West African bloc risks ‘disintegration’ if juntas withdraw


West African bloc Ecowas has warned of the risk of disintegration and growing insecurity after Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger made their separatist movements official.

The head of the ECOWAS commission said the move was a major blow to the 50-year-old bloc and could have serious consequences if it did not reverse its decision.

This comes after the military leaders of the three countries said on Saturday they were “irrevocably” turning away from the 15-member ECOWAS to form a confederation of their own states.

The juntas came to power after a series of coups between 2020 and 2023. ECOWAS responded by imposing sanctions and demanding a rapid restoration of civilian rule.

Ecowas even threatened a show of military force, but eventually gave in.

Some sanctions have now been lifted and the bloc is seeking the return of these countries.

ECOWAS says the junta’s latest move could disrupt the freedom of movement of people in the region and undermine efforts to combat insecurity in the region, particularly in the area of ​​intelligence sharing.

“Our region is at risk of disintegration,” Omar Alieu Touray, president of the ECOWAS Commission, warned on Sunday.

The bloc has appointed Senegalese President Bassirou Diomaye Faye to mediate in the crisis.

His appointment was decided on Sunday during an ECOWAS summit in the Nigerian capital Abuja.

Mr Faye was praised for his ability to act as a facilitator in a mission that was expected to face significant challenges.

He belongs to the same generation as the three military rulers – much younger than the other leaders in the region – and shares the juntas’ criticism of the role of Western powers in the region, particularly France, the former colonial ruler in all four countries.

They all expelled French soldiers who were there as part of an anti-jihadist mission and turned to Russia for military help.

In a similar development, the German Defense Ministry has announced that the military will cease operations in Niger at the end of next month after negotiations with the ruling junta failed.

This comes after the US completed the withdrawal of troops from an air base in the capital Niamey, with remaining troops now based at just one drone base in the central city of Agadez.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who was reappointed as chair of ECOWAS, also stressed the need for new partnerships to address the political, economic and security challenges facing West Africa and in particular the Sahel region – the semi-arid region south of the Sahara desert.

On Saturday, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger signed a treaty to form a new confederation: the Alliance of Sahel States.

They agreed to establish common institutions and infrastructure that could promote the free movement of their citizens within the three countries.

Ecowas citizens have the freedom to live and work in all member states. However, if the three countries leave the bloc, their citizens will lose that right unless a new agreement is reached.

West African leaders fear that jihadist groups could spread across the Sahelian borders into neighboring countries, negatively impacting their citizens and the security of the region.

The junta-ruled states have been hit hardest by the Islamist uprisings, one of the reasons given by military leaders for their seizure of power.

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