DEVELOPMENT DISCOURSE WITH AMOS SAFO: the implications of a new sub-regional bloc on ECOWAS

File photo: President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and Chairman of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has convened another Extraordinary Summit of the Authority on the political situation in the Republic of Niger. The Summit will hold in Abuja, on Thursday, August 10, 2023

The new leaders of Burkina Faso, Capt. Ibrahim Traoré, Mali, Colonel Assimi Goïta and Niger, Abdourahamane Tchiani are canvassing for other ECOWAS member states to join the new Alliance for Sahel States (AES) in opposition to the existing Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS). The three Sahelian states withdrew from ECOWAS earlier in the year in protest against threats by some ECOWAS countries to impose economic sanctions and to use military force to compel the Nigerien military to reinstate the civilian government of Mohamed Bazoum, which was ousted from office on 26 July 2023.

Benefits of AES

Those who thought the leaders of the three countries were joking when they withdrew from ECOWAS, should think twice because they are now urging other ECOWAS countries to join them to chat a new path for the sub-region. The Prime Minister of Niger, Mahama Lamie at a recent Africa Development Bank meeting in Nairobi made a resolute appeal to other West African countries to join the new bloc. “There are ECOWAS countries that will likely benefit from joining the AES at it prioritises the culture of sovereignty and dignity for all countries”, he stated.

Lamie’s call for other ECOWAS states to join the AES came on the heels of a visit of Bassirou Diomaye Faye, the new President of Senegal to Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali to try and persuade them to reconsider quitting ECOWAS. During his recent visit to Ghana, the young Senegalese President acknowledged the challenge facing ECOWAS and promised to collaborate with other leaders to promote regional solidarity and integration. He underscored the importance of unity in the larger regional bloc, emphasizing that only a united sub-region can effectively tackle the economic and political hurdles of ECOWAS. Faye declared his unwavering support for collaboration, stressing the necessity of unity and integration.  His stance contradicts earlier speculations that he had promised to join the new alliance.

Spirit of Pan-Africanism

While in Ghana, Faye urged his audience, including President Akufo-Addo to harness the spirit of Pan-Africanism to enable to combat instability and economic challenges, and specifically mentioned Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. He further stressed the need to use dialogue and not force, as ECOWAS had contemplated trying to persuade the three countries to return home. Faye underlined the inter-dependence of member states for the common good of their people.

The leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger on the other hand see the new alliance as a promising alternative that seeks to promote inclusion and the upholding of sovereignty in dealing with African issues. To them, the alliance reflects a growing feeling among some ECOWAS members that the organization has become a puppet of western countries is not effectively responding to the political and economic challenges confronting the region.

The primary objective of the alliance is to safeguard the three countries against potential the threats of armed uprisings or external aggression. It upholds that any assault on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one of them will be regarded as an act of aggression against the parties involved. The stance of the three countries signals the emergence of a new bloc that has no affiliation with France or any western country. Unless the leaders change their minds, this new alliance is expected to compete with ECOWAS, which is largely driven by western policies and economic direction. Perhaps, the return of the three countries to ECOWAS will depend on the current structure of ECOWAS to uphold the sovereignty of members.

Influence of Russia

The signals are already clear that Russia has started making significant inroads in in economic and political cooperation with Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. This explains why all countries have kicked out French troops from their territories. Subsequently, Russia has deployed its Vagna forces to the countries to help counter threats of insurgency and to counter military coups. Mali in particular has become a strategic anchor of Russian influence in the Sahel region, that allows Russia to have access to Niger with military supplies and other humanitarian support.

Consequently, there is a concerted effort to foster a symbiotic relationship among the three countries of the AES. There are speculations that the Sahel bloc could be integrated into the BRICs in future to enable BRICS to become a formidable alternative to the G8 group and NATO, as more Sahel countries are expected to join AES in future. This furthermore signals the gradual collapse of western domination over Africa and the emergence of a new world economic and political order, that respects the sovereign decisions of all countries, big or small.

Reforms of AU

At the same forum in Nairobi, William Ruto raised similar sentiments about the future of the African Union and called for reforms based on a four-point plan. First is the need to empower the AU Commission to own and drive Africa’s economic diplomacy. This entails leveraging the continent’s abundant natural and human resources to attract investments and accelerate development. Second, Mr. Ruto stressed the significance of the transforming the Africa Union into an organization capable of spearheading the consolidation of the Africa market into a free trade area. Intra-African trade currently stands at a woeful 15 percent compared with higher levels in other regions. Impliedly, the Kenyan President hopes the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will move from the boardrooms to action and produce visible results  of increased intra-African trade.

Third, Mr. Ruto underscored imperative of enhancing the AU’s capacity to promote peace, security and stability across the continent. He emphasized the need for the AU to be proactive in conflict resolution, citing Sudan, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa Republic and the Sahel as critical areas of concern. Finally, he highlighted the need to address the infrastructure gap in Africa, such as roads, electricity, agricultural inputs and factories among others. This initiative will transform Africa’s economies from raw material producers to manufacturers of basic goods for consumption and export. Furthermore, he called for a reimagining of the AU to transform it from a liberation movement to a relevant body capable of addressing the contemporary challenges facing the continent. These changes include the proposals for a more accountable Pan-Africa Parliament that reflects the aspirations of all Africans.

Africa Court of Justice

In addition, President Ruto suggested the establishment of an African Court of Justice to arbitrate the continent’s legal issues internally, rather than resorting to the International Criminal Court (ICC). He expressed optimism that the reforms will be considered, emphasizing the potential of the initiatives to reshape the architecture of Africa’s economic, financial and structural transformation in line with the AU’s agenda 2063.

Speaking at a recent Plenary Session of the Eastern Economic Forum in Russia, the President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva exposed the double standards of the west when they established the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICC). The President of Brazil lamented the unfairness of the ICC and wonders why Brazil and other African countries signed it, while the major western powers, the so-called bastions of democracy failed to sign it.

According to him ICC was created for the slaves and former colonies of Europe. “It was never meant  to prosecute any leaders from anywhere, expect Africa and other poor countries. It was a scare mongering institution to put fear in the African leaders who dare to challenge western powers, ideologies and interests”, he emphasized. Mr. da Silva explained western powers  used the ICC to oust and prosecute Lauren Gbagbo of Ivory Coast to pave way for Alassane Dramane Ouattara to represent the interests of France.

He added that since its creation the ICC has failed to see the evil perpetrated by colonialism, slave trade and other human rights atrocities committed by western countries in Africa. “ICC does not respond when African puppets of western countries kill their own people and loot their countries and stash them in western banks”, he stated. He added that these corrupt and brutal African leaders are given red carpet treatment when they visit Europe with blood-stained shoes. “ICC only wakes up from slumber when western powers blow the whistle when their interests are threatened.”  Perhaps, the next step by Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger is to consider withdrawing from the ICC to start the process of breaking its one-sided approach to administering internal justice.

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