In a surprising turn of events, Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso have announced their withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This unexpected decision has sent shockwaves across the region, raising questions about the future of West African political dynamics and regional stability.
ECOWAS, established in 1975, aimed to promote regional integration, economic development, and political cooperation among its 15 member states which included Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo .
Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso have been key members of the community, contributing to its goals and participating in its decision-making processes. The withdrawal of these three important nations came as a surprise and is likely to have implications for both political and security dynamics in the region.
Why did these three important members choose to exit the bloc? What are the implications for the economic and political integration of West Africa?
Reasons Behind The ECOWAS Withdrawal
The joint announcement came in the form of a statement issued by the countries’ military leaders on January 28th 2024.
The withdrawal of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso from ECOWAS is motivated by concerns over sanctions perceived as harsh and insufficient protections, the influence of foreign powers, particularly Western, undermining the bloc’s founding Pan-African principles, and ECOWAS’s failure to support their fight against terrorism.
Military leaders from Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso have cited harsh sanctions and a perceived lack of protections as primary factors behind this decision.
The imposition of punitive measures by ECOWAS member states led to a strain in relations, causing these nations to question the benefits of continued membership. Furthermore, concerns regarding the adequacy of protections offered by the regional bloc have also played a significant role.
In the joint statement, they stated that the “illegal, illegitimate, inhumane and irresponsible sanctions in violation of its own texts… have further weakened populations already bruised by years of violence… by… remote-controlled terrorist hordes”.
Influence of Foreign Powers
They also pointed out their belief that ECOWAS was now under the influence of foreign powers, which betrayed its founding principles. These foreign entities are notably France and potentially the United States. One damning instance was when Nigeria’s President Tinubu threatened military intervention in Niger to reverse the coup that ousted former Nigerien President Bazoum, a move some in the Sahel saw as aligned with Western interests.
The Sahel region has been making moves to eliminate influence of the West in their affairs, expressing a lack of trust of the intentions of foreigners.
In a statement, Niger’s junta spokespersona, Colonel Amadou Abdramane pointed out that ECOWAS had shifted away from its spirit of Pan-Africanism, stating:"After 49 years, the valiant peoples of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger regretfully and with great disappointment observe that the (ECOWAS) organization has drifted from the ideals of its founding fathers and the spirit of… Click To Tweet
He also added that ECOWAS notably failed to assist them and their allies in their existential fight against terrorism and insecurity.
These reasons reflect discontentment of the military leaders and their desire for alternative arrangements that better address the interests and concerns of their respective countries. The situation is complex, involving historical ties, regional security, and economic implications, particularly concerning the West African Monetary Union and the CFA franc’s colonial legacy.
The withdrawal reflects the
Implications on Regional Politics
The departure of these countries raises questions about the commitment to regional integration and economic stability. ECOWAS has been instrumental in promoting economic development and integration among its member states, with efforts focused on various sectors such as trade facilitation, infrastructure development, and free movement of goods and people.
Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso are also members of the West African Monetary Union (WAEMU) which uses the West Africa CFA franc currency pegged to the Euro.
The WAEMU consists of 8 countries which include Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Togo. Withdrawal from ECOWAS has raised concern about a withdrawal from WAEMU which will have staggering financial implications.
In a statement to Reuters Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said “Mali is withdrawing from ECOWAS but remains a member of UEMOA (aka WAEMU).” However, Burkina Faso has an exit of WAEMU in the cards.
The CFA franc has strong ties to French colonialism, a link that the Sahel region has been working hard to break lately.
Reactions To The News
In a statement on Tuesday January 29th, Nigeria’s Foreign Minister stated “Instead, unelected leaders engage in a public posturing to deny their people the sovereign right to make fundamental choices over their freedom of movement, freedom to trade and freedom to choose their own leaders,” it said.
However, Twitter reactions have been been mostly supportive and understanding of the position of these 3 countries.
The departure of these important members threatens ongoing efforts to address political crises, combat security threats, and foster economic development. It remains to be seen how the remaining member states and ECOWAS as a whole will respond to this unprecedented development and navigate the challenges that lie ahead.