Junta chiefs 'turn their backs' on West Africa bloc

Three military leaders in army fatigues
Niger's General Abdourahamane Tchiani (C) welcomed his Malian and Burkinabé counterparts, Col Assimi Goïta (L) and Capt Ibrahim Traoré (R), to Niamey [Burkina Faso Presidency]

Niger's military leader, speaking alongside the junta chiefs from Mali and Burkina Faso, has said they are "irrevocably" turning their backs on the wider West African bloc, Ecowas.

The three men are meeting together for the first time to cement an alliance created in the face of opposition from neighbouring countries.

Soldiers took power in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in a series of coups from 2020 to 2023.

All three countries – which now form the Alliance of Sahel States - have been affected by jihadist violence, in part a reason given for the army takeovers.

In January, they all announced a plan to leave Ecowas, which is holding its own summit on Sunday.

Speaking at Saturday’s meeting in the Nigerien capital, Niamey, the country's leader, Gen Abdourahmane Tchiani, said that in the place of Ecowas, the junta chiefs wanted to build a community of sovereign peoples "far from the control of foreign powers. A community of peace, solidarity, prosperity based on our African values.”

Gen Tchiani is hosting the talks with Burkina Faso’s Capt Ibrahim Traoré and Mali’s Col Assimi Goïta.

In a message on X, the Burkinabé leader said that "together, we will consolidate the foundations of our true independence".

Speaking at the summit, Capt Traoré went on to say that "this continent has suffered and continues to suffer from the fire of the imperialists. These imperialists have only one cliché in mind: 'Africa is the empire of slaves'."

Security co-operation is high on the agenda, but the alliance, known by its French acronym AES, will also look towards forming closer economic ties, including the aim of creating a common currency. This would be a rejection of the France-backed CFA Franc, which is used in many states across the region.

All three countries have expelled French soldiers who were there as part of an anti-jihadist mission and turned towards Russia for military assistance.

Calls for greater sovereignty and a rejection of the former colonial power have been a key part of the rhetoric coming from the junta leaders.

The countries have also resisted calls from Ecowas for a rapid return to civilian rule.

Capt Traoré arrived in Niamey a day ahead of the meeting and was welcomed with an enthusiastic reception. Television pictures show cheering crowds waving Nigerien and Burkinabé flags.

Among them was Sidi Mohamed, the head of the National Youth Council.

"Today, as Africans, we are very proud to see a summit where it's an African summit, a summit where states have decided to pool their energies, to pool their forces to create an alliance for their development, without any foreign stakeholders, without any counterparts from the powers that are used to ruling over us,” he told journalists.

Col Goïta arrived on Saturday.

The presidents of the wider West African bloc will have their chance to respond at a heads of state meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on Sunday.

They are also due to announce the activation of a standby force to fight regional insecurity.

Over the past decade, the Sahel has become an increasing focus of Islamic State militant activity, creating insecurity and instability.

The juntas in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali have so far failed to quell the violence.


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