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Sunday, 25 February 2024 07:29

Why ECOWAS lifted sanctions on Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso

Regional body says political, targeted sanctions still in force

Highlights possible losses to three exiting countries, citizens


Citing humanitarian considerations, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) yesterday resolved to lift some of the sanctions it had imposed on Niger, Mali and Guinea, following the unconstitutional change of government in the countries.

An Extraordinary Summit of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS took the decision yesterday in Abuja.

President of the ECOWAS Commission, Dr Omar Alieu Touray, who read the communiqué of the summit, said the review of the sanctions was predicated on the biting effects of the financial and economic sanctions on the masses, especially during the ongoing Lent and the forthcoming Ramadan.

President Bola Tinubu, speaking at the summit, asked Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger to reconsider their recent decision to pull out of ECOWAS.

The organisation reiterated its call for the immediate release of Niger Republic’s ousted President Mohammad Bazoum from detention.

However, the political and targeted sanctions are still in force against the countries.

The ECOWAS had imposed a long list of sanctions on the military junta in Niger last July, following the ouster of Bazoum and his subsequent incarceration.

Mali and Burkina Faso had earlier been hit by other ranges of sanctions before the episode in Niger Republic.

The three countries announced the withdrawal of their membership of ECOWAS on January 28, 2024, alleging that the regional body had come under foreign influence, which had turned it into a threat to member-states.

They had earlier on 16th of September, 2023 announced the formation of the Alliance of Sahel States, a counter-regional organisation, said to be a mutual defense pact among the countries.

Guinea, another member-state of the ECOWAS organisation, which has been under military rule since September 2021, also experienced a panic incidence on Monday when its military ruler, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, dissolved his cabinet and ordered the borders shut.

Touray said while the political and targeted sanctions on Niger Republic remain, the regional bloc lifted some financial and economic sanctions on Guinea and some targeted sanctions on Mali.

Reading the communiqué, Touray said: “The Authority calls for the immediate release of His Excellency Mohammed Bazoom, former President of the Republic of Niger.

“The Authority also calls on the transition authorities in Niger to provide an acceptable transition timetable to the constitutional order.”

On sanctions, Touray said the Authority resolved to lift with immediate effect the following measures imposed on the Republic of Niger: “Closure of land and air borders between ECOWAS countries and Niger to be lifted, no Fly Zone of all commercial flights to and from Niger is to be lifted and suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS member states and Niger is to be lifted.”

The Authority, he said, also resolved that the “freezing of all service transactions including utility services would be lifted.

“Freezing of assets of the Republic of Niger in ECOWAS Central banks is to be lifted.

“Freezing of assets of Niger State and the state enterprises and parastatals in commercial banks is to be lifted.

“Suspension of Niger from all financial assistance and transactions with all financial institutions particularly ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) and BIRD is to be lifted.

“Travel ban on the government officials and their family members is also to be lifted.

“The Authority has also resolved to lift the sanctions regarding the recruitment of Malian citizens in statutory and professional positions within ECOWAS.

“The Authority has also resolved to lift financial and economic sanctions on the Republic of Guinea.

“The Authority has also instructed the President of the Commission to invite Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali and Guinea to attend the technical and consultative meetings of ECOWAS as well as all security related meetings.

“The authority calls on ECOWAS institutions, member states, the United Nations Mine Action Office (UNMAO) and other regional institutions to implement this decision.”

On the withdrawal of the three countries, Touray said: “The Authority noted the notifications by the three member states within the context of Article 91 of the 1993 ECOWAS revised treaty and urged the countries to reconsider the decision in view of the benefits that the ECOWAS member states and their citizens enjoy in the community.

“The Authority expresses its concern over the socio-economic, political, security and humanitarian impact of the decision, particularly on the citizens of the three countries and on the regional integration process.

“The Authority further urges the three member states to resort to dialogue, negotiations and mediation to address their concerns.

“The Authority urges the three member states to adhere to the provisions of the 1993 revised treaty relating to withdrawal particularly article 91.

“The Authority encourages ECOWAS to sustain its rapprochement and overtures towards the three member states and continue to remain seized of the situation.

“The Authority or just ECOWAS to engage African Union, UNMAO, UN and other international organisations in its dialogue with the three countries.

“The Authority encourages a broader outreach, which should include traditional, religious leaders, eminent personalities, civil society and women leaders for the unity and security of the region.

“The Authority reiterates the urgent need for ECOWAS to expedite the operationalization of the standby force in its kinetic mode to fight against terrorism in the region including the elements of the Multinational Joint Task Force, and the Accra initiative.

“In this regard, the Authority instructs its commission as soon as possible to convene the meeting of ministers of finance and defense to propose modalities for financing and equipping counterterrorism force.

“The Authority further instructs the commission to develop an effective communication strategy in engaging member states and the community citizens in view of the ongoing disinformation and misinformation that put ECOWAS in a bad light.”

The Authority expressed gratitude to Nigeria’s former military leader, General Yakubu Gowon, for “his interest in the welfare of the community and his valuable suggestions.”

Gowon, who was instrumental to the formation of ECOWAS in May 1975, recently visited President Tinubu during which the state of the organisation was discussed.

