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ECOWAS Enforces New Economic Strategy Towards States Under Military Junta

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is a regional union of 15 West African States for economic, social and political purposes. It is a cornerstone of unity within the African continent and aims to achieve self-sufficiency through economic cooperation. 


The ECOWAS announced on 24th February 2024 that they would be lifting sanctions that they had imposed on Niger. These sanctions were put in place in response to the creation of a military junta government, which ECOWAS perceives as a threat to democracy in the region. The chairman of the Union, Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, also said that the Union needs to apply a different approach towards junta-led countries and persuade them to remain in the alliance and allow democracy to prevail in their governments. 


In January of 2024, the countries of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali announced their withdrawal from ECOWAS. The countries found themselves allies as they were all military-led governments formed due to a coup. Moreover, they were all struggling under the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS, and their isolation led them to create their faction within West Africa. This withdrawal is also worrying, as it may cause a spillover effect leading to Guinea, another junta-led state, to leave the Union.


Impact of Sanctions


The decisions to sanction the countries have left them in economic turmoil. A notable impact of these sanctions was trade disruptions. Notably, the borders of Niger’s key trading partners, Nigeria and Benin, were closed, which resulted in a critical shortage of necessities such as cereals, medicines, milk powder, vegetable oil and more. 


Sanctions also left the countries financially unstable, with them unable to steady their banking system. This impacted their businesses’ credit, borrowing costs and financial markets. For example, Niger’s bank assets were frozen, and millions of dollars of aid was withheld from the country. These repercussions were especially devastating as more than half of Niger’s annual budget is aid. Additionally, Mali had to default on over $300 million of debt after they were isolated from the regional economy and central bank. 


The sanctions also led to currency depreciation. This means that the currency gets weaker, leading to more expensive imports, an increased cost of living and reduced purchasing power. In Mali, inflation nearly doubled, thrusting Malian citizens into intense hardship over the price of essential foods and commodities. 


ECOWAS’ negotiations and political ideals


ECOWAS’ concerns about military coups in member states can be justified as it questions the spread of coups in the region and the impact that the military governments would have on potential democratic governments. 


ECOWAS had informed the countries of Guinea, Niger and Burkina Faso to allow democracy to prevail within their countries and not hinder socio-economic progress. ECOWAS has already removed its economic sanctions on these three countries. Additionally, they lifted the sanctions they imposed on Mali in July 2022. 


ECOWAS’s main priority is restoring democracy in the region to achieve its founding ideals. When ECOWAS was established with the signing of the Treaty of Lagos in 1975, its main priority was an economic community with cooperative growth and a single West African market. More specifically, it was a free market operating under a single currency. 


A few years later, many leaders realised this could only be achieved with political stability. This gave birth to the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in 1990. ECOWAS employed this peacekeeping force to enforce trade sanctions and intermittently intervene militarily if necessary. Examples of this can be seen in Ivory Coast, where ECOWAS deployed troops to complement the USA and UN peacekeeping forces, Mali to fight against rebels against the government or most recently in Gambia to help restore democracy in the region after disputes over the elections arose. 


Thus, it is clear that ECOWAS is not opposed to directly intervening and clashing with junta-led states or rebel factions in member states. However, the announcement by the chairman, later followed by the removal of sanctions, could indicate a changed outlook on what needs to be done to achieve political stability within the region.


The road ahead


ECOWAS’ actions indicate a desire to ensure that Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso do not withdraw from the Union. The openness to negotiating and removing the economic sanctions are a positive sign that the Union may be open to working with the junta-led governments or helping smoothen the transition from the military governments to new democratically elected ones. ECOWAS also needs to work towards understanding the newly formed Alliance of Sahel States (AES) with Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. AES was established as a separate faction from ECOWAS. It could suffer the detriment of not being part of the Union that provided them with freedoms such as not having to pay tariffs on imports or travelling between countries without a visa. 


The recent developments with the junta states and ECOWAS expose the intricate complexities behind political stability and establishing a West African free market with a single currency. ECOWAS faces the unique challenge of navigating potential transitional governments and facilitating cohesive economic development in Africa. It is crucial to see what the negotiations with the military governments establish and how the removal of these sanctions will impact the region.


Edited by: Vidhi Dujodwala


Image Source: Al Jazeera

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