Ecowas declines to lift sanctions on Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso

Tuesday February 21 2023
Ecowas leaders at a meeting

Ecowas leaders met on February 19, 2023, and took a decision to continue to maintain sanctions against Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso. PHOTO | ECOWAS COMMISION


A bid by three West African countries still under military rule to re-join the African Union (AU) flopped on Sunday after their local bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), maintained sanctions imposed on them.

It means Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso’s concerted effort of seeking to re-join the AU failed. The three countries, under junta leaderships for more than a year had fronted arguments before leaders of the AU on Thursday, explaining the need for their suspension to be lifted.

Normally, the AU suspends countries that undergo unconstitutional changes in government such as coups until they provide a regular programme to resume civilian leaderships. But the AU often follows decisions of local regional blocs who act like immediate firefighters to the crises.

Suspended indefinitely

Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso were indefinitely suspended from Ecowas at various times between 2020 and 2022. The regional bloc imposed sanctions, initially barring them from trading with neighbours. 

At the AU Summit held in Addis Ababa on Sunday, Ecowas leaders rejected a joint request by the three countries to lift sanctions imposed on them as well as their Ecowas and the AU membership suspension following military takeover of their governments.


 “The AU decided to maintain the existing sanctions on all three countries, and to impose travel ban on members of government and other senior officials on all three countries,” said a communique, following a summit of the regional bloc in Ethiopia on Saturday. 

Officials of the three countries recently met in Ouagadougou, the Burkinabe capital, and agreed to strengthen partnerships among themselves, including lobbying to be returned to the AU activities. 

Anti-French sentiment

This was shortly after the military government in Burkina Faso expelled the French Ambassador in Ouagadougou following Mali's example last year in what could be a growing anti-French sentiment in its former African colonies. 

Ahead of the AU Summit, foreign ministers of Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso had travelled to the Ethiopian capital on joint a diplomatic push for a readmission and the lifting of Ecowas sanctions. The sanctions included a freeze on financial credits and limited contacts with other members of the 15-nation community. 

"The assembly reaffirmed zero tolerance against unconstitutional change of government." said its Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Mr Bankole Adeoye.

He said the commission was ready to support these member states to return to constitutional order, with the idea that democracy must take root, be promoted and protected.

Progress on democracy

The continental body had indicated in a communique that progress on democracy including peaceful elections will be encouraged.

“It seems necessary to reconsider the system of resistance to the unconstitutional changes in order to make it more effective,” said AU Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat at an opening session of the 36th Ordinary AU Summit.   

In addition to rejecting their requests, the Ecowas summit also called on the African Union, the United Nations and other international partners to support the implementation of Ecowas decisions on the three countries, which are running different but delayed political transition programs including elections for the constitutional order restoration. 

Ecowas leaders also agreed to support transition programmes and efforts to ease the humanitarian crises in the three countries, but totally rejected the unilateral action taken by the Transitional Authority in Guinea in respect to the implementation of the transition roadmap.

Ecowas Spokesperson Paul Ejime said the bloc would mobilise $1 billion mandatory contributions towards counter-terrorism efforts under the 2020-24 Plan of Action to tackle the insecurity in Shale, Mali. 

 Meanwhile, Comoros' President Azali Assoumani replaced Senegal's Macky Sall as the rotational Chairperson of the African Union during the summit, which was overshadowed by the unceremonious ejection of the Israeli delegation. 

Additional Reporting by Aggrey Mutambo