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Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso junta chiefs mark divorce from ECOWAS

The leaders of the three countries are attending the first summit of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), established after their withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) earlier this year.

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Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso junta chiefs mark divorce from ECOWAS

The military regimes of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso marked their formal separation from the rest of West Africa on Saturday, with Niger’s ruling general announcing that the junta-led countries have “turned their backs on” the regional bloc.

The leaders of the three countries are attending the first summit of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), established after their withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) earlier this year.

“Our people have irrevocably turned their backs on ECOWAS,” Niger’s ruling General Abdourahamane Tiani told his fellow Sahel leaders at the gathering’s opening in the Nigerien capital Niamey.

Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger formed the mutual defense pact in September, formally leaving the broader ECOWAS bloc in January. Their exit was driven partly by accusations that Paris was manipulating ECOWAS and not providing sufficient support for anti-jihadist efforts.

“The AES is the only effective sub-regional grouping in the fight against terrorism,” Tiani declared on Saturday, criticising ECOWAS for its “conspicuous lack of involvement in this fight.”

The departure from ECOWAS occurred as the trio distanced themselves from former colonial ruler France, with Tiani calling for the new bloc to become a “community far removed from the stranglehold of foreign powers.” All three nations have expelled anti-jihadist French troops and have instead turned to what they call their “sincere partners” — Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

READ ALSO: ECOWAS regrets failure to reintegrate Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger

Given the deadly jihadist violence that these countries face, “the fight against terrorism” and the “consolidation of cooperation” will be on the agenda at Saturday’s summit, according to the Burkinabe presidency.

ECOWAS is scheduled to hold a summit of its heads of state in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Sunday, where the issue of relations with the AES will be discussed.

Saturday’s Summit

After several bilateral meetings, the three Sahelian leaders are gathering for the first time since coming to power through coups between 2020 and 2023. In mid-May, the foreign ministers of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger agreed in Niamey on a draft text creating the confederation, which the heads of state are expected to adopt at Saturday’s summit.

Niger’s General Abdourahamane Tiani first welcomed his Burkinabe counterpart Captain Ibrahim Traore in the capital on Friday, followed by Malian Colonel Assimi Goita who arrived on Saturday.

“Don’t expect many announcements, this is primarily a political event,” said Gilles Yabi, founder of the West African think tank Wathi. “The aim is to show that this is a serious project with three committed heads of state showing their solidarity.”

In early March, the AES announced joint anti-jihadist efforts, though they did not specify details.

Insurgents have carried out attacks for years in the vast “three borders” region between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, despite the massive deployment of anti-jihadist forces.The trio have made sovereignty a guiding principle of their governance and aim to create a common currency.

‘Path of no return’

Sunday’s summit comes as several West African presidents have called in recent weeks for a solution to resume dialogue between the two camps.

Notably, Senegal’s new President Bassirou Diomaye Faye said in late May that reconciliation between ECOWAS and the three Sahel countries was possible.

In June, his newly re-elected Mauritanian counterpart, President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, called on West African countries to unite again against the expansion of jihadism.But successive summits on the same weekend raises fears of a stiffening of positions between AES and ECOWAS.

“I do not see the AES countries seeking to return to ECOWAS. I think it’s ECOWAS will have to tone it down (the situation),” Nigerien lawyer Djibril Abarchi told AFP.

While AES is currently an economic and defence cooperation body, its three member countries have repeatedly expressed their desire to go further.

At the end of June, Colonel Goita assured that cooperation within the AES had taken “a path of no return” during a visit to Ouagadougou, Burkina’s capital.

The potential creation of a new common currency would also mean leaving behind the CFA franc they currently share with neighbouring countries.“Leaving a currency zone is not easy,” warned Yabi.

“Any country can change its currency, but it takes a lot of time and requires a clear political choice as well as a technical and financial preparation process.”

Issoufou Kado, a Nigerien financial expert and political analyst, agreed: “They have to be very careful, because the mechanism takes time.”

Proofreading, editing by Sakinat Musa Abubakar and Jamila Yunusa Suleiman, Editor and Sub- editor at Neptune Prime

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