Category Archives: Niger

Economic hardship, insecurity spike in Mali as ECOWAS exit looms

Mali’s exit from the bloc comes as citizens complain about fallout of regions sanctions imposed following the two coups

By Hannane Ferdjani
Published On 8 Feb 2024

Bamako, Mali – It’s been a week since Mali’s military government announced its decision to withdraw from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) but Bamako, the country’s capital, is still buzzing with energy.

In the early hours of the morning, the roads are bustling with city buses pushing through traffic jams, while market vendors walk hastily to their stalls to get the day started. But beneath that layer of normality are mounting concerns about leaving the 15-member regional bloc which Mali joined in 1975.

“It has become harder to get by and provide for my family,” Djadjie Camara, a shopkeeper in the city told Al Jazeera. “ECOWAS is the organisation who started all of this and made our lives harder. Life is hard for us, but I trust that leaving ECOWAS will benefit us in the end.”

After back-to-back coups in Mali within a year led to Colonel Assimi Goita becoming head of state in May 2021, the bloc slapped economic sanctions on the landlocked nation to push the transitional government to hold elections within a reasonable timeframe.

But that hit an economy grappling with blows from the COVID-19 pandemic and shocks from Russia’s war in Ukraine, hard. Inflation rose, with the cost of basic items like oil and sugar more than doubling. Since then, many Malians, including Camara, have embraced the government’s gradual distancing from the regional entity.

Although ECOWAS ended up lifting some of those sanctions in July 2022, many continue to harbour resentment for the embargo that inflicted hardship upon them.

This was the main argument presented by the newly formed Alliance of Sahel States (l’Alliance des Etats du Sahel or AES), including Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, in a January 28th joint statement announcing their withdrawal from the bloc, which they said had imposed “illegal, illegitimate, inhumane, and irresponsible sanctions”.

The second point of contention is ECOWAS’s perceived failure to aid their “essential battle against terrorism and insecurity”.

Diverging visions of pan-Africanism
When ECOWAS was established by the Treaty of Lagos on May 28, 1975, its primary focus was economics, aiming to create a West African market encompassing several neighbours.

A few years in, African leaders concluded that without political stability, they could not achieve their ultimate goal: a free market operating under a single currency. Hence, the birth of the Economic Community of West African States Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) in 1990. To foster regional integration, ECOWAS intermittently uses its authority to enforce trade sanctions and intervene militarily under specific conditions.

In their joint statement in January, AES also said ECOWAS had strayed from those original pan-African principles and was now under the influence of external forces.

Former colonial masters France, the European Union, the United Kingdom and the United States have sided with ECOWAS’s anti-coup stance, cutting off military aid and other forms of funding to the trio. Consequently, many now see the bloc as a puppet of the West with new ideas about regional identity.

“Pan Africanism today is about realising the United States of Africa,” former Malian Prime Minister Moussa Mara told Al Jazeera. “Strategically, this move is a mistake. It would translate into departing further away from the African integration goal whereby regional economic communities are integral.”

“Let us push back against that from within but leaving is not the solution,” he added. “The entire African continent accounts for 3 percent of the global GDP. West Africa represents less than 1 percent of that. We should consolidate these shares rather than disintegrating them.”

Together, the three exiting Sahel states in the AES represent just 8 percent of ECOWAS’s gross domestic product (GDP), which amounts to $761bn.

A withdrawal from the bloc could affect economic operators in AES who have benefitted from a regional free market where goods are exempt from tariffs and people travel as they please without visas.

Already, transport carriers are aware of what may change if the government sticks with the move.

“Things have changed in the last three years,” Tijani Mahamoudou, a truck driver from Niger, told Al Jazeera at a truck and trans-border bus station in Bamako. “We used to drive up and down to Senegal or Ivory Coast. Some of us carry merchandise. Others carry passengers. But since the coup, the border police going into these countries have become tougher. They check people’s IDs and our cargo. They make us waste time and money on these roads.”

“Even the way they talk to us and perceive us has changed. I know that if the AES leaves ECOWAS, things will only get worse for us who are always on the road,” he added.

‘We don’t know what to believe any more’
On Thursday, several hundred people demonstrated in Bamako in support of the government’s decision to withdraw from ECOWAS. Other rallies were held in towns, such as Kayes and Sikasso in the west and south of the country respectively.

The gatherings were in response to the transitional government’s call for people to take to the streets as they have routinely done so in the past three years. However, observers have argued that support for the state is on a decline unlike at the beginning of the transition.

