Ecowas Warns of Disintegration as Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger Form Breakaway Union

Ecowas Warns of Disintegration as Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger Form Breakaway Union

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has issued a stark warning regarding potential disintegration and increased insecurity following the formalization of a breakaway union by Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. Ecowas Commission President Omar Alieu Touray described the gravity of the situation on Sunday, urging the three countries to reconsider their decision.

The military leaders of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger announced on Saturday their “irrevocable” departure from the 15-member Ecowas to establish a confederation of their states. This move follows a series of coups in these countries between 2020 and 2023, which prompted Ecowas to impose sanctions and demand the swift return to civilian rule. Although Ecowas threatened military intervention, it eventually retreated and has since been working to persuade the juntas to remain within the bloc.

Touray warned that this split could severely disrupt the region, particularly concerning the free movement of people and collaborative efforts to combat insecurity, notably in intelligence sharing. “Our region is facing the risk of disintegration,” he cautioned.

In response to the crisis, Ecowas has appointed Senegalese President Bassirou Diomaye Faye to mediate. Faye, who shares generational ties with the military rulers and is critical of Western influence, especially France’s, is expected to face significant challenges in this role.

The three military-led nations have expelled French troops and sought military assistance from Russia, marking a shift in their geopolitical alliances. In a related development, Germany’s defense ministry announced the termination of its operations in Niger by the end of next month, following unsuccessful negotiations with the ruling junta. Similarly, the United States has withdrawn most of its troops, consolidating its presence to a single drone base in Agadez.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, reappointed as Ecowas chairperson, emphasized the need for new partnerships to tackle the political, economic, and security challenges in West Africa and the Sahel region.

On Saturday, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger signed a treaty to create the Alliance of Sahel States, aiming to build shared institutions and infrastructure to facilitate free movement within their borders. However, this could undermine the Ecowas framework, which allows citizens to live and work freely across member states.

Former Ecowas Director of Communications Adama Gaye described the new confederation as a “very big blow” to the bloc, noting that the three nations are founding members. He also criticized Ecowas for pressuring the military-led states to hold free elections while several member states themselves lack true democratic practices. “Ecowas should make an effort to avoid becoming an institutional laughing-stock,” he told the BBC, pointing out the inconsistency in the bloc’s democratic demands.

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