Three West African States Quit Regional Bloc

Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger accuse ECOWAS of acting under foreign influence, in violation of its founding ideals

Three West African states quit regional bloc FILE PHOTO: Colonel Amadou Abdramane. ©  ORTN – Télé Sahel / AFP

The military governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger have announced their exit from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), claiming the regional bloc has become a tool for foreign powers, posing a threat to member states.

The decision was made public on Sunday in a joint statement by the coup leaders, who have faced increasing pressure from ECOWAS to transition to democratic rule.

Following the overthrow of Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum last July, the latest coup in the West African region, the bloc threatened to use force to restore democratic rule after multiple attempts to persuade military rulers to reverse the coup failed. Both Mali and Burkina Faso have warned against the France-backed military action in Niger, claiming that any such move would be interpreted as an act of war against their countries.

The 15-nation economic group has sanctioned Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, including suspending them in response to the takeovers. The alliance has said it does not recognize the military-led regimes, and has vowed to no longer tolerate power grabs in the region, which has also witnessed a successful coup in Guinea and a recently attempted one in Guinea-Bissau.

However, Ouagadougou, Bamako, and Niamey have unified against ECOWAS, repeatedly accusing it of acting under Western influence. Late last year, the military rulers of the three former French colonies signed a charter that formed the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), committing to help each other, individually or collectively, in the event of an external attack or internal threats to their sovereignty. All three have also severed military ties with France, citing meddling and the failure of French troops to defeat Islamic insurgencies in the Sahel region, despite more than a decade of involvement.

On Sunday, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger denounced ECOWAS for failing to support them in fighting the region’s decade-long jihadist violence.

“When these states decided to take their destiny into their own hands, it [ECOWAS] adopted an irrational and unacceptable posture by imposing illegal, illegitimate, inhumane, and irresponsible sanctions in violation of its own principles,” the military leaders stated.

“After 49 years of existence, the valiant people of Burkina, Mali, and Niger note with great regret, bitterness, and great disappointment” in ECOWAS and have “decided in complete sovereignty on the immediate withdrawal” from the bloc, according to the statement.

In a response on Sunday, ECOWAS said it had yet to receive formal notification from the military authorities regarding their withdrawal.

Andrei Maslov, head of the Center for African Studies at Russia’s Higher School of Economics, told RT: “ECOWAS’ desire to make money from donor programs and cooperation with the EU and other Western institutions prevented the organization from pursuing policies in the interests of member states.”

ECOWAS has failed to capture its full potential and become a genuinely independent regional organization, Maslov claimed.

Maslov believes that the exit of the three countries from the bloc would provide them with more decision-making freedom.

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