The Nigerian President announced that the sanctions imposed on some countries had proven ineffective (Reuters)

After 7 months of economic blockade, freezing of bank accounts, closing of borders and the threat of military intervention, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided to calm down with the coup leaders in Niger.

During the extraordinary summit held in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, last week, the leaders of the Economic Community decided to lift most of the sanctions on Niger immediately. They also decided to lift the sanctions that were imposed on Guinea Conakry due to the coup led by Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya in 2021 against President-elect Alpha Conde.

In the same context, it canceled the decision that prohibited Malian citizens from working in bodies affiliated with the group, and the President of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, said that the sanctions that were imposed on some countries with the aim of returning their leaders to the negotiating table have proven ineffective and no longer serve any purpose and must be abandoned.

Observers saw this step as an acknowledgment of the organization's inability to impose its vision regarding the necessity of political stability and peaceful exchange of power.

The extraordinary ECOWAS summit was held in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, last week (Reuters)

Two decades of fighting coups

Throughout the past two decades, the organization has been keen to combat coups and carried the torch of the call for democratic life, and mobilized many means to do so.

Since 2000, ECOWAS has expanded its areas of intervention and moved from an instrument for economic integration to a body for combating coups and armed and military conflicts, by signing the protocol on establishing a conflict prevention mechanism, and forming an African force to intervene in times of crises known as the “ECOMOC Force.”

In 2004, the ECOMOC was transformed into a joint deterrence force, whose mission is to maintain security and stability in any country of the group that witnesses security disturbances or armed conflicts.

ECOWAS's vision regarding military interventions is based on the fact that security and political stability are the main factors in the success of the development and economic path for which the group was established.

In addition to its interventions in conflicts and wars, ECOWAS stood in the face of several African coups and intervened with its forces against the coup plotters in Guinea Bissau between the years 2012-2020 to deter the army from interfering in politics and to protect civilian leaders. It also sent forces of 631 individuals in the year 2022 to help stabilize the country after the coup. Failed in the same year.

When former Togolese President Eyadema Gnassingbé died and his son seized power unconstitutionally in 2005, a military force affiliated with the group intervened, forced the son to step down from power and supervised the elections that were organized within 60 days, in accordance with the country’s constitution.

In 2017, ECOWAS sent 7,000 military personnel to Gambia to force outgoing President Yahya Jammeh to relinquish power and hand over the presidency to President-elect Adama Barrow.

Economic sanctions

In a procedure similar to military intervention, ECOWAS adopted the principle of imposing economic sanctions on countries where power is seized through coups in order to restrict the coup plotters from implementing economic projects necessary for the countries, to isolate them externally, and to be provoked internally by the people.

ECOWAS imposed harsh sanctions on the state of Mali after the coups in August 2020 and May 2021. The sanctions included closing land and air borders and freezing the state’s assets in the organization’s commercial banks. It also summoned all ambassadors from Bamako in an attempt to isolate it diplomatically.

Following the 2021 coup in Guinea Conakry, the group imposed an economic blockade on the coup plotters, as a result of which the country was affected, and it entered into difficult economic crises represented by a shortage of food supplies, scarcity of fuel, and electricity outages.

After the July 2023 coup in Niger, ECOWAS besieged Niamey and cut off economic supplies, especially from Nigeria, which it depends on to supply 70% of its electrical needs.

At that time, Ahmadou Mohamedou (the overthrown prime minister in Mohamed Bazoum’s government) said that the country would not be able to withstand two weeks of ECOWAS sanctions, and added that Niger could not survive without foreign aid.

Challenge and risks of disintegration

When ECOWAS announced the imposition of sanctions on Niger and its intention to intervene militarily to restore power to civilians, the countries of Mali and Burkina Faso announced their stand against the group, and said that any attack on Niamey constitutes an attack against them.

In a move that analysts described as a painful blow to France and ECOWAS, Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso formed a tripartite alliance called the “Coalition of Sahel Countries,” which was announced through the “Liptago-Gourma Pact” on September 16, 2023 in Bamako.

