ECOWAS Departure Threat Casts Shadow on Mali, Intensifying Economic Struggles and Insecurity


ECOWAS Departure Threat Casts Shadow on Mali

A week after Mali’s military government announced its withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the capital city of Bamako continues to pulsate with life, concealing the mounting concerns about the country’s departure from the 15-member regional bloc, a move that has stirred mixed sentiments among the populace.

In the early morning hours, the bustling streets of Bamako witness the usual hustle and bustle, with city buses navigating through traffic jams and market vendors hastily setting up their stalls. However, beneath the facade of normality lies a growing apprehension about the consequences of leaving the regional bloc that Mali had been a part of since 1975.

Djadjie Camara, a shopkeeper in Bamako, voiced the challenges many face in providing for their families, attributing their hardships to ECOWAS. The economic sanctions imposed by the bloc in response to Mali’s consecutive coups, compounded by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and shocks from global events, led to a rise in inflation, affecting the cost of essential items such as oil and sugar.

While ECOWAS lifted some sanctions in July 2022, resentment lingers among Malians, forming the basis of the argument presented by the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), including Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, for their withdrawal from the bloc. The AES cited ECOWAS’s imposition of “illegal, illegitimate, inhumane, and irresponsible sanctions” as their primary grievance. Additionally, they expressed dissatisfaction with ECOWAS’s perceived failure to support their fight against terrorism and insecurity.

The withdrawal also underscores the diverging visions of pan-Africanism. Initially focused on economics, ECOWAS expanded its mandate to include political stability, creating the Economic Community of West African States Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in 1990. AES argues that ECOWAS has deviated from its original pan-African principles and fallen under the influence of external forces, particularly former colonial powers such as France, the European Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Former Malian Prime Minister Moussa Mara cautioned against the strategic mistake of leaving ECOWAS, emphasizing the importance of consolidating West Africa’s economic shares rather than disintegrating them. The three AES states represent only 8 percent of ECOWAS’s GDP.

Transport operators in the region are already anticipating changes if the government proceeds with the withdrawal. Tijani Mahamoudou, a truck driver from Niger, highlighted the challenges faced at borders since the coup, including increased scrutiny and delays, indicating potential hardships for those involved in cross-border trade.

Meanwhile, Bamako witnessed demonstrations in support of the government’s decision to withdraw from ECOWAS. However, observers note a decline in overall support for the transitional government, attributing it to more significant issues such as the country’s electricity crisis.

The persistent Power outages from Bamako to Gao have fueled frustration toward the national electricity provider and the transitional government. Malians expressed disillusionment with the lack of proper governance and unfulfilled promises, reflecting uncertainty about the future.

The government’s efforts to address security concerns include the end of a UN peacekeeping mission, the departure of French troops, and collaboration with Russian military instructors linked to the private military contractor Wagner. Despite these measures, violence by armed groups continues to rise, with a notable increase in attacks in 2023, according to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).

Moussa Kondo, executive director at the Bamako-based Sahel Institute, highlighted the deepening challenges facing Mali, urging leaders to remain transparent and avoid manipulation with rhetoric. As Mali faces a complex landscape, the possibility of reunification within the region remains open, with some expressing optimism in negotiations. The outcome of discussions with ECOWAS and the African Union may shape Mali’s future in the West African community.


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