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West African junta leaders rule out rejoining ECOWAS

July 6, 2024

The military rulers of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger held a summit in Niamey, the first since the coups that saw them seize power. The neighbors quit the regional ECOWAS bloc in January, accusing France of interference.

Assimi Goïta, Abdourahamane Tiani and Ibrahim Traore
The three Sahelian strongmen are gathering for the first time since coming to power through coups between 2020 and 2023Image: Francis Kokoroko/REUTERS; ORTN - Télé Sahel/AFP/Getty; Mikhail Metzel/TASS/picture alliance

The military leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger said Saturday that they had no plans to rejoin the West African regional bloc.

The three juntas left the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in January, accusing the body of being manipulated by former colonial ruler France.

What did the junta chiefs say?

Speaking at the first gathering of its kind since military coups in all three countries, Niger's military leader Gen Abdourahmane Tchiani said the nearly 50-year-old ECOWAS has become "a threat to our states."

The three leaders agreed to strengthen their own union, the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), created last year amid fractured relations with neighbors.

"[It will be] an AES of the peoples, instead of an ECOWAS whose directives and instructions are dictated to it by powers that are foreign to Africa," Tchiani said.

Burkina Faso's leader Capt Ibrahim Traore went further, accusing Western countries of exploiting Africa.

"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," Traore said.

"The attack on one of us will be an attack on all the other members," Mali's leader Col. Assimi Goïta also said.

The meeting, which took place in Niger's capital Niamey, came on the eve of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) summit in Nigeria.


Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger sign defense pact

Sahel security a priority

The leaders also spoke about the Islamist insurgency in the Sahel region, which has been raging since 2014. They promised to consolidate their cooperation to quell the violence.

 "The AES is the only effective sub-regional grouping in the fight against terrorism," Tiani declared on Saturday, calling ECOWAS "conspicuous by its lack of involvement in this fight".

The Islamist violence triggered a humanitarian crisis in the Sahel, leaving more than 24 million people requiring assistance.

The trio quit the G5 Sahel Joint Force, established to fight regional Islamist groups in December, saying that France was not providing enough support for anti-jihadist efforts. 

As well as leaving ECOWAS and shifting away from Western allies, the three countries have started favoring partnerships with Russia and Iran.

Three coups in as many years

Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum was deposed in July 2023, and the junta said it would take three years to return to civilian rule.

In Mali's case, civilian rule was last in place before the first of two coups, in August 2020.

Burkina Faso's elected government was ousted in 2022. The country has not been put under sanctions and its current ruler, Captain Ibrahim Traore has allowed elections to take place this summer.

US pulling troops from Niger base

The US, meanwhile, said it would remove all forces and equipment from a small base in Niger this weekend, while fewer than 500 remaining troops will leave an important drone base in August, ahead of a September 15 deadline.

The drone base has been an important element of operations dealing with counterterrorism missions in the Sahel, targeting groups linked to al-Qaida and the so-called Islamic State.

Niger's ruling junta broke off its military cooperation agreement with the United States in March.

Niger: US military operations across the Sahel are at risk

mm, kb/rc (AP, AFP)