Three West African nations—Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso—have jointly announced their immediate withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), asserting that the regional bloc has evolved into a perilous entity for its member states.
A joint statement released on Sunday highlighted the decision as an exercise of “complete sovereignty” in response to ECOWAS allegedly deviating from its foundational principles and succumbing to external influences.
The withdrawal, according to the statement, is prompted by ECOWAS’s perceived failure to support the fight against terrorism and insecurity in the region, coupled with the imposition of what the countries term as “illegal, illegitimate, inhumane, and irresponsible sanctions.” Meanwhile, ECOWAS claims it was not officially informed of the departure, emphasizing that according to its protocol, the withdrawal process spans up to a year.
Regarded as West Africa’s preeminent political and regional authority, the 15-member ECOWAS was established in 1975 with the aim of fostering economic integration among its constituent nations. However, recent years have seen the bloc grappling with a surge in coups across the region, triggering suspensions and heavy sanctions against Niger and Mali after military takeovers in those countries.
In an attempt to salvage relations, Niger extended an invitation to ECOWAS representatives in Niamey on Friday, but only Togo sent a delegation, further fueling accusations of bad faith within the organization, as stated by Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, Niger’s army-appointed prime minister.
These withdrawals come as the three nations, facing internal challenges and increasing armed group activities, have formed the “Alliance of Sahel States.” Furthermore, they have severed military ties with France, their former colonial power, following France’s troop withdrawal post-coups. The resulting economic strain, coupled with heightened security concerns, raises fears of armed groups spreading towards more stable coastal countries like Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Ivory Coast.
Against a backdrop of over 1,800 recorded attacks in West Africa during the first six months of 2023, claiming nearly 4,600 lives, ECOWAS warns that this is just a glimpse of the broader impact of insecurity. The withdrawal of these three nations marks a critical juncture for ECOWAS and the wider West African region, necessitating strategic diplomatic efforts to address the underlying issues and foster stability.