“They had told school directors to let kids leave early to partake in the march, but even that didn’t happen,” a politician’s attaché who chose to remain anonymous told Al Jazeera about the last rally. “People have bigger problems … a regular Malian man wants to be able to provide for his family but with the electricity crisis that we’ve had, it’s become nearly impossible.”

From Bamako to Gao, power outages have become a persistent issue plaguing the entire country. Frustration has been mounting not only towards the national electricity provider, Energie du Mali (EDM) but also towards the transitional government.

And Malians have said the lack of proper governance is taking a toll on their source of livelihoods.

“We marched to chase IBK [former President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita] away [in 2020]. We marched to support the military, who helped us finish the job. They’ve been saying that our lives would get better, but we still haven’t seen it. I have a shop where I can’t sell cold drinks any more … We don’t know what to believe any more,” another shopkeeper told Al Jazeera anonymously.

Coup plotters cited deteriorating security as one of the reasons for taking over. Authorities have since signed off on the end of a UN peacekeeping mission and seen off French troops. The state has also instituted an arrangement with Russian military instructors believed to be mercenaries within the ranks of Moscow-linked private military contractor, Wagner.

But violence by armed groups is still on the rise. Data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) shows that there was a 38 percent increase in attacks in 2023 alone.

The renewed antirebellion effort has come with allegations of serial human rights violations.

“We’ve been sinking deeper and deeper and continue to do so,” Moussa Kondo, executive director at the Bamako-based think tank, Sahel Institute, told Al Jazeera.

Kondo, a former journalist, was appointed a presidential adviser on governance, democracy, and rule of law in October 2021. He resigned from his post a year later citing personal reasons and resumed his work in civil society.

“We’ve rejected everything that we consider to be aligned with Western interests. But that doesn’t mean we should put all our eggs in one basket with Russia. It’s not about saying no to one foreign power only to say yes to everything another foreign power proposes … Our leaders have to remain transparent and keep away from manipulating the people with rhetoric,” Kondo said.

Under Article 91 of the ECOWAS Treaty, a state can only withdraw membership after giving a written one-year notice and abiding by its provisions during that period. If after a year, the AES states do not withdraw their notification, they will effectively no longer be part of the bloc.

Some believe reunification in the region is still possible before then.

“I think there’s still time to backpedal … we can sit at a table and negotiate,” Mara told Al Jazeera. “That is what I wish for and appeal to our authorities to do, especially as ECOWAS have said they are willing to find a negotiated path forward and the AU has pledged to mediate those talks. I’m still optimistic.”

Source: Al Jazeera, 8th February 2024


What is ECOWAS and why have 3 coup-hit nations quit the West Africa bloc?

Nigeria’s President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, center first row, poses for a group   –  Copyright © africanews  Gbemiga Olamikan/Copyright 2023 The AP.  All rights reserved

Several months of tension between three coup-hit countries in West Africa and the regional bloc known as ECOWAS (Economic Community of West Africa) boiled over when the nations announced their immediate withdrawal from the bloc and accused it of a lack of support and “inhumane” coup-related sanctions.

In their joint statement on Sunday, the juntas of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso said that instead of helping their countries fight the security threats facing them, ECOWAS imposed “illegitimate, inhumane and irresponsible” sanctions when they staged the coups “to take their destiny into their own hands.”

It’s the first time in the bloc’s nearly 50 years of existence that its members are withdrawing in such a manner. Analysts say it’s an unprecedented blow to the group and a further threat to the region’s stability.

How important is ECOWAS?

The 15-nation regional bloc Economic Community of West African States was established in 1975 with one goal: “To promote co-operation and integration … to raise the living standards of its peoples and to maintain and enhance economic stability. “It has since grown to become the region’s top political authority, often collaborating with states to solve domestic challenges on various fronts from politics to economy and security.

Under the current leadership of Nigeria, West Africa’s economic powerhouse, ECOWAS is needed more than ever with the region’s stability being threatened by rampant coups and security crises. It operates “in a world … where you need to be strong in one bloc and united in solidarity,” said Babacar Ndiaye, senior fellow with the Senegal-based Timbuktu Institute for Peace Studies.

The problem, though, Is that some believe ECOWAS Is fast losing goodwill and support from many West Africans who see it as failing to represent their interests in a region where citizens have complained of not benefitting from rich natural resources in their countries.

“When you see citizens pushing back and seeing ECOWAS as the leaders club or leaders who support each other at the detriment of citizens, it doesn’t work well,” said Oge Onubogu, director of the Africa Program at the U.S.-based Wilson Center think tank.

