A West African leaders’ summit opened a day after the military rulers of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger forged a new alliance, severing ties with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The ECOWAS summit is being hosted in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, after several West African leaders called for a resumption of dialogue with the three coup-hit Sahel countries, which signed a new defence pact on Saturday during a summit of their own in Niamey, the capital of Niger.
Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger announced the pact, known as the Alliance of Sahel States, last September. It allows them to cooperate in the event of an armed rebellion or external aggression. The three countries withdrew from ECOWAS in January after the regional bloc’s tough stand against the coups.
The timing of Saturday’s announcement by the Sahel alliance was aimed at showing what the three countries can do without the regional bloc.
Speaking at the summit on Saturday, Niger’s General Abdourahamane Tchiani called the 50-year-old ECOWAS “a threat to our states,” adding that the three countries aim to create an alliance free of foreign influence for their people.
ECOWAS lifted sanctions on Niger in February in an attempt to mend relations, but little progress has been made. The bloc had imposed sanctions following the July 2023 coup that brought Tchiani to power.
Burkina Faso had its coup in September 2022, and Mali in August 2021.
Abdulaziz Abdulaziz, a media assistant to the Nigerian president, said much has been achieved in the past year despite the souring relations between ECOWAS and the Sahel alliance.
As the Sahel region shifts towards allying with Russia, the United States is set to complete its withdrawal from a key base in Niger on Sunday, which it had built to combat armed groups that pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).
About 1,000 US military personnel were set to withdraw from Niger’s Air Base 101.
Following the coups in West Africa, the breakaway countries have had increasingly strained relations with the West, condemning influence, particularly by former colonial ruler France. French troops left Mali completely in 2022, and they completed their withdrawal from Niger and Burkina Faso last year.
Amid the political and military shifts following the coups, the armed groups continue to pose a considerable danger to the whole region.

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