Weakened West African bloc asks Senegalese leader to try to convince breakaway states to return


ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — West Africa’s divided regional bloc asked Senegalese President Basirou on Sunday Diomaye Faye to hold a dialogue with the three member states led by the military junta to try to reunify the region whose stability is at risk after they decided to leave the group in January.

At the summit in the Nigerian capital Abuja, the bloc known as ECOWAS appointed Faye as its envoy to meet with Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, which formed their own union after their respective coups disturbed relations with neighbors.

It was not immediately clear what the terms of the dialogue would be. The Senegalese president, who Africa’s youngest leader “has all the necessary qualifications to act as a mediator,” ECOWAS Commission President Omar Alieu Touray said at the summit.

The three countries affected by a coup have already said that top a day earlier that they have “irrevocably turned their backs on ECOWAS.” It is the first time in the bloc’s nearly 50-year history that it has lost members in such a manner.

Analysts saw Faye’s assignment as important during an unprecedented regional crisis. However, it is unlikely to “be fruitful anytime soon” due to ongoing regional tensions, said Karim Manuel, a Middle East and Africa analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Touray said it was the worst time for the bloc in years. “Our region is also facing the risks of disintegration,” he added.

“If you leave an agreement, you certainly don’t become part of that agreement. When it comes to free trade, free movement of people, the risk remains that you lose those concessions,” Touray said.

In addition to economic projects that ECOWAS said it would have to suspend in the three countries if they did not return, their withdrawal could also have consequences for their citizens. ECOWAS — as West Africa’s highest political and economic authority — offers free trade and visa-free movement within member states.

The three countries’ departure from the bloc could also have implications for neighbors on several fronts. They all share borders and deadly security crises that are now spread across the region and which block is looking for their partnership to fight. Observers have also warned that the coups in the countries could embolden other militaries, especially in countries where citizens have complained that they are not benefiting from their rich natural resources.

Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, who was asked to stay on as the bloc’s chairman as his one-year term neared its end, called for stronger and new partnerships to develop the region amid “enormous challenges.”

“Together we can pave the way for a prosperous future for the whole of West Africa,” Tinubu said.

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