Sahel military chiefs mark divorce from West Africa bloc

Published July 7, 2024
Niger’s military leader General Abdourahamane Tiani and his counterparts, Mali’s Assimi Goita and Burkina Faso’s Captain Ibrahim Traore, stand during the first ordinary summit of heads of state and governments of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) in Niamey on July 6. — Reuters
Niger’s military leader General Abdourahamane Tiani and his counterparts, Mali’s Assimi Goita and Burkina Faso’s Captain Ibrahim Traore, stand during the first ordinary summit of heads of state and governments of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) in Niamey on July 6. — Reuters

NIAMEY: The military regimes of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso marked their divorce from the rest of West Africa on Saturday as they signed a treaty setting up a confederation between them.

The first summit of the three countries, who all pulled out of the Economic Community of West Afri­c­an States (ECOWAS) earlier this year, also saw calls for greater cooperation across a wide range of sectors.

“Our people have irrevocably turned their backs on ECOWAS,” Niger’s ruling General Abdouraha­mane Tiani told his fellow Sahel strongmen at the gathering’s opening in the Nigerien capital Niamey.

The three leaders, who took power through coups in recent years, “decided to take a step further towards greater integration” and “adopted a treaty establishing a confederation”, they said in a statement issued at the end of the summit.

The “Confederation of Sahel States”, which will use the acronym AES and be headed by Mali in its first year, will group some 72 million people.

Their ECOWAS exits were fuelled in part by accusations that Paris was manipulating the bloc and not providing enough support for anti-jihadist efforts.

“The AES is the only effective sub-regional grouping in the fight against terrorism,” Tiani declared on Saturday, calling ECOWAS “conspicuous by its lack of involvement in this fight”.

The exit came as the trio shifted away from former colonial ruler France, with Tiani calling for the new bloc to become a “community far removed from the stranglehold of foreign powers”.

All three have expelled anti-jihadist French troops and turned instead towards what they call their “sincere partners” — Russia, Turkiye and Iran.

In early March, the AES announced joint anti-jihadist efforts, though they did not specify details.

Insurgents linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State group have carried out attacks for years in the vast “three borders” region between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, despite the massive deployment of anti-jihadist forces.

Published in Dawn, July 7th, 2024

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