Abuja, Nigeria — Analysts in West Africa are reacting to the sudden exit of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger from the regional economic bloc ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, and are raising security concerns. The three nations led by military juntas announced the withdrawal in a televised broadcast Sunday, accusing the regional body of becoming a threat to member states.
According to a joint communique issued by the military juntas of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, the withdrawal from ECOWAS after nearly half a century takes effect immediately.
They said the regional bloc — under the influence of foreign powers — betrayed its founding principles and failed to aid its member states in their fight against terrorism and insecurity.
They also criticized sanctions imposed on military regimes in the region by ECOWAS.
But soon after the announcement, ECOWAS said it had yet to receive an official notice from the member states. The bloc said it remained committed to finding a negotiated solution to the political impasse.
Nigerian security analyst Jaye Gaskia said there will be implications.
“The withdrawal of members of ECOWAS would have implications on ECOWAS itself in terms of its mandate and purpose for integration to ensure joint security and economic integration,” said Gaskia. “I think this is a lesson — that ECOWAS needs to have protocols and mechanisms in place to begin to respond to that situation of insecurity and instability before it leads to a point where governments are actually overthrown. I ask this question — at what point is the constitution of a country actually subverted? Is it at the point where leaders become irresponsible or is it when [the] military responds to that?”
The 15-nation bloc was created in 1975 to promote economic integration among member states.
ECOWAS, however, has struggled in recent years to reverse a wave of military takeovers in the region, including Mali in 2020 and 2021, Burkina Faso in 2022 and in Niger last year.
ECOWAS rules state that withdrawal from the bloc takes up to one year to be finalized.
Criticism had been growing over the bloc’s strict sanctions against Niger, including the threat of force following the July ouster of President Mohamed Bazoum.
Idayat Hassan, a senior associate in the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said there’s a lesson for the regional bloc.
“What ECOWAS should really learn is that the juntas are very strategic and at no point should we take these kinds of leaders for granted especially since they started this whole idea of the Alliance of Sahel States,” said Hassan. “What happens to the currency? There are a lot of buts and ifs. But it’s not also something that is as easy as the junta is making it to be.”
Last September, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso formed a bloc known as the Alliance of Sahel States and vowed to tackle armed groups in their countries.
Gaskia said the decision to operate outside the regional bloc will not be easy and could lead to more challenges.
“This withdrawal is not in the best interest of the three countries or ECOWAS because if ECOWAS is not providing the enabling environment for your security, what’s the alternative they’re looking at? And that’s where I think ECOWAS needs to become very worried,” said Gaskia. “So, who do their countries turn to for security? Russia? China?”
Since the political impasse, the three countries have drawn closer to Russia, distancing themselves from formal colonial power France.