• Niger, Mali, B’Faso withdrawal exposes ECOWAS failure to unite W’Africa

    Niger mali bfaso withdrawal exposes ecowas failure to unite wafrica - nigeria newspapers online
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    When the Economic Community of West African States was established in 1975 with 15 countries of the West African sub-region forming its member states, there was a major focus on creating an economic unification to lift living standards and uphold economic development, but this aim has remained unfulfilled. The situation has also been worsened by the withdrawal of some of its member states.

    Three member states of the regional bloc recently announced their withdrawal from the West African organisation as a result of the alleged ineptitude of the ECOWAS leadership. Notably, the member states who announced their withdrawal from the bloc are Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. These three nations were recently taken over by juntas. It was reported that during the recent coup that took place in these countries, the ECOWAS leadership was seen as not being fair in sanctioning the affected countries.

    It is, however, a blow for the bloc as the recent pullout by three countries has never been recorded since its establishment 49 years ago. There is no doubt that ECOWAS has become an authority where it intervenes in matters that threaten the peace of its members such as economy and security. This unanticipated exodus, if not controlled, could become a contagion where some other member states find the exit door of the bloc.

    The three countries have been at loggerheads with the bloc since the sporadic military coups that took place in Niger in July, Burkina Faso in 2022 and Mali in 2020. ECOWAS has implored the coup-led countries to return to civilian rule.

    Since these countries are hell-bent on returning to civilian rule, the bloc has suspended and sanctioned them. Also, it was gathered that they have been threatened with military interference.

    In a bid to resist neocolonial rule, it was noted that the three countries have distanced themselves from former colonial power like France, strengthened ties with Russia, and in September, they formed a mutual defence pact called The Alliance of Sahel States.

    The bloc had proposed the idea of the use of a single currency for the West African region. This was in an attempt to boost cross-border trade and economic development. The currency was proposed to be named ‘Eco’. However, since the idea was mooted 30 years ago, not much appears to have been done to achieve the onerous task of having a common West African currency and having a united voice in West Africa.

    The military regimes led by Ibrahim Traoré of Burkina Faso, Assimi Goita of Mali, and Abdourahamane Tiani of Niger Republic have cited several reasons for their withdrawal from the ECOWAS community a week ago, stating that the bloc had deviated from the focus of its founding fathers and the quintessence of the pan-African movement.

    The leaders of the Sahel nations have said that ECOWAS is collaborating with foreign powers, drifting away from the tenets of the bloc, thus undermining its values, which has resulted in a threat to joint nations.

    It was learnt that the bloc had not supported the Sahel nations in surmounting the jihadist pandemic in their countries.

    The three military leaders have argued that they want to restore security before organising elections as they struggled to contain jihadist insurgencies linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State. Niger’s military leaders have said they want up to three years for a transition back to civilian rule.

    Meanwhile, the military government in Mali pledged to hold elections in February, but that has now been pushed back to an unknown date. Burkina Faso has set elections for this summer, but authorities there say the fight against the insurgents remains the top priority.

    These member states contribute their quota to the trade volume. Now that Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger are no longer members, the reality is the income garnered by the ECOWAS will fall.

    It was gathered that in 2022, ECOWAS made $277.22bn with Burkina Faso contributing $4.55bn to exports and $5.63bn to imports, Mali, $3.91bn, and $6.45bn, and Niger $446.14m and $3.79bn.”

    On how to withdraw from the group, the ECOWAS treaty has it that for member states seeking to pull out from the bloc, there must be a written notice a year in advance and the country must continue to abide by its provisions during that year.

    Responding to the issue of withdrawal, ECOWAS noted that it had not yet received formal notification from the countries about their withdrawal from the economic community.

    Reacting to the shocking news of the withdrawal of three member states of the organisation, a retired Nigerian ambassador to Mexico, Ogbole Amedu-Ode, said the three countries defied stipulated laws and the leadership of the Economic Community responded accordingly.

    Amedu-Ode, however, stated that the actions taken by ECOWAS further disintegrated the member states rather than integrating them.

