Sahel states defect from ECOWAS

Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso announced they are withdrawing from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Jan. 28, issuing a joint statement saying they had taken a "sovereign decision" to abandon the regional bloc of which they were founding members in 1975. The three countries accused the bloc of failing to support their fight against "terrorism and insecurity," and imposing "llegal, illegitimate, inhumane and irresponsible sanctions." The statement also charged that ECOWAS has "drifted from the ideals of its founding fathers and the spirit of Pan-Africanism," and is now "under the influence of foreign powers." (BBC News, Al Jazeera)  This appears to be largely a veiled reference to France, with which all three countries have reduced or severed ties, although de facto bloc leader Nigeria is closer to the Anglo-American camp.

All three countries are led by military juntas after undergoing coups d'etat, which were condemned by ECOWAS, and resulted in their suspension from the bloc. The bloc has been particulary active in opposing the coup in Niger, imposing sanctions, and approving military intervention—although it has yet to follow through with any military action.

All three countries are also facing internal insurgencies—although not exclusively from jihadists. The day before announcing withdrawal from ECOWAS, Mali announced that it is abandoning a peace deal with ethnic Tuareg separatist rebels in the north of the country. The 2015 Agreement for Peace & Reconciliation in Mali was brokered by Algeria, which Mali now accuses of "interference" on behalf of the separatists, summoning the ambassador last month over the matter. 

All three countries have also moved closer under their respective military regimes to Russia, whose Wagner Group mercenary force is backing up a new Malian government offensive against the Tuaregs. (Al Jazeera, Jurist) A contingent of Russian soliders was just flown to Burkina Faso to provide personal security for junta leader Ibrahim Traore. (Sahara Reporters)

ECOWAS convenes extraordinary session

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said on Feb. 8 that the military-led overnments of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso did not abide by the rules for leaving the bloc. At the same time, regional ministers met to discuss the flight of the three nations from the bloc, which jeopardizes decades of integration. (Jurist)