Alleging that ECOWAS has turned into a menace to its members, three military-led West African countries have declared their immediate departure from the regional organization.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was to be left immediately after Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso “decide in complete sovereignty on the withdrawal,” according to a joint statement released yesterday.
Per the statement, ECOWAS “has become a threat to its member states and its population, under the influence of foreign powers, betraying its founding principles.”
While enforcing “illegal, illegitimate, inhumane and irresponsible sanctions,” the three nations said that the regional organization was failing to assist them in their battle against “terrorism and insecurity.”
In a statement, ECOWAS claimed not to have been informed of the countries’ decision to leave the organization. According to its procedure, the withdrawal process can take up to a year to finish.
“The Authority is steadfast in its pursuit of a diplomatic resolution to the political deadlock, and Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali continue to be significant members of the Community,” the statement read.
Established in 1975 with the goal of “promoting economic integration” among its members, the 15-nation ECOWAS is widely regarded as the preeminent political and regional authority in West Africa. However, in recent times, the bloc has faced challenges in undoing frequent coups in the region, where residents have expressed dissatisfaction over not being able to capitalize on the region’s abundant natural resources.
There were military takeovers in Mali in 2020 and 2021, Burkina Faso in 2022, and Niger in 2023. Aljazeera reports that the regional organization responded by suspending all three nations and severely sanctioning Mali and Niger.
The military chiefs of the three countries have united in the so-called “Alliance of Sahel States” with the aim of combating the emergence of dangerous armed organizations within their borders.
The three nations have severed their military links to the previous colonial power, France. Prior to the coups, France maintained a significant military presence in the Sahel, but it said that it would be leaving the three nations.
The threat that armed groups may expand southward and into the more stable coastal nations of Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Ivory Coast has increased in light of the French military withdrawal and the economic sanctions imposed on already vulnerable economies.
In the first half of 2023, West Africa saw over 1,800 attacks, which led to around 4,600 deaths and grave humanitarian impacts. This was only “a snippet of the horrendous impact of insecurity,” according to a top regional ECOWAS official, Aljazeera report.