The Withdrawal of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso from ECOWAS and its Effect on the African Union Agenda 2063

Introduction

AGENDA 2063 is a vision and master plan for Africa to become a worldwide superpower in the future. It is a physical embodiment of the Pan-Africanist and African Renaissance movements’ pursuit of unity, self-determination, freedom, advancement, and collective success. The strategy framework for the continent aims to accomplish inclusive and sustainable development. the AU’s main objectives, as set out in the OAU Charter, are to promote the unity and solidarity of African states; coordinate and intensify their cooperate on and efforts to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa; safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Member States; rid the continent of colonization and apartheid; promote international cooperation within the United Nations framework; and harmonize members’ political, diplomatic, economic, educational, cultural, health, welfare, scientific, technical and defense policies. The AU equally encourages sub-regional blocs like ECOWAS, SADC, CEMAC, SACU, AMU, COMESA, CENSAD, EAC, IGAD, UEMOA, AfCFTA. The rationale behind this is to promote amongst other things, trade. Trade is considered the biggest economic influenza in the world. The vision of the AU by 2063 is for a borderless Africa in terms of trade. ECOWAS being one of Africa’s biggest sub-regional blocs is undergoing serious threats of disintegration with the recent announcement of withdrawal of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. This paper aims to discuss the effect of this act on the vision of the AU to have a unified continent by 2063.

Historical Background

A wide range of African stakeholders, including women and youth, civil society organizations, the diaspora, African think tanks and research institutions, government planners, the private sector, the media, leaders of various African faiths, the Forum for Former African Heads of State and Government, African Island States, and others, participated in a lengthy consultation process to develop Agenda 2063. (1). The agenda 2063 gave birth to flagship projects. The flagship projects of Agenda 2063 referred to key programs and initiatives which have been identified as key to accelerating Africa’s economic growth and development as well as promoting our common identity by celebrating our history and our vibrant culture. The Flagship projects encompass amongst others infrastructure, education, science, technology, arts and culture as well as initiatives to secure peace on the continent (2). Agenda 2063, an ambitious plan for inclusive growth and sustainable development for Africa, is summed up in the tagline “The Africa we want.” Africa must become a fully developed, functional continent that is in harmony with other parts of the world in order for the goal to be achieved. It aims to expand upon and quicken already-existing continental growth and environmental programs. Agenda 2063 has multiple priorities, twenty goals, and seven aspirations. (3). One of the major flagship projects of the AU, was to have a united Africa by 2063 in terms of trade, thus giving rise to the Africa Continental free trade areas (AfCFTA), an Africa void of conflict, thus giving birth to operation end the guns, a borderless Africa, and an Africa with technological and infrastructural development.

The breaking away of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso from ECOWAS one of Africa’s largest regional blocs is working against the AU attaining vision 2063. This is simply because the vision of the AU by 2063 is to have a united Africa, and this cannot be possible with the disintegration of ECOWAS.

The break away by these three nations is an indication of bad things to come for the continent. A house divided amongst itself cannot stand. This act spell doom for AU agenda of a United Continent. Mali. Niger and Burkina Faso are all member of the West African Economic and Monetary Community (UEMOA) which was created in 1994 with Head quarters in Dakar Senegal. It was established by Heads of States of seven of the organizations eight member states namely; Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Togo and was later joined by Guinea-Bissau. ECOWAS was a parent organization to UEMOA as all its members where members of ECOWAS. Consequently, all the procedures of the parent organization were applicable to the latter. UEMOA had in one-time attempt to harmonize trade among its members by harmonizing tariffs and duties. These were signals of a break away but the parent organization did not see far.

A United Africa, a reality or a myth

Since 1963, the Pan African spirit has served as the driving force behind the continent’s quest for unity, with a particular emphasis on liberation, political and economic independence, and development based on the self-sufficiency of the African people, with democratic governance serving as a crucial bridge to continental unity. These are essential prerequisites for Africa’s rebirth and global prominence. (4). Africa by 2063 would have realized the fulfilment of the founders’ dream or vision of a United Africa, a union of well-governed and democratic continent. The political unity of Africa will be the zenith of the integration process, including the free movement of people, the establishment of continental institutions, and full economic integration.