What is the process of withdrawal from the bloc?

The ECOWAS treaty provides that its member states who wish to quit the bloc shall give its leadership a one-year written notice, at the end of which “such a state shall cease to be a member of the community.”

The treaty says that during that year, the state planning to quit shall “nevertheless observe the provisions” and its obligations under the agreement. However, ECOWAS said it was yet to be notified about the three countries’ decision to quit and that they “remain important members” of the body for now.

Analysts say ECOWAS will likely seek a continued dialogue with the juntas on how best to ensure the region’s stability while the three nations’ military leaders focus on seeking new partnerships.

How significant is such a withdrawal?

One thing is clear. Relations between ECOWAS and the three countries have deteriorated because of the bloc’s choice of sanctions as a key tool to reverse the coups there.

The Alliance of Sahel States that the juntas created in November were also seen by observers as an attempt to legitimize their military governments, seek security collaborations and become increasingly independent of ECOWAS.

But withdrawing from the 49-year-old bloc in such a manner is unprecedented and seen as a “major change in the sub-region,” said Ndiaye with the Timbuktu Institute for Peace Studies.

“It is the most challenging issue facing the subregion since its inception,” said Ndiaye. “All the work they have put into building a collective security mechanism is based on the protocols that posit that democracy, good governance and the rule of law will be the basis for peace and security.”

Russia, prolonged military rule and other possible fallouts

ECOWAS has led efforts to return civilian rule to the coup-hit countries, pressuring the juntas with sanctions and rejecting lengthy transitional timetables.

The worry has been that there is little evidence to show the juntas are committed to holding democratic elections within those timelines. With Sunday’s announcement, analysts say the non-allegiance to ECOWAS may delay the return of democracy in the three countries and motivate coups in others.

“If they are no longer part of the ECOWAS bloc, they don’t have to abide by previous transitional timelines promulgated as a means of easing sanctions against them,” said Ryan Cummings, director of Africa-focused security consulting company Signal Risk.

Cummings says the withdrawal might result in a new opportunity for Russia to expand its presence and interests in Africa.

The once-friendly relations between the three countries and developed nations in the West and Europe had already turned sour after the coups. Russia meanwhile has been more welcoming and continues to play into anti-French sentiment by framing itself to African nations as a country that never colonized the continent.

The Russian mercenary group Wagner has been present in Mali, where it is partnering with the army in battling armed rebels. In Burkina Faso, state media reported last week that Russian soldiers arrived to “strengthen military and strategic cooperation” between the two countries. Both Russian and Nigerien senior officials have also recently hosted each other.

“These countries have in recent months reinforced and entrenched partnerships with Russia from national security to the economy,” said Cummings with Signal Risk.

How much support they could get from Russia remains to be seen. In African countries where Wagner has been present, security crises there have persisted while the mercenary group has been accused of various rights violations.

Source: AfricaNews, 29th January 2024


EURACTIV expects rising demand for uranium

The war in Ukraine and talks about energy independence are revitalising nuclear energy. This is driving uranium prices up again and supply bottlenecks cannot be ruled out in the long term.

Experts also agree that there is no short-term ‘uranium problem’. Until recently, the mineral was ‘abundant and accessible at low prices’, said Raphaël Danino-Perraud, associate researcher at IFRI, a think tank, in an interview with EURACTIV.

Nevertheless, it is pointed out that demand is increasing in new, unprecedented ways. Major countries are turning to nuclear energy to increase their energy independence. The ‘Fukushima scare’ is over.

After a steady rise in prices in the mid-2000s, reaching an extraordinary one-off peak of $140 per pound in the summer of 2007, uranium prices stagnated in the $50 per pound range. At the beginning of 2011, they rose slightly to 70 $/pound before falling back to an average of 25 $/pound after Fukushima.

But demand is rising again.

The price of uranium has ‘doubled in two years’, Teva Meyer, an expert on nuclear geopolitics, told EURACTIV. In mid-August 2023, it reached 56 dollars per pound. This shows that the market ‘expects uranium demand to grow in the coming years’, the Orano spokesperson added

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) estimates that the world can use uranium for another 175 years, given the expected resources and average annual uranium production. That is more than coal (132 years) and oil and gas (around 50 years).

The problem, however, lies in the time it takes to exploit a newly found reserve. ‘There can be a time span of 20 to 40 years,’ says Kamin. In the meantime, mining companies have been deterred from investing in the sector by the collapse in market prices.