ECOWAS searches for fresh unity as Niger, others attempt sub-regional bloc

Written by on March 19, 2024

With the ECOWAS lifting economic and travel sanctions imposed on Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Niger, STEPHEN ANGBULU examines the long-term implications for the sub-region and Africa and if this is enough to win back the trust of the estranged nations

On Saturday, February 24, 2024, 12 West African Presidents and Heads of Government marched into Nigeria’s State House Conference Centre, Abuja, to discuss their next move on Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Niger.

It was the fourth extraordinary summit of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government since the military gained control of Niger Republic. Leading the discussions was Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, who assumed chairmanship of the regional bloc in June 2023.

Unilaterally, they agreed to lift some economic and travel sanctions imposed on these countries as a punitive response to the unconstitutional change of government.

The President of the ECOWAS Commission, Dr Omar Touray, announced the resolutions in a communique, saying, “The Authority resolved to lift with immediate effect the following measures imposed on the Republic of Niger: Closure of land and air borders between ECOWAS countries and Niger to be lifted, no-fly zone of all commercial flights to and from Niger is to be lifted and suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS member states and Niger is to be lifted.”

The authority also resolved that the “freezing of all service transactions, including utility services, is to be lifted. The freezing of assets of the Republic of Niger in ECOWAS Central banks is to be lifted.

“Freezing of assets of Niger State and the state enterprises and parastatals in commercial banks is to be lifted. The suspension of Niger from all financial assistance and transactions with all financial institutions, particularly ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development and BIRD, is to be lifted. Travel ban on the government officials and their family members is also to be lifted,”

The Authority also demanded the release of “former President Mohammad Bazoum (of Niger Republic),” insisting that the Nigerien transition authority provides an acceptable timetable to restore constitutional order.

It was the first time since the coup that the Authority prefixed Bazoum’s name with “former president.” Although Touray said the sanctions were lifted for humanitarian reasons, in the spirit of Lent and Ramadan, pundits argue that ECOWAS is finally acquiescing to reality after playing tough for several months.

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