By Paul Ejime
Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have rejected a joint request by Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso to lift sanctions imposed on them and their suspension of membership following the military takeover of governments in the three countries.
“The Authority of Heads of State and Government decided to maintain the existing sanctions on all three countries, and to impose a travel ban on members of government and other senior officials on all three countries,” said a Communique, following a summit of the regional bloc on the margin of the African Union’s meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on Saturday, 18th February 2023.
Officials of the three countries met in Ouagadougou the Burkinabe capital recently and agreed to strengthen partnerships among the three embattled nations.
This was shortly after the military government in Burkina Faso expelled the French Ambassador in Ouagadougou following Mali’s example last year in what observers see as growing anti-French sentiments in its former African colonies.
The foreign ministers of Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso had travelled to the Ethiopian capital on joint a diplomatic push for the readmission of their three countries by the African Union and ECOWAS, and the lifting of sanctions imposed by ECOWAS, including a freeze on financial credits and limited contacts with other members of the 15-nation community.
In addition to rejecting their requests, the ECOWAS summit also called on the African Union, the United Nations and other international partners to support the implementation of ECOWAS decisions on the three countries, which are running different but delayed political transition programmes including elections for the restoration of constitutional order.
The three are under military rule following two military coups in Mali in 2020 and 2021, one in Guinea in 2021 and two in Burkina Faso in 2022.
ECOWAS leaders also agreed in principle to support transition programmes and efforts to ease the humanitarian crises in the three countries, but “totally reject the unilateral action taken by the Transitional Authority in Guinea in respect to the implementation of the transition roadmap.”
In response to the pervasive insecurity in the Sahel and the ECOWAS region characterized by terrorism and deadly attacks by Islamic Jihadist and separatist armed groups, the leaders called on the President of the ECOWAS Commission to engage with member states to agree on the modalities for mobilization of USD1 billion mandatory contributions towards counter-terrorism efforts under the 2020-24 Plan of Action.
They also reiterated their “concerns over the flow of illicit arms and ammunition, including improvised explosive devices and unmanned aerial vehicles, into the region, which enable violent extremists and terrorist and other armed groups to control a large swathe of territory and terrorize communities.”
On the establishment of a regional force against terrorism and for the restoration of constitutional order, the leaders urged the President of the ECOWAS Commission to work with the affected member States on the outcome of the recent extraordinary meeting of the regional committee of Chiefs of Defence Staff and Chiefs of Intelligence on the way forward.
Apart from the problem of raising troops, the two existing ECOWAS military missions in The Gambia and Guinea Bissau are also facing funding challenges, which are likely to bedevil another regional force, coupled with the non-operationalization of the ECOWAS Standby Force as envisaged.
The Communique also “noted the progress made and challenges being encountered in electoral processes” in three ECOWAS member states – Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which are holding crucial presidential elections this year.
It further called for the urgent review of the Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance towards strengthening democratic conduct and stability in the region.
The Protocol has provisions on ‘zero-tolerance’ for seizing power through unconstitutional means.
However, critics say the application of protocol relates more to military coup plotters but is silent against “constitutional or political coups” carried out by leaders, who rig elections, commit human rights violations and alter national constitutions and electoral laws at will to obtain or retain power, or the so-called “third-term presidency syndrome.”
Meanwhile, Comoros’ President Azali Assoumani has replaced Senegal’s Macky Sall as the rotational Chairperson of the African Union during the summit, which was overshadowed by the unceremonious ejection of the Israeli delegation.
The head of the continental organization, Chad’s Moussa Faki Mahamat had taken the unusual step of granting the Jewish state an Observer status at the AU last year, against strong opposition from some powerful members of the organisation.