Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso Form Confederation, Reject Pleas to Return to ECOWAS

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NIAMEY, July 6 (Reuters) – Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso, three West African countries under military rule, have signed a confederation treaty, signaling their intention to chart a joint course independent of the regional economic bloc, ECOWAS, which has been pressuring them to return to democratic governance.

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The treaty was signed at the first summit of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), highlighting a closer alliance between the neighbors in the insurgency-plagued central Sahel. Military juntas took control in these countries between 2020 and 2023, severing military and diplomatic ties with regional allies and Western nations.

General Abdourahamane Tiani, Niger’s military leader, described the AES summit as “the culmination of our determined common will to reclaim our national sovereignty.” The formalization of the confederation treaty underscores the rejection by Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The signing comes a day before an ECOWAS summit aimed at persuading the three countries to reconsider their January decision to leave the bloc.

“Our peoples have irrevocably turned their backs on ECOWAS,” Tiani stated. “It is up to us today to make the AES Confederation an alternative to any artificial regional group by building … a community free from the control of foreign powers.”

The extent to which the AES will harmonize political, economic, and defense policies remains uncertain as it contends with a decade-old Islamist insurgency and seeks to grow some of the world’s poorest economies. In March, the three countries agreed to establish a joint force to address security threats. Their finance ministers have also considered creating a monetary union and expressed varying levels of support for abandoning West Africa’s CFA franc common currency.

ECOWAS has made diplomatic efforts to dissuade the three countries from leaving the 50-year-old alliance, fearing the reversal of decades of regional integration and a complex disentanglement from trade and services worth nearly $150 billion annually. The rift is linked to ECOWAS’s response to the coups with stringent sanctions and an unrealized threat to use force to restore constitutional rule in Niger last year.

Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso accuse ECOWAS of abandoning its founding ideals and providing insufficient support against Islamist insurgencies that have killed thousands and displaced over 3 million people.

The policies of the juntas have reshaped international influence in the central Sahel, with the three states fostering closer defense, diplomatic, and business ties with Russia, at the expense of former colonial power France, regional heavyweight Nigeria, and the United States. (Writing by Alessandra Prentice)

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