The military regimes in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger on Sunday declared their immediate withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), citing the bloc’s perceived threat to member States.
The leaders of these Sahel nations released a joint statement asserting that leaving ECOWAS was a “sovereign decision” taken “without delay.”
Tensions between the military regimes and ECOWAS had escalated since coups unfolded in Niger (July 2023), Burkina Faso (2022), and Mali (2020).
Despite being founding members in 1975, all three nations faced suspension and heavy sanctions from ECOWAS as the bloc pressed for the swift return of civilian governments through elections.
The joint statement criticized the sanctions as an “irrational and unacceptable posture” at a time when the countries were “taking their destiny in hand,” referring to the coups that ousted civilian administrations. In recent months, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger had strengthened ties, forming an “Alliance of Sahel States.”
The leaders’ statement accused ECOWAS of betraying its founding principles and becoming a threat to member states and peoples, claiming the bloc failed to assist in addressing the jihadist violence that had affected Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.
Under pressure from the military regimes, France withdrew ambassadors and troops, leading to Russia’s increased influence militarily and politically in the region.
The French army’s exit from the Sahel has raised concerns about the potential spread of conflicts southward to Gulf of Guinea states, including Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Ivory Coast.
Niger’s prime minister, appointed by the regime, criticized ECOWAS for “bad faith” after the bloc largely shunned a planned meeting in Niamey.
The military leaders in Niger, dealing with economic challenges and a scarcity of resources, expressed the desire for up to three years for a transition back to civilian rule.
In Mali, Colonel Assimi Goita’s ruling officers initially pledged to hold elections in February, but the date has been pushed back.
Burkina Faso, led by Captain Ibrahim Traore since September 2022, has not faced sanctions and plans elections for the summer, prioritizing the fight against insurgents.
The withdrawal of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger raises concerns about the stability and cooperation within the ECOWAS region.
However, the ECOWAS Commission said it is yet to receive withdrawal notice from Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger military regimes.
The sub-regional bloc disclosed this in a statement on Sunday, reacting to a report on the purported withdrawal of the three military juntas.
ECOWAS reiterated that it remained committed to restoring constitutional rule in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
“The ECOWAS Commission is 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 essential 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,” it stated.