Senegal Leader Handed Tough Task to Keep Juntas in Regional Bloc

(Bloomberg) -- West African leaders tasked Senegalese President Bassirou Diomaye Faye with trying to convince the military leaders of three nations not to withdraw from the regional economic bloc.

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Faye was appointed as an envoy of the Economic Community of West African States at an Ecowas summit in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on Sunday. They met as the heads of the juntas in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso signed a treaty in neighboring Niger’s capital, Niamey, to form a confederation that seeks to boost political and economic ties.

The three nations announced plans in January to withdraw from Ecowas, placing them at risk of losing access to a $702 billion market, and exposing them to increased tariffs and restrictions on the movement of goods and financial flows. Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have been suspended from the bloc following the coups.

Their withdrawal from the bloc “will deal a heavy blow to security cooperation” and the fight against Islamist insurgents across the sub-region, Ecowas Commission President Omar Touray said. They will lose access to funding, a regional market of 400 million people and risk “the suspension of all projects and programs implemented by Ecowas in their countries valued at more than $500 million,” he said.

The bloc’s economy is expected to grow 4.3% in 2024, according to a statement issued after the summit.

The division of West Africa into opposing alliances of democracies and military rulers comes after the juntas cut military ties with western allies France and the US after the ouster of their civilian leaders in recent years. In turn, they’ve boosted cooperation with countries including Russia, Iran and Turkey.

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Instability has spread across West Africa’s Sahel region and now threatens coastal states Ghana and Ivory Coast, more than a decade after France deployed troops to Mali to end an Islamist insurgency there. With a record of more than 11,600 fatalities linked to jihadist violence in 2023, the Sahel is now the epicenter for terrorist attacks globally.

Ecowas on Sunday urged member states to contribute troops toward a proposed 5,000-strong regional anti-terrorism force.

Faye said plans by the three military-led nations to split with the union risked its “disintegration.”

“We must do everything to avoid their withdrawal from Ecowas,” he said Sunday.

Their creation of a confederation, which follows the forming of a similar Alliance of Sahel States in September, aims to facilitate the “free movement of people and goods,” reinforce military cooperation and create a regional investment bank and stabilization fund, the military leaders said in a joint statement.

The countries also plan to pool their joint assets for strategic mining, energy and infrastructure projects.

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--With assistance from Baudelaire Mieu.

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