Ecowas maintains sanctions on Mali, Guinea Burkina Faso

Olivia Rouamba (centre), Minister of Foreign Affairs of Burkina Faso, speaks during a joint press conference with Morissanda Kouyaté (left), Minister of Foreign Affairs of Guinea and Abdoulaye Diop (right), Minister of Foreign Affairs of Mali, in Ouagadougou, on February 9, 2023.

A bid by three Western African countries, still under military rule, to rejoin the African Union (AU) flopped on Sunday after their local bloc, Ecowas, maintained sanctions imposed on them.

It means Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso’s concerted effort of seeking to rejoin the African Union failed. The three countries, under junta leadership for more than a year had fronted arguments before leaders of the African Union on Thursday, explaining the need for their suspension to be lifted.

Normally, the African Union suspends countries that undergo unconstitutional changes in government such as coups until they provide a regular programme to resume civilian leadership. But the AU often follows the decisions of local regional blocs who act like immediate firefighters to the crises.

Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso were indefinitely suspended at various times between 2020 and 2022. And the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) imposed sanctions, initially barring trading with neighbours.

On Sunday, on the margins of the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, leaders of ECOWAS rejected a joint request by Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso to lift sanctions imposed on them and their suspension of membership both in Ecowas and the AU following the military takeover of governments in the three countries.

 “The Authority of Heads of State and Government decided to maintain the existing sanctions on all three countries, and to impose a travel ban on members of government and other senior officials on all three countries,” said a Communique, following a summit of the regional bloc in Ethiopia on Saturday.

Officials of the three countries met in Ouagadougou, the Burkinabe capital, recently and agreed to strengthen partnerships among the three embattled nations, including lobbying to be returned to AU activities.

This was shortly after the military government in Burkina Faso expelled the French Ambassador in Ouagadougou following Mali's example last year in what could be a growing anti-French sentiment in its former African colonies.

Ahead of the African Union Summit, foreign ministers of Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso had travelled to the Ethiopian capital on joint a diplomatic push for the readmission of their three countries by the African Union and ECOWAS, and the lifting of sanctions imposed by ECOWAS. The sanctions included a freeze on financial credits and limited contacts with other members of the 15-nation Community.

At the end of the summit, the AU said maintained its suspension of - Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Sudan -- which have been ruled by military leaders following coups.

On Sunday, the African Union endorsed the Ecowas move, stating it will not tolerate any military takeovers.

"The assembly reaffirmed zero-tolerance against unconstitutional change (of government)," said its Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Mr Bankole Adeoye.

“The Commission is ready to support these member states to return to constitutional order, the idea is that democracy must take root and must be promoted and protected," he said.

The continental body had indicated in a communique that progress on democracy including peaceful elections will be encouraged.

“It seems necessary to reconsider the system of resistance to the unconstitutional changes in order to make it more effective,” said AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat at an opening session of the  36th Ordinary Summit.  

In addition to rejecting their requests, the ECOWAS summit also called on the African Union, the United Nations and other international partners to support the implementation of ECOWAS decisions on the three countries, which are running different but delayed political transition programmes including elections for the restoration of constitutional order.

The three are under military rule following two military coups in Mali in 2020 and 2021, one in Guinea in 2021 and two in Burkina Faso in 2022.

 ECOWAS leaders also agreed to support transition programmes and efforts to ease the humanitarian crises in the three countries, but “totally reject the unilateral action taken by the Transitional Authority in Guinea with respect to the implementation of the transition roadmap.”

Mr Paul Ejime, the Spokesman of ECOWAS said the bloc will mobilise $1 billion in mandatory contributions towards counter-terrorism efforts under the 2020-24 Plan of Action, to tackle the insecurity in Shale, one of the reasons cited for a coup in Mali.

 Meanwhile, Comoros' President Azali Assoumani has replaced Senegal's Macky Sall as the rotational Chairperson of the African Union during the summit, which was overshadowed by the unceremonious ejection of the Israeli delegation.

Additional Reporting by Aggrey Mutambo


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