ECOWAS lifts sanctions on Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso in advance of the Holy month of Ramadan

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which previously threatened military action against the rebel states of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso in July 2023, after the overthrow of the former governments, has rescinded its imposed economic sanctions against the three states in a bid it says, to maintain regional unity and security.

Increasing economic desperation will raise the possibility of upheaval

The announcement came at the end of an ‘extraordinary’ session of ECOWAS member states, held in Abuja on the weekend and was cognisant of the impact the sanctions were having on the well being of the ordinary citizens of the three states with the Holy month of Ramadan approaching.

The statement released by ECOWAS officials seemed more to focus on the major security gap which now prevailed, since the announcement by the three states at the end of January, that they were withdrawing their membership of ECOWAS.

ECOWAS is simply responding to the threat of contagion

The overwhelming concern of ECOWAS member states since the withdrawal of the three states, has been the threat of contagion across the Sahel – with the risk in particular that Malian and Burkina migrants may ferment anti-western sentiments, widespread unrest and potentially other overthrows in Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal and other Western African states. These fears have been heightened with elections pending in Ghana and the recent postponement of elections in Senegal, notwithstanding the prevailing economic crisis affecting the whole region – which has now been subject to acute food and fuel shortages as a result of the war in Ukraine, the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic and the huge surge in population growth. There is a concern that the region will see a rerun of the spate of military coups, which marked the 1970’s, when drought, corruption and lack of development achievements, spurred a population to look for alternatives.

The lifting of sanctions is seen as a precursor to the reintegration of the three states into ECOWAS

The latest ECOWAS concession must therefore be viewed in the context of a likely series of prolonged negotiations, with the withdrawals merely a bargaining chip to ensure favourable recognition after a predicted reintegration into ECOWAS.  It is also reasonable to assume that former colonial powers and western interests, still maintain their influence and will be concerned about the growing influence of both Russia and China in the region. Burkina Faso has recently welcomed over 1,000 Russian mercenary soldiers onto its territories – under the guise of the newly formed ‘African Corps’, previously recognised as members of the Wagner Group. Niger is also said to be in negotiations with similar mercenary military groups to ostensibly fill a vacuum in the states anti-terror task force.


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