Sahel Trio’s Likely Alliance With Morocco Portends Security Risks in West Africa – Expert



Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger are likely to ally with Morocco after leaving the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), in a move that could have negative consequences for the security situation in the Sahel region and West Africa IN general. Victor Adetula, professor of International Relations and Development Studies at the University of Jos in Nigeria, told Sputnik.

Earlier this week, the three countries sent to ECOWAS formal notifications of withdrawal. The trio accused the bloc of failing to protect them from jihadists who swept the Sahel region in 2012, as well as for imposing sanctions following coups in Mali in 2020, in Burkina Faso in 2022 and in Niger in 2023.

“Effective management of conflicts of regional dimensions requires such resources that none of the three countries have.

Besides, there is no one that can effectively play the role of a core-state like Nigeria is doing in ECOWAS. The quest for a ‘big brother’ to assist will most likely drive the three countries towards North Africa, probably to fraternise with Morocco as it is being rumoured. This scenario will introduce new external actors to the Sahel with additional baggage of troubles!” Adetula said.

He explained that such an alliance would create new power dynamics in North Africa, with Morocco’s rival Algeria attempting to check any changes in the balance of power that favour Rabat, which could include increased support to militant groups in the Sahel region.

“Given the history of Algeria’s links with some rebel groups operating in the Sahel including the three countries, the former may step up its support to some of the militant groups in the Sahel in reaction,” Adetula said, adding that this will lead to “increased tension and insecurity in the Sahel with a high prospect of spill over across the entire West Africa and even beyond.”

The expert also drew attention to the Russian presence in the Sahel, which already presents a concern to the West, suggesting that rising tensions could give the Western powers a reason to seek to curtail Russia’s growing influence in the region.

ECOWAS: Challenged But Indispensable

ECOWAS was founded in 1975 in Nigeria to promote regional economic integration but over the years has branched out into facilitating good governance, regional peace and security in the West African region. With the exit of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, the bloc will have 12 member countries, namely Benin, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

The bloc is currently chaired by Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who promised to intensify cooperation with the transitional countries, including Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso, during his tenure in order to expedite their return to democratic rule.

As West Africa is facing threats like coups, insurgencies and cross border crime, divisions within the regional bloc can undermine its ability to promote peace and development in the region, Adetula said.

He also observed that given strong economic ties of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali with their neighbours, their departure could have both short-term and long-term implications.

According to Adetula; “It is possible to argue that intra-ECOWAS trade and commerce may slow down, particularly in the short run, which is not good for a region whose trade among countries in the region is unimpressive. It is possible that external actors, especially China and other Asian countries, may take undue advantage of this development to flood the market in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger with their goods”.

At the same time, it is unlikely that other countries will follow the example of Sahel trio.

“First, unconstitutional change of government is unpopular and will not be tolerated by other players in the international system. Secondly, exiting regional bodies may be interpreted

by other countries as a rejection of international partnership and cooperation which is encouraged and supported by the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals] framework. Thirdly, the newly formed Alliance of Sahel States is not an alternative to ECOWAS which enjoys the recognition of the AU [African Union] as a key building block for African continental integration,” Adetula stated.

Another important factor is the relations between the United Nations and ECOWAS, which serves as the UN’s de factor representative in West Africa when it comes to maintaining international peace and security.

“Against this background, it is not likely that any other ECOWAS countries are contemplating exiting the regional body. On its part, ECOWAS is most likely to step up dialogue and negotiation to bring the three countries back into its fold without compromising its stand on democracy and good governance,” Adetula concluded.

Sourced from Sputnik.

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