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SANCTIONS LIFTED: ECOWAS EASES RESTRICTIONS ON COUP-AFFECTED COUNTRIES

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), West Africa’s regional bloc, announced on 25th February 2024 during a summit in Abuja, Nigeria that sanctions against Mali and Guinea would be lifted. According to ECOWAS Commission Chief Omar Alieu Touray, sanctions such as the no-fly zone, border closures, and asset freezes would be suspended “with immediate effect” on “humanitarian grounds”. This comes a day after travel, commercial and economic sanctions imposed on Niger by the regional bloc were lifted however, some targeted sanctions on some key figures remained in place. The ECOWAS leaders had met to address and resolve the political crisis in the region as well as the announcement in January by the military leaders in Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali to withdraw from the regional bloc. The move has been considered a sign of appeasement as ECOWAS attempts to persuade the three junta governments not to leave the regional bloc. ECOWAS also “further urges the countries to reconsider the decision in view of the benefits that the ECOWAS member states and their citizens enjoy in the community”. Former Nigerian Head of State and founder of ECOWAS, General Yakubu Gowon Rtd had earlier called on the removal of the sanctions on the four countries and warned ECOWAS was “threatened with disunity”. Economic Sanctions and Implications In response to the military coups in the region, ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) introduced rigorous sanctions on all three countries—and Burkina Faso. ECOWAS had earlier imposed sanctions on Mali to pressure the junta to return to constitutional order, although they were lifted in 2022 after a 24-month transition to democracy and a new electoral law was proposed. Regarding Niger, ECOWAS closed its borders and put stringent conditions after soldiers detained President Mohamed Bazoum on 26th July 2023 and installed a transitional administration. The sanctions, affected open movement and trade within the region, and restricted economic and social access. The sanctions forced Niger, to cut down government spending and default on debt payments of more than $500 million. Neighbouring Nigeria also cut off power which accounted for 70% of Niger’s total electricity supply in August 2023. The bloc also banned financial transactions with its member institutions in Guinea after Colonel Mamady Doumbouya ousted President Alpha Conde in 2021. Despite this, Guinea defied border closures imposed by ECOWAS and gave the Sahel states access to its port, enabling Mali to receive grain and fertiliser from Russia. The economic sanctions had broader implications for other countries in the region. According to reports, sanctions on Niger resulted in price hikes of a range of key goods in countries like Ghana. President Tinubu, President of Nigeria and Chairman of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government acknowledged the unintended implications of the sanctions and emphasised the need “must re-examine our current approach to the quest for constitutional order in four of our Member States”. Alliance des États du Sahel (Alliance of Sahel States) and ECOWAS exit In September last year, military leaders of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger formed the Alliance des États du Sahel (AES), in response to the threats of an ECOWAS military intervention in Niger after the military junta detained President Mohamed Bazoum. The resulting economic sanctions from both ECOWAS and WAEMU and tensions between juntas and ECOWAS exacerbated the geopolitical scenario, causing the AES to declare its immediate withdrawal from ECOWAS on 28th January 2024. The group also indicated that the sanctions were harming their people and also accused the bloc of being influenced by foreign governments. On the other hand, the exit of the AES from ECOWAS is projected to largely affect all ECOWAS projects and programmes worth more than $500m and $321.6m being executed by the region’s financial institutions. Additionally, the coup trend and fallout with ECOWAS increases the risk of political disorder and democracy and the spread of terrorism to the coastal states. There are also concerns that future juntas in the region would join the AES to evade ECOWAS demands to restore democracy fueling public resentment against the ECOWAS. Conclusion It is undeniable that the lifting of sanctions is a positive step in the right direction to promote dialogue between the juntas and the regional bloc. It is worth noting that the establishment of AES proved to be an effective bargaining tool in easing the sanctions on the military-led administrations and reducing pressure from ECOWAS to return to democratic rule. But the question remains, will the latest developments deter the AES from exiting from the ECOWAS regional bloc?

CURATED OSINT

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