By Kester Kenn Klomegah
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has re-imposed its sanctions on the Republics of Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali. It will also ensure the implementation and effectiveness of the sanctions after military leaders’ defiant failure to comply with the directives to hold democratic elections to deadlines.
Three West African countries, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali, have been under military administration, and at separate times offered multiple reasons to justify postponing the constitutional elections. Regrettably, military coups have not yet become thing of the past.
During their extraordinary meeting held in Accra, capital of the Republic of Ghana, discussion was focused on the fragile and worsening political situation in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali as well as the aspects of security issues in the region.
For instance, Col. Assimi Goita suddenly threw the elected government in August 2020, accusing it of corruption, inability to maintain security and worsening economic situation in the country. It, however, promised to swiftly return the country to democratic rule, but failed to keep up the words.
In a rare contradiction and worse without consulting the regional bloc, the African Economic and Monetary Union Court of Justice ruled to suspend the sanctions that include land and air border closures with neighboring countries, withholding most commercial and financial aid to these member countries. ECOWAS, however, reiterated that it has the sole power to lift the sanctions.
ECOWAS President, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, has called for respect for all of the regional bloc’s directives as part of the group’s collective effort to harden its stance against the return of the military to politics.
The 15-member ECOWAS has already imposed sanctions on Guinea and Mali for dragging their feet on restoring constitutional order. Kassi Brou said those measures would be gradually lifted in Mali if its leaders respected the 12- to 16-month ultimatum. Harsher penalties will hit Guinea if it misses its own April 25 deadline, he warned. “We have no idea when the transition (in Guinea) will end and this creates tensions in the region and inside the country,” he said.
Within the context of democracy, the group reiterates the need to adhere to the transition timetable in respect of the elections. Accordingly reports, it further asks the international community to take the necessary measures that would force the transition military respect their commitment to an expeditious return to constitutional order.
ECOWAS has also asked Burkina Faso’s interim leaders to reduce a proposed transition of 36 months to a more acceptable timeline, otherwise face the consequences.
Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali continue experiencing a host of economic instabilities, and the political future still look dim. Arguably, these have some implications for the entire regional stability and development.
In August, news emerged that Mali’s authorities, for instance, had launched talks with the Russian private military company Wagner Group that could replace the French military. Reuters reported that a possible contract could be worth $10.8 million a month. Burkina Faso and Guinea are setting eyes on such military deals from Russia. Many experts say Russia has its own distinctive approach, set out to batter exploitation of resources with weapons and arms under its military-technical cooperation, resultantly joining what is often phrased “the scramble for resources” in Africa.
Russian Foreign Ministry has explained in a statement released on its website, that Russia’s military-technical cooperation with African countries is primarily directed at settling regional conflicts and preventing the spread of terrorist threats and to fight the growing terrorism in the continent. Worth noting here that Russia, in its strategy on Africa is reported to be also looking into building military bases in the continent as this article explicitly shows, among others.
As developments explicitly show, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali are currently banking hopes on Russian mercenaries to deal with instability in their countries. But policy researchers have also reminded the African Union and ECOWAS to invoke the African Convention for the Elimination of Mercenarism, which went into effect in 1985, prohibiting states from allowing mercenaries into their territories. Declaring Wagner a mercenary force identifies them, appropriately, as an illegal entity, one that should be categorically prohibited from operating in Mali (and other parts of Africa).
The United Nations, African Union and Economic Community of West African States have expressed concern of the military returning to political scene in the region.
Last year, the African Union decided to suspend Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali from participation in all activities of the African Union, its organs and institutions, until normal constitutional order are restored, according the AU’s Peace and Security Council said in a statement and further called on them to return to military barracks. It underlined the negative impact on the democratic gains made thus far throughout Africa.
In the West African region, Mali is the largest by territory, and a landlocked country with an estimated 19.5 million population, is supported by agriculture and little industry. Cotton is the country’s largest crop export and is usually exported to Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire. Burkina Faso and Guinea are largely agrarian, although have some untapped underground resources.
Over the years, reform policies in the three French-speaking countries have had little impact on the living standards, majority highly impoverished in the country. As developing countries, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali rank at the bottom of the United Nations Development Index (2020 report).