Junta leaders in the Sahel region mark divorce from West African bloc

Junta leaders in the Sahel region mark divorce from West African bloc
Junta leaders in the Sahel region mark divorce from West African bloc

The ruling general of Niger declared that the junta-led nations had “turned their backs on” the regional bloc as the military governments of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso celebrated their separation from the West African regional bloc (ECOWAS).

The three country’s leaders are taking part in the first summit of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), set up after pulling out of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) earlier this year.

“Our people have irrevocably turned their backs on ECOWAS,” Niger’s ruling General Abdourahamane Tiani told his fellow Sahel strongmen at the gathering’s opening in the Nigerien capital Niamey.

Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger set up the mutual defence pact in September, leaving the wider Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc in January.

Their ECOWAS exit was fuelled in part by their accusation that Paris was manipulating the bloc, and not providing enough support for anti-terrorist efforts.

“The AES is the only effective sub-regional grouping in the fight against terrorism,” Tiani declared on Saturday, calling ECOWAS “conspicuous by its lack of involvement in this fight”.

The exit came as the trio shifted away from former colonial ruler France, with Tiani calling for the new bloc to become a “community far removed from the stranglehold of foreign powers”.

All three have expelled anti-jihadist French troops and turned instead towards what they call their “sincere partners” – Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Given the deadly jihadist violence the three countries face, “the fight against terrorism” and the “consolidation of cooperation” will be on Saturday’s agenda, according to the Burkinabe presidency.

ECOWAS is due to hold a summit of its heads of state in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Sunday, where the issue of relations with the AES will be on the agenda.


After several bilateral meetings, the three Sahelian strongmen are gathering for the first time since coming to power through coups between 2020 and 2023.

In mid-May, the foreign ministers of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger agreed in Niamey on a draft text creating the confederation, which the heads of states are expected to adopt at Saturday’s summit.

Niger’s General Abdourahamane Tiani first welcomed his Burkinabe counterpart Ibrahim Traore in the capital on Friday, followed by Malian Colonel Assimi Goita who arrived Saturday.

Sahel military chiefs mark divorce from West Africa bloc

“Don’t expect many announcements, this is primarily a political event,” said Gilles Yabi, founder of the West African think tank Wathi.

“The aim is to show that this is a serious project with three committed heads of state showing their solidarity”.

In early March, AES announced joint anti-jihadist efforts, though they did not specify details.

Insurgents have carried out attacks for years in the vast “three borders” region between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, despite the massive deployment of anti-jihadist forces.

The trio have made sovereignty a guiding principle of their governance and aim to create a common currency.


Sunday’s summit comes as several West African presidents have called in recent weeks for a solution to resume dialogue between the two camps.

Notably, Senegal’s new President Bassirou Diomaye Faye said in late May that reconciliation between ECOWAS and the three Sahel countries was possible.

In June, his newly re-elected Mauritanian counterpart, President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, called on West African countries to unite again against the expansion of jihadism.

But successive summits on the same weekend raise fears of a stiffening of positions between AES and ECOWAS.

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“I do not see the AES countries seeking to return to ECOWAS. I think it’s ECOWAS will have to tone it down (the situation),” Nigerien lawyer Djibril Abarchi told AFP.

While AES is currently an economic and defence cooperation body, its three member countries have repeatedly expressed their desire to go further.

At the end of June, Colonel Goita assured that cooperation within the AES had taken “a path of no return” during a visit to Ouagadougou, Burkina’s capital.

The potential creation of a new common currency would also mean leaving behind the CFA franc they currently share with neighbouring countries.

“Leaving a currency zone is not easy,” warned Yabi. “Any country can change its currency, but it takes a lot of time and requires a clear political choice as well as a technical and financial preparation process”.

Issoufou Kado, a Nigerien financial expert and political analyst, agreed: “They have to be very careful because the mechanism takes time”.



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