Between military juntas and electoral regimes, West Africa is more fractured than ever. In forty-nine years of existence of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), never has such a divorce been expressed. On Sunday January 28, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger announced their “withdrawal without delay” from ECOWAS, in a joint press release read on the air of each of the three national television stations. The three military regimes justify this choice by the “illegal, illegitimate, inhumane and irresponsible sanctions” which, according to them, were imposed on them by the regional organization, “which has become a threat to its member states and populations.”

Following the coups committed in 2020 in Bamako, in 2022 in Ouagadougou and in 2023 in Niamey, ECOWAS, which until now brought together fifteen states, had suspended the three countries from its bodies and imposed heavy economic sanctions on Mali and Niger, which she had even threatened with military intervention.

ECOWAS reacted on Sunday evening by saying it was awaiting “formal and direct notification” of this joint withdrawal. If the juntas formulated their withdrawal decision orally and specified that it would be immediate, the texts of the regional body provide for a period of one year after written notification, to record the exit of a State from the ‘organization. The latter also said it was ready to “find a negotiated solution to the political impasse” in which these three countries find themselves, which remain for it “important members of the Community”.

This joint departure – unprecedented within ECOWAS since its creation in 1975, only Mauritania withdrew in 2000 – is a new mark of the desire of these three Sahelian military regimes to overhaul their alliances. The scenario is now known: these countries, which since September have been united within a new organization, the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), have demanded the departure of French soldiers and diplomats, while organizing demonstrations against ECOWAS sanctions, before announcing their exit from the G5 Sahel anti-terrorist alliance, and moving closer to Russia by sealing economic and security partnerships with it.

A path “strewn with pitfalls”

On the eve of the announcement of the withdrawal from ECOWAS, several ministers from the Burkinabe and Malian transitional governments were received in Niamey, Saturday January 27, by General Abdourahamane Tiani, the self-proclaimed president of Niger. “The path we took, it’s not the easiest path. It is strewn with pitfalls, there is no shortage of adversities but that in no way undermines our common determination to work so that our people truly regain dignity and sovereignty,” declared Jean Emmanuel Ouédraogo, the Minister of Communication of Burkina Faso. Faso.