The West African nations of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso announced Sunday they are leaving regional bloc ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, that has been pressing them to return to democratic rule.
The junta leaders of the three Sahel nations said in a joint statement that it was a “sovereign decision” to leave the ECOWAS “without delay,” because the bloc, they said, has imposed “inhumane” sanctions against their countries.
They accused ECOWAS of having “moved away from the ideals of its founding fathers and Pan-Africanism” after nearly 50 years of its establishment and claimed that the bloc is “under the influence of foreign powers.”
ECOWAS suspended the three countries following military coups that overthrew their democratically elected governments — in Niger last July, in Burkina Faso in 2022 and in Mali in 2020 and 2021.
Since then, the three countries have formed a defense pact called the Alliance of Sahel States which commits each to come to the other’s aid, in defense of its territorial integrity, from internal and external aggression. They have also cut military and cooperation ties with former colonial power France and turned to Russia for security support.
France’s decision to withdraw troops from the Sahel — the region along the Sahara Desert across Africa — has increased worries over conflicts spreading southward to Gulf of Guinea states Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Togo.
Struggling with jihadi violence and poverty, the autocratic rulers have argued that their priority is to establish security before restoring democracy in their respective countries, which struggle to contain insurgencies linked to al-Qaida and Islamic State.
In the statement, Niger junta spokesperson Colonel Amadou Abdramane said that ECOWAS “notably failed to assist these states in their existential fight against terrorism and insecurity.”
The trilateral decision of the countries to withdraw from the organization delivers a blow to its regional integration efforts, creating uncertainty on how this exit will impact the bloc, where goods and citizens move freely.
According to the bloc’s treaty, member states wishing to withdraw must give a written one-year notice. Until then, the countries must continue to abide by the treaty provisions.
The three countries are also members of the eight-nation West African Monetary and Economic Union, UEMOA, that uses the West African CFA franc pegged to the euro.