In a significant development in West Africa, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger have announced their departure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). This decision marks a historic moment as it is the first time three countries have simultaneously exited the regional bloc since its inception. The leaders of these countries, Captain Ibrahim Traoré of Burkina Faso, Colonel Assimi Goïta of Mali, and Brigadier General Abdourahamane Tiani of Niger, have expressed their dissatisfaction with ECOWAS, accusing it of straying from its original Pan-Africanist ideals and being influenced by external powers.
The move comes in the wake of ECOWAS imposing sanctions on these nations in response to their military takeovers, a move they regard as unjust. They have criticized ECOWAS for failing to support them in their fight against terrorism and insecurity, and for imposing sanctions that they consider illegal and irresponsible. These sanctions, they argue, have exacerbated the hardships faced by their already struggling populations.
This announcement follows the precedent set by Mauritania, which left ECOWAS in December 2000 and rejoined in 2019. The withdrawal of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, effective immediately, has caused a stir across the region and beyond, raising concerns among diplomats, stakeholders, and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs). These groups have identified Nigeria and ECOWAS as the biggest losers in this situation.
Despite the suspension of these countries from ECOWAS, and the imposition of heavy sanctions on Niger and Mali, they have recently formed the “Alliance of Sahel States” and have taken a more defiant stance. The withdrawal of French military forces from the Sahel region has further heightened concerns about the spread of conflict to other West African states.
Various experts and officials have reacted to this development, offering insights into its implications. International law expert Komeh Kure explained that according to ECOWAS rules, a one-year notice is required for withdrawal, meaning the exit would not be official until January 2025. Senator Shehu Sani described the withdrawal as a setback for West Africa and a failure of diplomacy. Other scholars and professionals have highlighted the potential impact on trade, security, and regional cooperation, with some predicting the countries will eventually return to the bloc.
The situation underscores the challenges faced by ECOWAS in maintaining unity among its member states and addressing the diverse and complex issues that affect the region. The withdrawal of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger serves as a reminder of the need for regional organizations to remain responsive to the needs and aspirations of their member states.