West African Junta Leaders Cut Ties With Ecowas, Deepening Regional Tensions

(Bloomberg) -- Three junta-led nations in West Africa are pulling out of the region’s political and economic bloc, further isolating their military regimes.

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Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso in a joint statement Sunday said the Economic Community of West African States under the influence of “foreign powers” had become a “threat to its member states” and therefore decided to withdraw from the bloc with immediate effect.

The bloc had “failed to assist” the three countries, which are battling a sprawling Islamist insurgency, in their “existential fight against terrorism and insecurity,” Col. Abdoulaye Maiga, Mali’s government spokesman said in a statement on state television.

Ecowas said it remains committed to find a negotiated solution to the “political impasse.” The bloc hadn’t received the necessary one year notice from its three member states wishing to withdraw, it said in a statement.

The regional bloc has pushed for a return to civilian rule since military coups in all three nations, creating tension with military leaders. Last year, the three countries moved to create a new security alliance.

Ecowas had been negotiating with Niger to return to democracy while Mali and Burkina Faso were scheduled to hold elections this year, according to agreements with the union, which introduced far-reaching economic and diplomatic sanctions in an attempt to convince the juntas to hand over power.

Following the July coup in Niger, which has been a crucial security partner to the US and its Western allies, Ecowas threatened to use military force to restore democratic order if talks fail.

Maiga on Sunday criticized the regional bloc calling the sanctions “illegitimate, inhumane and irresponsible.”

Members of the 15-member Ecowas bloc benefit from free movement of persons, goods and capital, and a common market. Eight countries are also members of the West African Monetary Union with a common currency.

“After leaving the regional bloc, a withdrawal from the regional monetary union seems more inevitable,” Aly Tounkara, executive director of the Center for Security and Strategic Studies in the Sahel, said by phone from Bamako. Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso “will find themselves in a difficult situation with some of their traditional partners both diplomatically and economically,” he said.

Following the military power grabs, the three countries’ respective military leadership severed ties with France, the former colonial power, and moved closer to Russia. The Kremlin-linked Wagner Group has operated in Mali since late 2021. This week 100 Russian military personnel arrived in Burkina Faso, the first large deployment to the country of a planned force three times that size.

--With assistance from Diakaridia Dembele and Baudelaire Mieu.

(Updates with Ecowas comment in fourth paragraph)

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