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West Africa and Sahel

ECOWAS’ reasons for lifting sanctions on Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso

The need to maintain regional unity and security has been identifies as the major reasons for lifting sanctions on Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, by the Economic Community of West African State​s (ECOWAS).

The other reasons were the spiritual seasons of Christians’ Lent and the approaching month of Ramadan which would impact on citizens as well as the pleas received from prominent leaders, including retired Gen. Yakubu Gowon, former Nigeria’s Head of State.

President of the ECOWAS Commission, D​r Omar Touray, proffered the reasons on Saturday in Abuja at the end of the extraordinary session of the Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS.

”The authority takes note that the withdrawal will have political, social, socio economic, financial and institutional implications for the three countries as well as for ECOWAS as a region.

”The authority recall​s that within the framework of regional cooperation against terrorism, violent extremism and organised crime, the three countries benefited from about 100 million US dollars mobilised by UMR within the context of ECOWAS plan of action against terrorism.

”Moreover, some funds allocation, about 7.5 million U.S. dollars is being made towards supporting the three countries in acquiring the equipment to help their fight against terrorism.

”The withdrawal will affect security cooperation in terms of sharing intelligence and participation in regional counterterrorism initiatives.

”Such as the Accra initiative, and the Multinational Joint Task Force,’‘ he said.

Touray added that the withdrawal of the countries from the sub-regional bloc would lead to diplomatic and political isolation at the international scene where the countries have obtained support for their candidates in the contest for international positions.

”The authority recognises that the withdrawal will automatically affect the immigration status of the citizens, as they may be required to obtain visas to travel around the region.

”Citizens may no longer be able to reside or set up businesses under ECOWAS arrangement and may be subject to diverse national laws.

The three countries will cease to use ECOWAS passports across biometric national identity cards, and the brown card vehicle insurance.

”The authority recognises that the three member states represent 17.4

per cent of the region’s 425 million population.

Even though they represent 10% of the region’s GDP, their departure will constitute a reduction of the market size of ​ECOWAS.

He said that the ​sanctions w​ere lifted to promote trade and benefits derived from​ several regional projects and programmes including the Regional Food Security Reserve.

”The regional support programme for powerful pastoralism in the Sahel, which is being funded by the World Bank to the tune of 215 million US dollars is also a project that benefits the three countries.

”The three countries also benefit from the Sahel regional irrigation support programme, which is being funded by the World Bank to the tune of 103 million US dollars.

”The three regional food systems resilient support programme in the amount of 230 million, funded by the World Bank is also benefiting the three countries.

”West African single identity and regional integration and inclusion project is another programme that the three countries benefit from.”

​He said that other projects the countries benefits from are the ECOWAS regional electricity market, West African Power Pool project, which links member states to a regional electricity grid for improved access to electricity.

He said not lifting the sanction would result in the halt or the suspension of all ECOWAS projects and programmes worth more than 500 million US dollars.

Touray said that the projects collectively valued at approximately 321.6 million U.S. dollars.

”Reviewing the implications at the institutional level, the authority notes that the withdrawal will not only require the closure of four regional entities in Burkina Faso, two regional bodies in Mali and one regional office in Asia.

”It will also affect the job security of some 130 ECOWAS staff who are citizens of the three countries. Currently 77 staff members are from Burkina Faso, 23 are from Mali, and 32 are from Niger.

ECOWAS lifted sanctions it imposed on Niger over the unconstitutional takeover of government in that country on July 26, 2023.

The July 2023 military putsch was the fifth successful one in Niger since its independence from France in 1960.

In the July 2023 coup Niger’s presidential guard removed and detained democratically-elected President Mohamed Bazoum.

ECOWAS Commission’s chairman, Gambia’s President Omar Touray announced the lifting of the sanctions at the end of the Extraordinary Session of the Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS member countries.

He said the decision was based on humanitarian considerations, the socio-economic impacts of the sanctions on Nigeriens and the security of the sub-region.

“The Authority calls for the immediate release of former President Bazoum and also calls on the transition authorities in Niger to provide an acceptable transition timetable to constitutional order.

“The Authority has resolved to lift with immediate effect sanctions imposed on Niger and has lifted the closure of land and air borders between it and ECOWAS member countries.

“No-Fly-Zone of all commercial flights to and from Niger is to be lifted. Suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS member states and Niger are to be lifted.

“Freezing of all service transactions including utility services is to be lifted. ​

“Freezing of assets of Niger in ECOWAS Central Bank is to be lifted. Freezing of assets of Niger and the state’s enterprises and parastatals in commercial banks is to be lifted,’’ he said.

​Touray said Niger had also been exempted from suspension of all financial assistance and transactions as well as travel ban placed on its officials and their family members.

​He explained that humanitarian considerations on the Lenten period and the upcoming holy month of Ramadan contributed to the lifting of the sanctions.

The Authority​, he said, also lifted 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.

“It instructed the President of the Commission to invite Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali and Guinea to attend the technical, consultative and security meetings of ECOWAS.

“The authority calls on E​COWAS institutions, member states and other regional institutions to implement these decisions,’’ Touray said.

On the withdrawal by Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali from ECOWAS, Touray said the Authority urged the countries to reconsider the​ir decision.

He said this was in view of the benefits that the ECOWAS member states and their citizens enjoyed in the community.

The Authority expressed its concern over the socio- economic, political security and humanitarian impacts of the decision, particularly on the citizens of the three countries and on regional integration process, he said.

“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.

“They should particularly consider the treaty relating to withdrawal, particularly the article that encourages ECOWAS to sustain its rapprochement and overtures towards the member states, Touray said.

He added that the Authority encouraged outreaches with traditional, religious leaders, eminent personalities, civil society and women leaders for the unity and security of the region.

The Authority reiterate​d the urgent need for ECOWAS to expedite the operations of its standby force to fight against terrorism in the sub-region, including the elements of the Multinational Joint Task Force and the Accra initiative.

In this regard, the Authority instructed the commission to convene the meeting of ministers of finance and defence to propose modalities for financing and equipping counterterrorism efforts.

The Malian coup took place on Aug. 18, 2020; that of Burkina Faso was on Sept. 30 of the same year, while that of Guinea took place on Sept. 5, 2021.

In the Guinean coup, President Alpha Condé was captured by the country’s armed forces.

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