ASS withdraws - One year left to save ECOWAS from collapse
8 February 2024
On 28 January, the crisis between the members of the Alliance of Sahel States (ASS) and the Community of West African States (ECOWAS) reached its climax after more than a year of heightened tensions, with the announcement that Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger were withdrawing from ECOWAS. What impact will this withdrawal have on ECOWAS? What are the prospects for the development of the tripartite alliance?
Carine Gazier is a consultant at Concerto, specialising in political and economic issues and the energy sector in Africa. Contact Carine at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on the subject, or to find out more about how Concerto can help you.QUICK INSIGHTS
Despite its efforts to demonstrate its relevance and establish its legitimacy, ECOWAS' credibility is once again being called into question.
The ASS is set to continue its political and economic integration efforts beyond its initial security mandate.
There is speculation that the ASS could leave WAEMU and create a new currency, although this has not been formalised by the authorities.
Withdrawal from ECOWAS, the final stage in the break-up
The schism within ECOWAS emerged with the series of coups d'état (Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger) that has been affecting the region over the last three years. Since then, the countries concerned, particularly the Sahelian trio, have been at loggerheads with the organisation over the issue of the return to constitutional order. They have also distanced themselves from their historic partners, rejecting France and pushing for the end of its anti-jihadist military operation. In December 2023, Burkina Faso and Niger left the G5 Sahel, following in Mali's footsteps and rendering the alliance obsolete. The decision to withdraw from ECOWAS is a direct consequence of the threat of military intervention issued by the regional organisation last August. By leaving ECOWAS, the juntas are also abandoning an institutional framework and standards of democratic governance, raising the prospect of a delayed return to civilian rule.
A year of negotiations ahead to convince the ASS not to withdraw from ECOWAS
A resounding failure for ECOWAS, the announcement of this withdrawal leaves the already faltering alliance gasping for breath. This is the first time since its creation in 1975 that it has been faced with such a situation, a major blow to stability and regional integration. The pressure exerted on the juntas through sanctions has gone unanswered and has not had the desired effect. This unprecedented situation calls into question the regional bloc's ability to guarantee stability and political dialogue in the region. The question of the organisation's neutrality has also been raised, as it has been accused of being discreet when it comes to unconstitutional presidential mandates, but very virulent when it comes to coup regimes. Apart from the purely political aspect, withdrawal from the ASS also jeopardises decades of economic integration, raising the question of the subsequent consequences, including disruption to trade and supply chains and increased customs duties. Although ECOWAS has one year to change the minds of the juntas, as provided for in the organisation's rules, the negotiations are likely to be tense. For the ASS, they would be a success if the alliance managed to retain its economic and commercial advantages, while freeing itself from the political dogmas of ECOWAS.
Status quo, exit from WAEMU, Moroccan influence: what prospects for the Alliance of Sahel States?
Created in September 2023, collaboration between the members of the ASS is based on a mutual protection charter and it was initially focused on the fight against terrorism. While the alliance has a security vocation, the departure of ECOWAS could lead to the acceleration of an all-out integration process. In any case, the tripartite ministerial meetings in November 2023 suggested an ambition to develop a political and economic dimension, a harbinger of withdrawal from ECOWAS. If this were to be confirmed in the coming year, what options could these three countries use to secure their supplies? As long as the ASS members do not also withdraw from the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU), they will continue to benefit from economic exchanges and the free movement of capital and people. However, Niger is likely to be affected if it does not find a solution to establish good trade relations with its neighbour Nigeria, on which its economy is heavily dependent. While the possibility of a departure from WAEMU has been the subject of speculation in recent days, no official announcement has yet been made. The consequences of such a withdrawal for the three countries concerned would be even more devastating for their own economies. In the longer term, ASS could turn to Morocco, via the Atlantic Sahel Initiative recently launched by the Kingdom. In any case, the juntas in power will have to succeed in maintaining control over their respective populations, as they prepare to face new socio-economic difficulties as a direct consequence of this new decision.