The ECOWAS Authority also yesterday took note of the end of President Mackey Sell’s term of office on April 2, 2024, and commended him for the “tremendous development he has realised as President of Senegal, and for his invaluable leadership in Africa and the world.”

It asked Senegalese stakeholders to “give priority to dialogue with a view to preserving the democratic gains of Senagal, through free, inclusive and transparent elections.

Touray said the Authority commended President Bola Tinubu and chair of the ECOWAS Authority for convening the extraordinary summit and for the manner in which he has been conducting the affairs of the community as chair of authority.”

Asked if the lifting of the sanctions might portray ECOWAS as weak and thus encourage others with similar tendencies, he said “now, let me make it very clear. What I have listed is not exhaustive. Political sanctions have not been lifted. Border closures have been lifted. And commercial sanctions have been lifted. But there are targeted sanctions as well as political sanctions. That remains in force.

“I think our sanctions regime should be assessed correctly. The list I have given relates mainly to Niger because all the other countries still have political sanctions on them.

“So the border closures, the commercial sanctions and all that are on leisure and that is what the leaders have decided to lift. But individual sanctions as well as political sanctions remain in place in Niger.

“Now for other countries, political sanctions remain. That is the limited ability to attend ECOWAS Summit as well as ministerial sessions,” he explained

The Authority also lifted sanctions on Guinea, inviting all four countries to attend technical consultative meetings of ECOWAS going forward.

Highlighting the various implications of the planned withdrawal by the three countries from the community, he noted that besides losing economic, security and development benefits that accrue to member states, there will also be personal losses to nationals of the countries across the region.

According to him, pulling out of the community might result in the halt or the suspension of all ECOWAS projects and programmes worth more than $500 million, various regional projects being executed by the region’s financial institutions, worth about $321.6 million may be halted, while they may be exited from the regional electricity market, known as the West African Power Pool project.

He also said besides the countries losing national benefits within the region, citizens of the countries, about 130 of whom are employees of the ECOWAS, would lose their job to the exit of their countries from the community, just as seven regional entities with offices in the countries would also need to be shut down.


Tinubu calls for suspension of sanctions on Guinea, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso

At the opening of yesterday’s summit, President Tinubu had made a case for the suspension of economic sanctions imposed on Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea by ECOWAS.

Tinubu is the Chairman of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS.

Recalling the circumstances that led to the imposition of the sanctions, Tinubu said: “Everything we did was in hopes of persuading our brothers that there existed a better path, a path that would lead to genuine improvement of their people’s welfare through democratic good governance.

And this was a path each of our nations had solemnly agreed with one another pursuant to formal regional treaty and protocol.

“However, the sanctions that we contemplated might help lead our brothers to the negotiating table have become a harsh stumbling block. In my mind and heart, that which is hurtful yet ineffective serves no good purpose and should be abandoned.

“ECOWAS was established for the unassailable objective of improving the lives of the people of this region through fraternal cooperation among all member states. This edifice was cemented on the strong foundation and apt conviction that united as one we can be the true masters of our destiny.”

The President explained that ECOWAS took the steps it based on the regional ideals of security, social stability, democratic governance, political freedom, broad-based prosperity and sustainable economic development through fair opportunity for each and every one in West Africa.

He said neither hatred nor hidden motive influenced the steps taken and that there was never any intention to douse or undermine the legitimate political aspirations of any member state or to advance the interests of any outside party.

In calling for the suspension of sanctions, President Tinubu stressed: “We must take note of the approach of the holy month of Ramadan and of Lent. Whether you pray in the mosque or in the church, this represents a time for compassion, hope, and harmony. It is a time that we must not only seek God but also a closer relationship with brother and neighbour.

“In the Spirit of the holy month and of the Lenten period, and with hearts bestirred by goodwill towards all our people, let us extend a hand as brothers and friends to those in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea.

“What I suggest in real and practical terms is that we, my colleagues and fellow heads of state in ECOWAS, indefinitely suspend economic sanctions against Niger, Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso and against the leadership of the military authorities in those nations.”

The President asked that ECOWAS facilitate the unfettered flow of foodstuffs, medicines and other humanitarian items to the people of these nations, especially to the most vulnerable, adding that for Nigeria, this will also mean the prompt resumption of export of electric power to Niger.

“In this vein, suspension of sanctions is an important but initial step. What we seek is more than the breaking of the diplomatic logjam. We must use this very moment when things seem tense and progress unavailing, to forge greater cooperation within our community.

“We not only reach out to our brothers. Today, we say unto them — let us begin to work more earnestly together for the economic development of our people and towards confronting those modern challenges that respect no borders or boundaries. Challenges ranging from climate change to violent extremism to illegal pilfering of our precious natural resources require that we join together in progress or we fail separately.

“As leaders of ECOWAS, we have accepted the honour and duty to draft the history of the region and its people during our tenure in office. We have also accepted the honour and duty to reach out to our brothers, letting them know this regional home belongs to us all. I shall do my utmost in this regard. I humbly beseech that you do the same.

“For these reasons, we must suspend sanctions and return to brotherly dialogue. I call on the leadership in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and Niger to embrace the hand extended.”

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