Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger Form New Confederation, Threatening Ecowas Stability and Regional Security

The recent decision by Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger to establish their own confederation, the Alliance of Sahel States, has created a significant challenge for the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). This development has been described as a major setback for the 50-year-old regional bloc, which has been striving to address issues related to governance, security, and regional cohesion.

The military juntas of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, who came to power through coups between 2020 and 2023, announced on Saturday their irrevocable decision to leave Ecowas. This decision follows a series of sanctions and demands from Ecowas for the restoration of civilian rule.

Initially, Ecowas threatened military intervention, but these threats were eventually retracted, and some sanctions were lifted. Despite these efforts, the bloc has been unable to convince the juntas to stay.

The implications of this breakaway are profound. Ecowas Commission President Omar Alieu Touray warned that the region faces the risk of disintegration and increased insecurity. The departure of these three countries could disrupt the freedom of movement for people across the region and undermine efforts to combat regional insecurity, particularly in terms of intelligence sharing.

The formation of the Alliance of Sahel States by Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger introduces a new dynamic in regional geopolitics. The three countries have all expelled French soldiers who were helping to fight jihadist groups and have instead turned to Russia for military assistance. This shift highlights the growing influence of Russia in the region, at the expense of traditional Western powers like France.

Germany and the United States are also adjusting their military strategies in response to the changing dynamics in Niger.

Germany’s defence ministry announced the end of its operations in Niger by the end of next month, following a breakdown in talks with the ruling junta.

Similarly, the US has reduced its military presence, completing the withdrawal of troops from an air base in the capital Niamey and maintaining a limited presence at a drone base in Agadez.

In response to this crisis, Ecowas has appointed Senegalese President Bassirou Diomaye Faye as the mediator. Faye’s appointment, decided at an Ecowas summit in Abuja, Nigeria, on Sunday, is seen as a strategic move. Being of the same generation as the three military rulers and sharing their criticism of Western influence, Faye is considered well-positioned to facilitate negotiations.

The departure of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger from Ecowas raises concerns about regional security.

The Sahel region, which lies south of the Sahara Desert, is particularly vulnerable to Islamist insurgencies. There is fear that jihadist groups could exploit the instability and spread into neighboring countries, threatening the security of the entire region. The junta-led states have been among the worst affected by these insurgencies, which was a key reason cited for their military takeovers.

Adama Gaye, a former Ecowas director of communications, described the new confederation as a significant blow to the bloc. He pointed out that Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger are all founding members of Ecowas, which was established in 1975. Gaye partially blamed Ecowas for pushing these countries to hold free and fair elections while several other member states are not true democracies themselves. He suggested that Ecowas should address its internal inconsistencies to avoid becoming an institutional laughing-stock.

As Ecowas grapples with this crisis, Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, recently reappointed as Ecowas chairperson, emphasized the need for new partnerships to address the political, economic, and security challenges in West Africa and the Sahel region.

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