on Sunday 25 February, 2024

West Africa bloc says lifting Niger sanctions

Nigeria’s President and Chairman, Economic Community of West African States Commission (ECOWAS) Bola Tinubu, looks on during the extraordinary session of Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Heads of State and Government in Abuja, Nigeria o
by : (AP)

West Africa’s regional bloc known as ECOWAS has lifted travel, commercial and economic sanctions imposed on Niger that were aimed at reversing the coup staged in the country last year, a senior official announced Saturday.

The sanctions will be lifted with immediate effect, the president of the ECOWAS Commission, Omar Alieu Touray said after the bloc’s meeting in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, that aimed to address existential threats facing the region as well as implore three junta-led nations that have quit the bloc to rescind their decision.

The lifting of the sanctions on Niger is “on purely humanitarian grounds” to ease the suffering caused as a result, Touray told reporters. “There are targeted (individual) sanctions as well as political sanctions that remain in force,” he added.

Heads of state across West Africa are meeting on Saturday to discuss the region’s challenges. They plan to call again on three junta-led nations to rescind their decision to quit the regional bloc as well to review sanctions imposed on Niger following a coup there.

The summit of the 15-nation regional economic bloc known as ECOWAS in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, comes at a critical time when the 49-year-old bloc’s future is threatened as it struggles with possible disintegration and a recent surge in coups fueled by discontent over the performance of elected governments whose citizens barely benefit from mineral resources.

Decisions to be made at the summit “must be guided by our commitment to safeguarding the constitutional order, upholding democratic principles, and promoting the social and economic wellbeing of the citizens,” Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, current chairman of ECOWAS, said at the start of the summit.

Top of the agenda is the recent decision by Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger to leave ECOWAS, or the Economic Community of West African States, over “inhumane sanctions.” That move is unprecedented since the bloc was established in 1975 and grew to become the region’s top political and economic authority.

“We must re-examine our current approach to the quest for constitutional order in our member states,” Tinubu said. “I therefore urge them to reconsider the decision ... and not to perceive our organization as the enemy.”

The summit is also expected to review the harsh sanctions imposed on Niger. This week, one of the bloc’s founding leaders and Nigeria’s former military ruler, Yakubu Gowon, urged regional leaders to lift the sanctions, noting that the bloc is “more than a coalition of states (but) is a community established for the good of our people.”

In the past year, however, the bloc has struggled to resolve the region’s most pressing challenge: The Sahel, the vast, arid expanse south of the Sahara Desert that stretches across several West African countries, faces growing violence from Islamic extremists and rebels, which in turn has caused soldiers to depose elected governments.

The nine coups in West and Central Africa since 2020 followed a similar pattern, with coup leaders accusing governments of failing to provide security and good governance. Most of the coup-hit countries are also among the poorest and least developed in the world.

The sanctions against Niger and the threat of military intervention to reverse the coup were “the likely triggers to an inevitable outcome” of the three countries’ withdrawal from the bloc, said Karim Manuel, an analyst for the Middle East and Africa with the Economist Intelligence Unit.

With their withdrawal, “the West African region will be increasingly fragmented and divided (while) the new alliance between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger fragments the West African bloc and reflects an axis of opposition to the traditional structures that have underpinned the region for decades,” Manuel added.