Officials from countries of the West African regional bloc ECOWAS met in Nigeria’s capital Thursday to discuss the exit of three members, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, who announced their departure from the bloc last week. The bloc is also dealing with a brewing crisis in Senegal, where the president has delayed elections until December.
Thursday’s meeting of officials of the Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS, was to address regional political developments, including the declared exit of three of the bloc’s 15 member states.
After a closed-door session that lasted several hours, ECOWAS said it will continue to pursue dialogue with Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.
But the bloc also said their decisions to leave will have consequences for the regional body and its citizens.
“Indeed, while we were waiting and hoping to see more progress in the countries in transition, we find ourselves with more problems — problems that have been compounded by various factors,” said Omar Alieu Touray, ECOWAS commission president. “Despite our collective efforts to create a conducive and peaceful environment for our community citizens, the facts on the ground show that we still have more work to do.”
ECOWAS accused of pandering
Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, all ruled by military juntas, announced their immediate withdrawal from the regional body in a joint communique last week.
The three nations accused ECOWAS of abandoning its founding ideals and pandering to foreign powers.
They also criticized the regional bloc’s sanctions against military-led governments in the region, calling the sanctions inhumane.
Then, days after the withdrawal, protests broke out in Senegal after President Macky Sall postponed the country’s presidential elections from February to December.
The decision was approved by Senegal’s National Assembly but has been criticized by many, such as political analyst Ahmed Buhari, who calls it a constitutional coup.
“Anytime you interfere with the emergence of leaders in a democratic space, it’s going to create shaky ground,” said Buhari. “Clearly this is an assassination on the constitution of the good people of Senegal. The executive, the legislative and the judiciary are under the full control of the president, they’re unable to make any decision that will not be convenient for the president.”
Senegal’s foreign minister attended Thursday’s meeting. He told journalists his country’s political situation should not worry the regional bloc.
Bloc struggles with coups
ECOWAS was created in 1975 to promote economic prosperity among member states. But in recent years, the bloc has been struggling to deal with a wave of coups.
Experts say bad governance is to blame for the trend and said the regional bloc must impose sanctions on Senegal over the election cycle delay.
Nigerian Foreign Affairs Minister Yusuf Tuggar said authorities will fix the problem.
“We’re also here to review the unfolding situation in Senegal and develop a plan to navigate the resulting complexities,” said Tuggar. “We have faced similar crises in the past and as a region we have not been found wanting. This meeting can come up with far-reaching decisions to transform our challenges into opportunities.”
Last year, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger created a bloc known as the alliance of Sahel States and promised to defend their countries.
For now, it remains unclear whether ECOWAS will take a firm stance against Senegal or make a concerted effort to bring Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso back into the fold.