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The Junta-led States of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger Exit the Regional Bloc, ECOWAS 

Alliance of Sahel States exit the regional group Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sparking concerns about the future impact on the region’s stability and geopolitical dynamics.

The logo of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Image courtesy of ECOWAS website. 

On Jan. 28,  in a simultaneous joint statement on their national television channels, the three junta-led West African states of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso announced that they were leaving the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This unprecedented action is the first time that member states of ECOWAS have withdrawn in this manner in the organization’s nearly 50-year history.

Founded in 1975, ECOWAS is a regional political and economic union of, now twelve – and formerly fifteen countries, located in West Africa, which was established to promote economic cooperation among member states to raise living standards and promote economic development. 

The regional group has been involved in addressing security issues by developing a peacekeeping force for conflicts within the region. As of recent, the regional economic bloc has upheld sanctions as retaliation for the coups in the Sahel region. 

The juntas of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso called the sanctions illegal and inhumane and agreed to support one another in the event of an external attack or armed uprising when they signed a mutual defense treaty in September of 2023. 

“When these States decided to take their destiny into their own hands, [ECOWAS] adopted an irrational and unacceptable posture in imposing illegal, illegitimate, inhumane and irresponsible sanctions in violation of its own texts,” the statement noted. 

The trio of former members also belongs to the eight-nation West African Monetary Union (UEMOA), which uses the Euro-based West African CFA franc as its currency unit.

Following the coups in Mali and Niger, ECOWAS leaders decided to prevent their access to the regional central bank and financial market by establishing a monetary union. Later on, ECOWAS allowed Mali to regain access, but Niger’s admission was still blocked.

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Some members of the African diaspora view the recent activity in West Africa as a political response that seeks to limit the influence of former colonial nation’s involvement in their current economic and political affairs. 

Yaw Mankatah Asare, an Akan Twi instructor and African Studies doctoral student at Howard University from Ghana says he has mixed feelings about the exit. 

“I’m happy for the people in those countries breaking ties away from their colonial relationship to France,” Asare told The Hilltop.  

“[However] I remember growing up, my mom told me never to fight with your neighbor. So this deserves cooperation to ensure that the ordinary people have access to better security and solidarity,” Asare said.  

Asare discussed how this will affect the interpersonal travel and trade between ordinary citizens within West African countries. 

“ECOWAS allows us to move through each other’s countries and trade goods freely. At this point, we should be headed toward continental integration because the borders are very abstract and imagined as many people near national borders share cultures and languages,” Asare said. 

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Captain Ibrahim Traoré observes tributes to Thomas Sankara during the unveiling of the Thomas Sankara Memorial in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Oct. 15, 2023. (Image courtesy of Salifu Mack/AAPRP) 

Burkina Faso’s leader, Captain Ibrahim Traoré has declared, “ECOWAS is over… We are leaving, but we remain Pan-Africanists. Any African who wants to come to Burkina Faso is welcome home.”

According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), the three Sahelian military leaders have stated that they would prefer to restore security before holding elections as they are currently fighting insurgencies connected to the Islamic State and al Qaeda. 

“After 49 years, the valiant peoples of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger regretfully and with great disappointment observe that [ECOWAS] organization has drifted from the ideals of its founding fathers and the spirit of Pan-Africanism,” Colonel Amadou Abdramane, Niger junta spokesman, said in the statement read on live television in Niamey.

“The organization notably failed to assist these states in their existential fight against terrorism and insecurity,” Abdramane added.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Bamako to express their support for the Malian junta’s decision. AfricaNews has reported that many of Mali’s politicians and former officials see the junta’s move as a step backward regarding regional integration.

Salifu Mack, an organizer in the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party (AAPRP)  and member of the Thomas Sankara Center for African Liberation and Unity is currently living in Burkina Faso, where he has encountered various feelings about the recent move.

“I have encountered some Burkinabè who are fearful of the potential repercussions of this decision, as there are still many unknowns. What will become of the Burkina Faso ECOWAS passport?” Mack asked.

