What future for ECOWAS in four questions?

What future for ECOWAS in four questions?

The creation on Saturday of the confederation of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) by the military regimes of Mali, Burkina and Niger plunges West Africa into an unprecedented crisis that could threaten the free movement of goods and people in the region.

It marks a break with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which, on the eve of its 50th anniversary, seems powerless to bring the three Sahelian countries back into its fold.

Where does the crisis come from?

The first tensions appeared in 2020 and 2021 after the putschs that brought Colonel Assimi Goïta to power in Mali.

At the time, ECOWAS took heavy commercial and financial sanctions against Bamako, described as “illegal and inhumane”and suspends Mali from its proceedings.

The lifting of these sanctions in 2022 is not enough to warm relations.

Especially since Bamako has found allies: neighboring Burkina Faso, the scene of two coups d’état in 2022, the last perpetrated by Captain Ibrahim Traoré, and Niger where General Abdourahamane Tiani took the reins in July 2023, also through a putsch.

For ECOWAS, this is one coup too many. It has imposed sanctions against Niamey and has also threatened for several weeks to intervene militarily to restore the deposed president Mohamed Bazoum to his functions.

Enough to really rile up the Sahelian regimes, which have made sovereignty a cardinal point of their governance and accuse ECOWAS of being subservient to France, the former colonial power on which they have all turned their backs.

In January 2024, the three led by military juntas announced that they were leaving the organization, and this Saturday, July 6, formalized their divorce by joining forces within the AES confederation, despite the lifting of sanctions against Niamey in February.

ECOWAS texts provide for a period of one year to confirm the exit of a member country.

What impact on populations?

On Sunday, ECOWAS warned against “diplomatic and political isolation” AES countries and the loss of millions of euros of investments.

Another concern: the worsening insecurity in this region plagued by recurring jihadist violence. The ESA countries have long criticized ECOWAS for not helping them enough, and set up their own joint force in March.

But the most concrete consequence could concern the free movement of goods and people in the region.

On Sunday, ECOWAS Commission chief Omar Alieu Touray warned that nationals of ESA countries may in future have to apply for visas to travel to the rest of the region and face obstacles to freely setting up businesses.

For the Nigerian lawyer and political analyst Mahaman Bachar, this threat will not be enough to slow down “the desire of the AES to move away from ECOWAS” And ” reciprocity ” could be imposed by the Sahelian countries.

“This would be the beginning of the disintegration of ECOWAS, and contrary to the ideals of the African Union,” says Nigerian financial expert Boubacar Kado.

Is the breakup irreversible?

On Saturday, General Tiani was rather clear on the subject: “Our people have irrevocably turned their backs on ECOWAS”he said.

The three ESA countries – although deprived of access to the sea – seem convinced that they can be self-sufficient, by pooling their resources in most of the key sectors of their economies.

On the ECOWAS side, however, there is no question of abdicating.

Senegalese President Bassirou Diomaye Faye, recently elected on an anti-system and sovereignist line and who visited Burkina and Mali in May, was appointed on Sunday as mediator with the AES. He called for “working to bring positions closer together” and to “do everything to avoid the withdrawal of the three brother countries.”

“Diomaye Faye has the freshness of a newly elected official and certain connections (with the AES regimes) in terms of revolution and change. There remains a tiny chance, but the trend is towards rupture”believes Ivorian political analyst Arthur Banga.

“I think that the negotiations will no longer focus on returning to ECOWAS, but rather on how to save the situation, how to establish mutually respectful relations.” between ECOWAS and AES, predicts Mr. Bachar.

Can ECOWAS survive?

At its summit on Sunday, July 7, the West African organization recognized the risk of “disintegration” that she incurs.

Burkina, Niger and Mali represent 72 million inhabitants, almost a fifth of the current population of the regional bloc.

“ECOWAS has already experienced departures in the past, like Mauritania” in 2000, Mr. Banga points out. But “even with 12 countries, it remains powerful, particularly with Nigeria, the most populated country in Africa, or even Ivory Coast and Senegal” , important economies in the region, he tempers.

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