Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso isolate themselves a little more

They slam the door of ECOWAS, an almost inevitable divorce, and move a little closer to Moscow.

The year is off to a bad start for West Africa. On the eve of its 50th anniversary, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is experiencing very turbulent times. Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger announced on Sunday January 28 their “withdrawal without delay” of this regional organization. The three military powers resulting from the coup justify their decision by “illegal, illegitimate, inhumane and irresponsible sanctions” imposed by ECOWAS.

Following the coups d’état of 2020 in Bamako, 2022 in Ouagadougou and 2023 in Niamey, ECOWAS, which until now brought together fifteen states, had suspended the three countries from its bodies and imposed heavy economic sanctions on Mali and Niger, even threatening the latter with military intervention… A military intervention announced “under the influence of emotion by the current president, Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who saw his main northern neighbor wavering,” as explained by an African diplomat who had cast doubt, from the first hours of this announcement, on the capacity of ECOWAS to intervene.

“10 to 15 years” needed to resolve the problem in Mali

The divorce between these three juntas and ECOWAS was taking shape, almost inevitably. “I wouldn’t say it was inevitable but it’s not a total surprise”, explains Nina Wilen, director of the Africa program at the Egmont Institute for International Relations. “The three juntas want to show that they are the ones who decide. It is the narrative of rediscovered sovereignty that they use regularly. They want to show that they will no longer be fooled by regional authorities which are often presented as tools of France or, more broadly, of Europe and the West. It’s an argument that works with their population and especially young people.”.

ECOWAS weakened but not dead

All three states called for a divorce “without delay”, However, ECOWAS texts provide that a request must be submitted in writing one year before the actual termination. In 2000, Mauritania, which wanted to anchor itself “for cultural reasons” in the Arab Maghreb Union (UMA), severed its ties with ECOWAS while respecting the requirements of the organization’s texts.

“France has become toxic for its allies on the African continent”

So far, the ECOWAS office has not received any request from the three states. But it is obvious that the organization is not going to retain them. But it will be necessary to negotiate. The regional organization, which has already lost much of its credibility, will not be content to endorse the juntas’ demands. In any case, we must organize this departure and manage its regional consequences.”, continues the African diplomat who has no doubt that the fate of former Nigerien president Mohamed Bazoum, “still detained in Niamey”will be part of this negotiation.

It is obvious that ECOWAS has lost a lot of its legitimacy with the repeated coups in the region”, confirms Ms. Wilen who is not burying the organization however. “It can reinvent itself with the countries that are still there and want to work together, but it will be very difficult.

The shadow of Moscow

Africa: Putin announces his ambitions

With this divorce, the three neighboring states which have already begun to strengthen ties between them, in particular through the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), a mutual defense pact signed in September 2023, are moving further apart. of their former metropolis and the West with, at the same time, a rapprochement with Moscow and its “militias” already present in Mali. Over the past week, Russian “experts” have also been announced in Burkina Faso. “We do not know exactly where they are, nor their number, but we know that Russians have arrived in this country. The terms to present them are the same as those that were used when Wagner’s men arrived in Mali”, continues Ms. Wilen. “The Russian government hunts on several grounds. It seeks to have more support in Africa to be able to better compete with the West there, it is also moving closer to the southern flank of the European Union, while gaining new commercial partners while Western sanctions weigh on its economy. These alliances also allow Russia to disrupt Western influence and offer it access to certain natural resources while expanding its security but also political influence..

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