Standing up to ECOWAS and its forces, Article 6 of the new alliance’s charter stipulates that “any targeting of the security and sovereignty of one of the three countries is an attack on all.” Instead of confronting Niger alone, the organization became, after the new declaration, confronting three countries ruled by leaders who came through coups. They are united by the doctrine of hostility with ECOWAS and France, and rapprochement and loyalty to Russia.

In the context of changing the balance of power, a group of new players entered the political arena in the West African region, which had been dominated by France for decades and was the only one to exploit its economic capabilities.

The United States has concluded military contracts with a number of countries, established the Agadez base in Niger, and has become a partner with Nigeria in fighting armed groups.

Moscow also emerged as a partner with Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso after the military coups, the results of which resulted in France’s nails being trimmed in the West African region, as French forces operating in the region were expelled and diplomatic relations with Paris in the three “Coalition of Sahel countries” were cut off.

When ECOWAS announced that it would intervene militarily in Niger, Russia threatened confrontation with it, as the Russian Foreign Ministry announced - in a statement - on August 11, 2023 that military intervention in Niger may lead to a long-term confrontation, and it also said that such intervention would cause destabilization in the Sahel region. In its entirety.

At the beginning of this year, Russia announced the formation of a military force under the name “African Corps,” numbering between 40 and 50 thousand soldiers. Its mission is to support the Russian presence and advocate for African governments towards independence.

In the context of opposition to ECOWAS’s approach to military intervention and imposing economic sanctions on Niger and Mali, Algeria stood against those decisions and expressed its unacceptance of any measure that could destabilize security in the region.

In light of these important shifts in the balance of power, the most important of which is the absence of the French presence that the organization relied on in its previous interventions in Guinea-Bissau and Gambia, as well as the formation of the joint defense pact between the coup leaders, the ECOWAS countries could not risk military action whose results might not be positive for everyone.

Scroll and review positions

At the end of last January, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso decided to withdraw from the economic group immediately.

In media statements, Colonel Amadou Abderrahmane, spokesman for the ruling military junta in Niger, said that ECOWAS has deviated from the ideals set by the founding fathers, which require the spirit of solidarity, fraternity and African unity, and he believed that the group did not help the three countries in their “existential war against terrorism.”

On February 13, General Abderrahmane Tiani said that the members of the Sahel States Alliance are determined to restore sovereignty to their countries, and they also intend to exit the unified currency of the West African region (the French franc) and establish a common currency among the countries of the new coalition.

These decisions were difficult for ECOWAS, because the population of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso represent 17.4% of the organization’s countries, in addition to owning 10% of the region’s gross product. Withdrawal will be one of the reasons for the decrease in the volume of trade exchange in the group’s market, and the disruption of trade between member states. , especially with regard to livestock and agricultural products.

The seriousness of the decisions taken by the withdrawing countries is magnified by the fact that they came in conjunction with the constitutional crisis that Senegal, a prominent country in the organization, is going through.

It seemed that these changes must be followed by concessions for the sake of calm within the West African community, and from that standpoint, the Abuja summit came to announce the lifting of sanctions and called for the necessity of reconciliation and a return to the dialogue and negotiation table.

Heads of state of the Sahel (from right) Abderrahmane Tiani, Captain Ibrahim Traoré and Assimi Goita (agencies)

Hamdi Jawara, a researcher in African political affairs, believes that the tripartite withdrawal of the Sahel countries from ECOWAS is what made the organization lift the sanctions and blockade without conditions.

Jawara believes that the goal of stopping the sanctions is to save the organization and the return of the three withdrawing countries.

At the opening session of the summit, Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu said, “We must review our approach to the return of constitutional order in 4 of our member states,” referring to Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Guinea Conakry.

In light of these developments, ECOWAS found itself facing difficult challenges that went beyond leaving democratic life to the dangers of disintegration and withdrawal, which led it to form committees to coordinate with regional organizations, civil society bodies, religious figures, and traditional leaders in order to pressure Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger to return to the organization.

Source: Al Jazeera + websites