With the recent trend of event within the continent of Africa, one is left with the impression that this vision of a united Africa is no more a reality but a myth. The breakaway of the three nations from ECOWAS does not speak well of a united Africa. How can we be advocating for unity and yet we experience division in the house?  The act of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso does not only affects ECOWAS, but the AU and its entire vision of a United Africa. These nations are gradually falling back to UEMOA.

How it all started

The junta-led countries had already been suspended from the bloc, which has been urging them to return to democratic rule (5). The three nations proclaimed their decision to exit ECOWAS to be a “sovereign decision”. When the bloc was first established in 1975, they were also among its founding members. An official declaration read out on official broadcasters in the three countries stated that ECOWAS had “strayed from the ideals of its founding fathers and the spirit of Pan-Africanism.” “Under the influence of foreign powers, betraying its founding principles, ECOWAS has become a threat to member states and peoples,” the statement goes on, noting that the organization has not helped the member countries confront the carnage carried out by jihadists.

Relations between the bloc and the three countries have been tense after military coups took place in Niger in July 26th 2023, Burkina Faso in 2022 and Mali in 2020 (5).

The three countries have distanced themselves from former colonial power France, strengthened ties to Russia, and in September 16th 2023 they formed a mutual defense pact called The Alliance of Sahel States. The three military chiefs have maintained that, in the face of jihadist insurgencies connected to al Qaeda and the Islamic State, they would prefer to restore security before setting up elections.

The military authorities in Niger have stated that they would want to see a return to civilian control take up to three years. Elections in Mali were supposed to take place in February, but the military government has postponed them until an unspecified date. Elections are scheduled for this summer in Burkina Faso, but officials there maintain that combating insurgents is still their primary concern(5).

Conclusion

The early 19th century saw the emergence of Pan-Africanism as a significant tool in the fight for racial exploitation and liberation for Africans and people of African heritage, as well as against slavery, colonialism, and other types of racism. It was established on the belief that Africa is the birthplace of humanity, that Africans share a similar history and destiny, and that they originated from ancient cultures and civilizations. The various strands of Pan-Africanism converged into the founding of the OAU in 1963 and were crystallized in the major objectives of the organization, captured in Article II of the organization’s Charter (5). The goals of the organization were to be achieved through the harmonization of African countries’ policies in all fields. The OAU had a mandate to pursue both a political and socio-economic agenda and did so in five main areas: decolonization; advancement of peace and security; promotion of democracy, human rights and good governance; fostering international relations and cooperation; and regional integration. However, the political agenda dominated, particularly issues of decolonization, liberation and the struggle against apartheid (6). Most if not all of the goals of the organization is gradually fading away as a result of the recent happening around the continent. Many refer to it as the wind of change. The constant happening around the continent, most especially with countries like Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso breaking out of ECOWAS, the instability in Senegal as a result of the postponement of elections scheduled for February 25 to December 2024 are all signs that the AU has a lot of work to do.

 

Recommendations

The military-led countries’ attitudes appear to have become more rigid as a result of ECOWAS’s hardline posture, creating a deepening rift within the regional bloc. In September of 2023, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso even signed the Alliance of Sahel States, an agreement for mutual defense. The trio believes the parent bloc is acting out of context, and this act gives them greater power over them.

  1. The paper’s top recommendation is for the AU to involve in sincere negotiations and reconciliation with the trio and the parent organization ECOWAS if it really wishes to achieve its most desired objective in 2063 which is that of a unified Africa (the Africa We Want). Without a unified ECOWAS, the AU agenda for a United Africa cannot be achieved.
  2. Reconciliation and negotiation remain the best option in the event of a breakaway. It should be recalled that ECOWAS had earlier suspended these three nations in 2023 as a result of their Alliance of the Sahel States in which they promise to stand together and defend the territorial sovereignty of one another.
Dr. Pippie Hugues
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Dr. Pippie Hugues is a Policy Analyst at the Governance and Democracy Division of the Nkafu Policy Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in International Law with specialty in Human Rights, Conflict and Peace building.

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