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“Some people are concerned about how this will affect freedom of movement across borders, which already violates the freedom of movement that ECOWAS is supposed to entail,” Mack told The Hilltop.

Mack is also concerned about the potential mass deportation of Burkinabè, Malians and Nigeriens across West Africa (particularly the states that have strong relationships with Western countries like Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria) and brutal social and economic isolation. 

“I’ve heard from others excited by the move there was never any way the AES could continue to develop under the weight of ECOWAS demands for forced elections to transition to ‘civilian rule’,” Mack explained. 

“Though two seemingly different analyses of the situation, I think both camps agree this break with ECOWAS truly was inevitable if the AES is ever to accomplish its stated goals,” Mack said. 

The Young Pioneers of the Thomas Sankara Center for African Liberation and Unity salute beneath the newly unveiled Thomas Sankara Memorial in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Oct. 15, 2023. (Image courtesy of Salifu Mack/AAPRP)

In response to the withdrawal, ECOWAS said it has yet to receive any formal notification regarding the withdrawal process. After the military coups of Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea and an attempted coup in Guinea-Bissau, ECOWAS refused to recognize the junta-led governments and condemned the coups, vowing that such actions would not be allowed again.

In line with the bloc’s treaty, member nations that want to leave must offer a written one-year notice. Throughout the entire year, they are required by the treaty to continue adhering to its provisions.

After informing the now 12-nation bloc of its decision, Burkina’s Prime Minister Apollinaire Joachim Kyélem de Tambèla justified the decision.

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“On Jan. 28, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger took the historic decision to withdraw from  ECOWAS, it is a carefully considered decision which came after a thorough analysis of the institution and the potential consequences of a withdrawal,” Tambèla said.

“Instead of an ECOWAS of the people, the organization has become a technocratic tool which that ultimately deviated from the legitimate aspirations of the West African peoples,” Tambèla said. 

“For proof, we have noted ECOWAS’ indifference when our valiant peoples were massacred, or as our fellow citizens endure humanitarian crises, or in the face of the numerous destabilization attempts our states have encountered,” Tambèla said.

Following the announcement, the African Union (AU) called for dialogue between ECOWAS and the countries of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. 

“The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat learned with deep regret of the announcement of the withdrawal of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso from ECOWAS,” the AU said in a statement.

“(He) calls for combined efforts so that the irreplaceable unity of ECOWAS is preserved and African solidarity strengthened.”

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The Young Pioneers of the Thomas Sankara Center for African Liberation and Unity pose with Captain Ibrahim Traoré at the unveiling of the Thomas Sankara Memorial in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Oct. 15, 2023. (Image courtesy of Salifu Mack/AAPRP)

Mack highlighted Captain Ibrahim Traoré’s investment in nationalizing Burkina Faso’s resources, despite negative media framing of African nations’ advanced steps toward sovereignty and independence from a current global political economy that impedes African affairs. 

“In 2023, the administration announced it would nationalize the sugar sector. The SN SOSUCO sugar company, which was once privatized during the term of the former president, Blaise Compaoré, is now state-owned,” Mack said. 

“This administration has also positioned Burkina Faso, one of Africa’s foremost gold-producing states, to develop technology to process gold-mine residues on-site” Mack continued. 

“You have to be aware of what’s happening on the continent of Africa because what happens on the continent of Africa affects what happens in the world,” Jy’Mir Starks, a 1L student at Howard School of Law from Creston, South Carolina, said. 

“Understanding governance in an age of developing multipolarity, which sees African nations develop from colonialism after rejecting it to ascribe our own sense of sovereignty, is important,” Starks finished. 

The Young Pioneers of the Thomas Sankara Center pay tribute to Amilcar Cabral and the PAIGC on the occasion of the anniversary of his assassination. Jan. 20, 2024.  (Image courtesy of Salifu Mack/AAPRP)

Copy edited by D’ara Campbell 

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