Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso announce withdrawal from ECOWAS

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The three nations, led by military governments, accused the regional bloc of becoming a threat to member states.

Three military-led West African nations have announced their immediate withdrawal from regional bloc ECOWAS, accusing the body of becoming a threat to its members.

Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso “decide in complete sovereignty on the immediate withdrawal” from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), read a joint statement published on Sunday.

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ECOWAS “under the influence of foreign powers, betraying its founding principles, has become a threat to its member states and its population”, read the statement.

The three countries accused the regional body of failing to support their fight against “terrorism and insecurity”, while imposing “illegal, illegitimate, inhumane and irresponsible sanctions”.

Ties between the three nations and ECOWAS have been strained since military power grabs took place in Mali in 2020 and 2021, in Burkina Faso in 2022 and in Niger in 2023.

The regional body reacted by suspending all three countries and imposed heavy sanctions on Niger and Mali.

On Friday, Niger tried to amend ties with ECOWAS by inviting its representatives to the capital Niamey, but only representation from Togo showed up.

“There is bad faith within this organisation,” lamented Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, Niger’s army-appointed prime minister.

Military leaderships in the three nations have vowed to tackle the rise of violent armed groups in their countries and have joined forces in the so-called “Alliance of Sahel States”.

The three countries have cut military ties with France, the former colonial power. France once had a strong presence across the Sahel, but announced the withdrawal of its troops from the three countries after the coups.

The French military withdrawal and economic sanctions on already fragile economies have heightened concern that armed groups could spread southwards towards the relatively stable coastal countries of Ghana, Togo, Benin and Ivory Coast.

West Africa recorded more than 1,800 attacks in the first six months of 2023, resulting in nearly 4,600 deaths and creating dire humanitarian consequences. According to an ECOWAS top regional official, this was just “a snippet of the horrendous impact of insecurity”.

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