovereignty a guideline of their governance.

They have in turn driven out French soldiers engaged in the anti-jihadist fight from their soil and turned towards other countries such as Russia, Turkey and Iran, which they regularly describe as “sincere partners”.

Niger also pushed American soldiers out, while Mali did the same with the UN mission, MINUSMA.

The three countries have faced deadly jihadist violence for years, particularly in the so-called “tri-border” area, where groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State kill civilians and soldiers in attacks and displace millions.

In addition to military cooperation, this confederation – of which Mali is taking over the presidency for one year – should enable the pooling of resources in sectors deemed strategic such as agriculture, water, energy and transport, as well as the creation of an AES investment bank.

The question of the common currency and a possible exit from the CFA franc was not raised in the final communiqué.

On Saturday, the organisation Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned that this summit is taking place “in a difficult context for the media” in the AES countries, where several journalists have been arrested in recent months, particularly in Mali and Burkina.