Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso military leaders sign new deal, reject ECOWAS | Conflict News

Military leaders from Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger welcomed the newly signed treaty as a step “towards greater integration” between the three countries, marking the latest sign of their departure from traditional regional allies and the West.

At a summit in Niger’s capital, Niamey, on Saturday, the three leaders signed a federal treaty aimed at strengthening the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), a mutual defense pact announced last year.

The signing marked the conclusion of the first joint summit between the three leaders — Niger’s Gen. Abdouramane Chiani, Burkina Faso’s Capt. Ibrahim Traore and Mali’s Col. Assimi Goita — since they seized power in successive coups in the bordering West African countries.

The announcement also came just months after the three countries withdrew from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc in January.

Speaking at the summit on Saturday, Ciani called the 50-year-old ECOWAS a “threat to our nations.”

The West African Economic Block had suspended trade between the three countries following the establishment of military regimes in Niger in July 2023, Burkina Faso in September 2022 and Mali in August 2021.

ECOWAS has also imposed sanctions on Niger and Mali, but leaders in the bloc hope the three countries will eventually be reinstated.

“We will create an AES of the people, not an ECOWAS where dictates and orders are given to us by a power foreign to Africa,” Ciani said.

Burkina Faso’s Traore also accused foreign powers of trying to exploit the two countries. The three nations have frequently accused former colonial power France of meddling in ECOWAS.

“Westerners think that we belong to them and that our wealth belongs to them. They think that it is they who continue to dictate to us what is good for our country,” he said.

“This era is over forever. Our resources will remain for us and our people.”

Mali’s Goita, meanwhile, said closer ties meant “an attack on one of us is an attack on all other members”.

Changes in influence

NDMT’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from Abuja on Saturday, noted that the three military leaders met just one day before ECOWAS was scheduled to meet in the Nigerian capital.

Idris said efforts to broker the countries’ return to the EU would be discussed.

“Many believe that the Niger conference is a counter to whatever is coming. [from] “We also made it clear that we will not rejoin ECOWAS and the Economic Community of West African States.”

Idriss added that Senegal’s new president, Bashir Diomae Faye, had recently visited the three countries in an unofficial capacity in an attempt to repair ties.

“But it’s not clear whether he got a positive response,” he said.

Adama Gay, a political commentator and former director of communications for ECOWAS, said the creation of the three-nation Sahel Alliance had “weakened” the economic bloc.

Yet Gay told NDMT, “Despite what ECOWAS is known by, it has not achieved enough in terms of achieving regional integration, boosting intra-African trade in West Africa and ensuring regional security.”

“This validates the feelings of many in West Africa. [the] Even ordinary citizens and intellectuals [who are] “We ask the question of whether the ECOWAS position should be revised and restructured,” he said, urging the EU to engage in diplomacy to bridge the rift.

Violence and instability

The Niamey summit came a day before the United States is scheduled to complete its withdrawal from its main base in Niger, underscoring how new military leaders have rebuilt the security ties that have defined the region in recent years.

Militant groups linked to al-Qaida and ISIL (ISIS) are vying for control of territory in all three countries, sparking a wave of violence and worrying Western capitals.

However, ties between the two countries and Western governments have weakened following the recent coups.

French troops will complete their withdrawal from Mali in 2022 and left Niger and Burkina Faso last year.

Meanwhile, U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Kenneth Ekman said earlier this week that about 1,000 military personnel would complete their withdrawal from Niger’s 101st Air Base by Sunday.

The United States is also in the process of withdrawing another $100 million drone base near Agadez in central Niger, which officials say is vital for gathering intelligence on militant groups in the region.

Military leaders in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali are increasingly pursuing security and economic ties with Russia while pushing back against former Western allies.

But it is unclear whether the new approach has helped halt the violence that has plagued the countries, which are home to some 72 million people.

According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) tracking system, Burkina Faso saw a significant escalation of violence in 2023, with more than 8,000 people killed.

According to ACLED, Niger’s modest gains against armed groups have been significantly reversed since the coup.

Meanwhile, attacks by Malian forces and Wagner mercenaries involved “factions” of groups linked to the Russian government “who were responsible for the indiscriminate killing of hundreds of civilians, the destruction of infrastructure, looting of property and triggering mass displacement,” ACLED said.

Fighting in each country has forced around three million people to flee.

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