    He said, “They (ECOWAS) feel largely that these three countries have violated some of the rules and regulations and therefore, they took the appropriate actions. Having said that, it is important to note that in a situation like this, ECOWAS, instead of integrating the region or sub-region in West Africa is disintegrating it. From a 16-member organisation to 15 when Mauritania left to join the Arab Union, and now because of the political and democratic process being interrupted by military rule in these three countries, they decided to impose sanctions. That of Niger was particularly vicious because there was the threat of the use of force.”

    He noted that it was the sanctions and the threats that made these countries withdraw their membership from ECOWAS.

    Amedu-Ode said, “The three countries feeling the threats and sanctions of ECOWAS got themselves together to form a trilateral and they are pulling out by saying they want to exit ECOWAS as it is no longer serving their interests. This is a threat towards the existence of ECOWAS.”

    He advised that the leadership of ECOWAS should desist from using force as a response, adding that the only way to ensure everything went smoothly was to adopt negotiating measures. Amedu-Ode stated, “What ECOWAS should do is to negotiate instead of threatening these countries. The Economic Community should show statesmanship by displaying that it is in the interest of the individual countries and also of West Africa as a whole.

    “Recently, ECOWAS has focused on political troubles and economic challenges. If you look at it critically, the move to entrench a common currency failed because there was a betrayal from Cote d’Ivoire allegedly sponsored by France. Since then, the matter has been covered. Has ECOWAS discussed or tried to discuss this to know how to have a common currency that will unite, and integrate the entire sub-region? When a democratically elected leader amends a constitution to stay longer in office, what do we call that, a civilian coup?”

    Offering his view on the matter, a former Nigerian Ambassador to the Philippines, Yemi Farounbi, noted that every nation wanted to belong to an organisation that would contribute to its development. He said that ECOWAS had what it would take to make its member states benefit from it as an organisation.

    Farounbi said, “Countries want to belong to an association which is beneficial to them. Unfortunately, it is only the government in power that determines what is beneficial to the country. ECOWAS has politics, energy, industrialisation, and political relationships that can benefit all the countries. It also has political relationships with which they (member states) can work together and take common political viewpoints which will give it strength.

    “The pulling out of these countries is not because economic advantages are still out there. It is not because if the unified currency starts today, they will not benefit, or if there is a solar plant that supplies electricity, they will benefit from it. If there is a trans-Africa rail line, of course, they will benefit from it too. Once you begin to threaten them, they begin to equate the government interest with the national interest.”

    He added that there were many abandoned policies by the association, stressing that if the policies had worked, the three nations might find it difficult to depart. The ex-Ambassador believed that if ECOWAS had tackled the root cause of this departure such would not occur again.

    “There are many abandoned policies. For instance, the common currency; it should be imagined that the Eco currency has been in place like the Euro being used in Europe, it would have been difficult for three of them to pull out. But there is no common currency, there is no common economic policy and there are no noticeable advantages that the common man can relate to. That is why it is easy for them to call it quit with their association with Sahel countries. They are suffering from marine-related issues; desertification and increased banditry by the West African province or the Islamic states of the greatest Sahara. These are issues that ECOWAS should have collectively tackled and it would have been hard for these Sahel nations to pull out regarding the people writing off the opposite.

    Speaking further, he added that ECOWAS must show the character of its commitment to developing the nations under its jurisdiction. Farounbi said, “What ECOWAS must do now is to make it more relevant to the people. It should be smart enough to be saying they do not like a military regime that it is anti-democratic. When the civilians are not performing well, ECOWAS keeps quiet. Once the military throws away such civilian government, ECOWAS will begin to agitate.

    “They must realise that the circumstances of the country dictate the acceptability of the democratic civilian regime or the military regime. They must begin to do a peer review. This was being done during the time of former Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo and that has died down now. Nobody is leveraging civilian democracy in those countries to ensure that they do not completely alienate themselves from the people and that they do not create a disconnect from the people. They must not submit to the situation where they believe that military dictatorship is better than the so-called civilian government. If they do all of these, they will discourage more countries from leaving.”

