Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso military leaders sign new Pact, rebuff ECOWAS

11:09 08.07.2024 •

Niger's General Abdourahamane Tchiani next to Burkinabe counterpart Captain Ibrahim Traore (right) in Niamey, Niger, on July 5.
Photo: AFP

The military leaders of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have hailed a newly signed treaty as a step “towards greater integration” between the three countries, in the latest showing of their shift away from traditional regional and Western allies.

During a summit in the Nigerien capital of Niamey on Saturday, the three leaders signed a confederation treaty that aims to strengthen a mutual defence pact announced last year, the Alliance of Sahel States (AES).

The signing capped the first joint summit of the leaders – Niger’s General Abdourahmane Tchiani, Burkina Faso’s Captain Ibrahim Traore, and Mali’s Colonel Assimi Goita – since they came to power in successive coups in their bordering West African nations.

It also came just months after the three countries withdrew from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc in January.

Speaking at the summit on Saturday, Tchiani called the 50-year-old ECOWAS “a threat to our states”.

The West African economic bloc had suspended the three countries after their respective military takeovers, which occurred in July 2023 in Niger, September 2022 in Burkina Faso and August 2021 in Mali.

ECOWAS also imposed sanctions on Niger and Mali, but the bloc’s leaders have held out hope for the trio’s eventual return.

“We are going to create an AES of the peoples, instead of an ECOWAS whose directives and instructions are dictated to it by powers that are foreign to Africa,” Tchiani said.

Burkina Faso’s Traore also accused foreign powers of seeking to exploit the countries. The three nations have regularly accused former colonial ruler France of meddling in ECOWAS.

“Westerners consider that we belong to them and our wealth also belongs to them. They think that they are the ones who must continue to tell us what is good for our states,” he said.

“This era is gone forever. Our resources will remain for us and our population’s.”

For his part, Mali’s Goita said the strengthened relationship means an “attack on one of us will be an attack on all the other members”.

Reporting from Abuja, Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris noted that the three military leaders met just a day before ECOWAS was set to have a meeting in the capital of Nigeria.

Idris added the newly elected president of Senegal, Bassirou Diomaye Faye, recently visited the three countries in an informal capacity in an effort to mend the ties.

The Niamey summit also came a day before the United States is set to complete its withdrawal from a key base in Niger, underscoring how the new military leaders have redrawn security relations that had defined the region in recent years.

But following the recent coups, the countries’ ties to Western governments have frayed.

French troops completed their withdrawal from Mali in 2022, and they left Niger and Burkina Faso last year.

Meanwhile, US Air Force Major General Kenneth Ekman said earlier that about 1,000 military personnel would complete their withdrawal from Niger’s Air Base 101.

The US is also in the process of leaving a separate, $100m drone base near Agadez in central Niger, which officials have described as essential to gathering intelligence about armed groups in the region.

While pushing out former Western allies, the military leaders in Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali have increasingly pursued security and economic ties with Russia.

However, it remains unclear if the new approach has helped to stem the violence that has plagued the countries, which are home to about 72 million people.


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