Three nations in West Africa, each governed by military regimes, have declared their immediate departure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). They assert that the organization has deviated from its foundational principles and now poses a risk to its member states and their populations.
In a joint statement released on Sunday, Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso proclaimed their sovereign decision to exit ECOWAS. The statement criticized the bloc for its failure to adequately support their efforts against terrorism and insecurity, while condemning it for imposing sanctions that they deemed illegal, illegitimate, inhumane, and irresponsible.
Relations between these three countries and ECOWAS have been tense following military coups in Mali during 2020 and 2021, Burkina Faso in 2022, and Niger in 2023.
ECOWAS responded to these events by suspending all three countries and imposing significant sanctions on Niger and Mali. Recently, Niger attempted to mend relations by inviting ECOWAS representatives to its capital, Niamey. However, the meeting saw limited attendance, with only representatives from Togo participating.
Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, the army-appointed prime minister of Niger, expressed frustration over what he described as the organization’s lack of good faith.
The military governments of these nations have committed to confronting the escalating threat of violent armed groups and have formed the “Alliance of Sahel States.” They have also severed military ties with France, their former colonial ruler. Following the coups, France announced the withdrawal of its troops from these countries, which had previously had a strong French military presence in the Sahel region.
The combination of the French military withdrawal and economic sanctions on these already vulnerable economies has raised concerns about the potential spread of armed groups southward towards more stable West African coastal countries like Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Ivory Coast.
The first half of 2023 in West Africa witnessed over 1,800 attacks, resulting in nearly 4,600 fatalities and severe humanitarian repercussions. An ECOWAS high-ranking official referred to these statistics as just a glimpse into the dreadful impact of the region’s security challenges.