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No Return to ECOWAS: Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso Announce New Confederation

The ruling military juntas in Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso have announced the formation of a new rival confederation to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The three West African countries made the announcement on Saturday, on the eve of ECOWAS summit, furthering division in West Africa and jeopardizing efforts to curb violence in the region.

New Alliance

During the first summit of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) in Niamey, the capital of Niger, the military leaders of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso signed a confederation treaty, reported Reuters.

This comes after the three countries announced withdrawal from the ECOWAS in January. It underscores their determination to set a joint path outside the regional political and economic bloc that has been urging them to return to democratic rule.

No Return to ECOWAS: Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso Announce New Confederation
Heads of state of Mali’s Assimi Goita, Niger’s General Abdourahamane Tiani and Burkina Faso’s Captain Ibrahim Traore

In a speech, General Abdourahamane Tiani, Niger’s military ruler, said the AES summit is “the culmination of our determined common will to reclaim our national sovereignty.”

“Our peoples have irrevocably turned their backs on ECOWAS. It is up to us today to make the AES Confederation an alternative to any artificial regional group by building … a community free from the control of foreign powers,” he added.

Main Purpose

The new confederation aims to facilitate the free movement of people and goods, coordinate diplomatic action, reinforce military cooperation and create a regional investment bank and stabilization fund, according to the military leaders’ joint statement following the summit.

Furthermore, the statement added that the three countries plan to mobilize their joint assets for strategic mining, energy and infrastructure projects.

No Return to ECOWAS

The military junta leaders ruled out the return of their countries to ECOWAS. Moreover, they accused the regional bloc of failing to meet its objectives and pledged to strengthen their newly-formed alliance.

In this regard, Tiani said that ECOWAS has become “a threat to our states,” reported the Associated Press (AP). “We are going to create an AES of the peoples, instead of an ECOWAS whose directives and instructions are dictated to it by powers that are foreign to Africa,” he noted.

After a series of coups over recent years, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso announced their joint departure from ECOWAS in January. In March, they agreed to establish a joint force to address security threats across their territories.

Additionally, the military rulers of those countries independently cut military ties with France and the US, while consolidating cooperation with Russia. They also criticize ECOWAS for failing to help them in fighting the extremist insurgency that engulfed the Sahel region in recent years.

Defying the West

At the AES summit in Niamey, Burkina Faso’s leader, Capt. Ibrahim Traoré, expressed concerns over western interference in ECOWAS, accusing foreign countries of exploiting Africa.

No Return to ECOWAS: Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso Announce New Confederation
Ibrahim Traore

He said: “Westerners consider that we belong to them and our wealth also belongs to them. They think that they are the ones who must continue to tell us what is good for our states. This era is gone forever; our resources will remain for us and our populations.”

Similarly, Mali’s leader, Col. Assimi Goïta, the elected leader of the new alliance, said: “The attack on one of us will be an attack on all the other members.”

ECOWAS Deep Divisions

The timing of the new confederation announcement, ahead of the ECOWAS summit in Nigeria‘s capital, Abuja, reflects the deep division within the regional bloc.

Karim Manuel, an analyst for the Middle East and Africa with the Economist Intelligence Unit, said that despite ECOWAS efforts to maintain its unity, “the alliance between the three military junta-led countries will most likely remain outside the regional bloc as tensions continue to grow.”

The analyst added: “Attempts at mediation will likely continue nonetheless, notably led by Senegal’s new administration, but it will not be fruitful anytime soon.”

Observers believe that the regional bloc have lost support of West African citizens, who say they are not benefiting from their countries’ rich natural resources, to the extent that some of them celebrated the recent series of coups in the region.

The director of the Africa Program at the Washington-based Wilson Center, Oge Onubogu, pointed out that ECOWAS is largely seen as representing only the interests of its members’ leaders and not that of the masses.

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