The face-off between the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the military juntas in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, has taken a new twist as the three embattled Sahel countries, formally announced their withdrawal from the regional bloc, describing their action as a “sovereign decision.”
A joint statement, yesterday, by the leaders of the three countries said the withdrawal was without delay. They accused ECOWAS of inflicting “inhumane” sanctions on them to compel them to return the countries to democratic rule.
Recall that coups took place in Mali on May 24, 2021, when the Malian Army led by Vice President Assimi Goïta captured President Bah N’daw, Prime Minister Moctar Ouane and Minister of Defence Souleymane .
It also happened in Doucouré in Niger Republic on July 26, 2023 when the country’s presidential guard detained President Mohamed Bazoum, and in Burkina Faso on September 30, 2022, when interim President Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was dethroned.
After the ECOWAS’ effort to persuade the coupists to return to the barrack failed, it suspended all the three countries and imposed sanctions on them. In their response, the three countries immediately formed an “Alliance of Sahel States.”
The statement that was read in state television in all the three countries said they had “decided in complete sovereignty on the immediate withdrawal of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger Republic from the ECOWAS. “Furthermore, ECOWAS, under the influence of foreign powers, betraying its founding principles, has become a threat to its member states and its populations whose happiness it is supposed to ensure,” the statement read.
The statement noted that the three countries that were eager to achieve integration among the states of the sub-region and driven by the ideals of fraternity, solidarity, mutual aid, peace and development, their Excellencies, General Aboubacar Sangoulé Lamizana, General Moussa Traoré and Lieutenant Colonel Seyni Kountché, respectively, Heads of State of then Upper Volta (currently Burkina Faso), Mali and Niger, created, alongside 12 of their peers, on May 28, 1975, in Lagos, the Economic Community of West African States.
They, however, alleged that the leadership of ECOWAS had moved away from the ideals of it’s founding fathers and pan-Africanism after nearly 50 years of its establishment.
The regional body was formed in May 1975 to promote economic integration in member states.
ECOWAS was further accused of failing to assist the trio in fighting existential threats like jihadist violence and poverty.
Recall that the military junta in the three countries claimed that the failure of the democratically elected leaders to eradicate terrorism and poverty in their respective countries was one of the reasons they took over government.
“When these states decided to take their destiny into their own hands, it (ECOWAS) adopted an irrational and unacceptable posture in imposing illegal, illegitimate, inhumane and irresponsible sanctions in violation of its own texts,” the statement said.
Further justifying their decision to severe ties with the ECOWAS, the juntas said the sanctions imposed on their countries have further weakened the populations already bruised by years of violence.
However, the statement did not give details of how the pull out from the bloc would be carried out.
At the wake of the coups, the 15-nation member regional body had insisted that it only recognised democratic governments. Its position was reinforced by the ECOWAS Court, when in 2023, it ruled that the military lacks the power to replace elected governments on behalf of the citizens.
However, in its reaction, ECOWAS has expressed shock over the decision taken by the three-member states to quit the regional body.
The Commission, in a statement issued in Abuja, said its attention had been drawn to a broadcast on the national televisions of Mali and Niger, announcing the decision of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger to withdraw from ECOWAS.
It disclosed that it was yet to receive any direct formal notification from the three member states about their intention to withdraw from the community.
“The ECOWAS Commission, as directed by the Authority of Heads of State and Government, has been working assiduously with these countries for the restoration of constitutional order. Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali remain important members of the Community and the Authority remains committed to finding a negotiated solution to the political impasse.
“The ECOWAS Commission remains seized with the development and shall make further pronouncements as the situation evolves,” the statement read.