    In this discourse, an expert in History and International Relations, Dr Wasiu Abiodun, said it was obvious that the Sahel nations were troubled.

    He said, “This (withdrawal of three countries from ECOWAS) simply shows that the region is troubled. The Sahel corridor in particular is troubled. ECOWAS as an abstract construct becomes meaningful to the extent that there are countries that make up that construct. If the organisation is troubled, the member countries will be troubled; then you would expect it would rub off on the organisation. The thing is that at the level of the sub-regional organisation, West Africa has not done well at the level of leadership. What you see in Niger, Burkina Faso reinforces the crisis of leadership, especially at the sub-regional level. The ECOWAS Chairman, for instance, does not have the moral ground to condemn what is going on in these countries.”

    He noted that what the juntas were against was the Western influence in the African political landscape. Abiodun added, “What the leadership in those countries is kicking against is the continuous Western influence infiltration. Of course, the nature of the international economy is such that is against these countries. If you look at France, for instance, they do not have gold in terms of natural resource endowment but they are getting gold. Where is it coming from?

    “These are fundamental issues these countries raised. You have foreign powers and multinationals having access to the riches and endowment of these countries and the activities do not rub off positively on the lives of the people. And you have them in power across the Sahel.”

    He termed the withdrawal and the military regime in these coup-captured countries as a resistance against the unending exploitation of their people.

    He stated, “So, what you see coming from the military is a way of saying, ‘Enough of the madness’. It has to be our resources for our people first. When Donald Trump came to power then, he came with this mantra – American first. Yes, these countries do not have it like the United States in terms of economic points and political clout, and they can determine their destiny. They can decide the trajectory they want to go in terms of the economic power they want to follow. Unfortunately, for other West African countries, they cannot see the bigger picture.

    “These Francophone countries’ leaders can see. I know the direction they are headed. It is a way of trying to do away with the international-level order that is skewed against them. But how far can they go? That is a fundamental question, but the objective is clear. Our resources must be exploited positively such that it reflects on the lives of our people.

    “They want to do away with the old order where you have the chronic of Western power conniving with this current power to exploit the resources of the people to starch them in cities like Paris for the betterment of their families; I am talking about the leadership now. Of course, there are chronicles too in these European capital cities.”

    He, however, enjoined all African leaders to be responsible in delivering the dividend of democracy. In his words, “These African leaders individually have to go back to their countries and begin to do the right thing. We cannot continue to use the mentality of ECOWAS to condemn Burkina Faso and Niger when in other West African countries; in Ivory Coast, in Nigeria, the challenges are as profound as what we have in Niger and Burkina Faso. So, we don’t have the moral ground. I feel that first thing first, these African leaders will have to go back to their own countries. Let the gold stone stand from the high country. Whatever message that is passed to the leadership in Niger, and Burkina Faso, we want to see those things being operationalised, and practised in our own countries too. If Nigeria is condemning Niger and Burkina Faso, on what ground? I want to see Nigeria take practical steps towards addressing the problems of corruption, problems of mismanagement of resources of the country.”

    Another university don and an expert in History and International Relations, Dr Dapo Thomas, said that integration could not be achieved by the approach of disintegration.

    The don said, “Discussing this issue, I feel sad that we still have some elements in Africa that believe that integration must come from the process of disintegration. This issue shows the level of the juntas’ political understanding. Sadly, it is unfortunate that the plans of an already existing association like ECOWAS are being stifled as it has been working tirelessly and relentlessly towards achieving regional integration economically, politically and culturally.”

    He commended the agitation of the coup leaders for faulting the ECOWAS on certain levels.

    Thomas said, “I respect their apprehension about ECOWAS’ inability to move at the speed they had expected but these are the types of things that take us backwards each time we are making progress. If they have plotted coups in their different countries to get to power, I do not see how this kind of integration can be achieved as quickly as possible by coming to power illegitimately. “

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