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Reason, impact, response, as ECOWAS lifted sanctions on junta-led Niger Republic, others 

Reason, impact, response, as ECOWAS lifted sanctions on junta-led Niger Republic, others 

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Saturday made a significant decision to lift sanctions imposed on junta-led Niger Republic in a strategic move to dissuade three junta-led states from withdrawing from the political and economic union.

This move marks a pivotal moment in the region’s political landscape and has far-reaching implications for both the affected nations and the broader international community.

ECOWAS leaders met to address a political crisis in the coup-hit region that deepened in January with military-ruled Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali’s decision to exit the 15-member bloc.

After closed-door talks, ECOWAS said it had decided to lift Niger sanctions including border closures, the freezing of central bank and state assets, and the suspension of commercial transactions with immediate effect.

In a communique it said this was done for humanitarian reasons, but the move will be seen as a gesture of appeasement as ECOWAS tries to persuade the three junta states to remain in the nearly 50-year-old alliance. Their planned exit would bring a messy disentanglement from the bloc’s trade and services flows, worth nearly $150 billion a year.

The bloc “further urges the countries to reconsider the decision in view of the benefits that the ECOWAS member states and their citizens enjoy in the community,” it said.

It also said it had lifted certain sanctions on junta-led Guinea, which has not said it wants to leave ECOWAS but like other junta states has not committed to a timeline to return to democratic rule.

ECOWAS Commission President Omar Touray said some targeted sanctions and political sanctions remained place for Niger, without giving details.

Earlier, ECOWAS chairman Bola Tinubu said the bloc had to rethink its strategy in its bid to get countries to restore constitutional order and urged Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea “not to perceive our organisation as the enemy”.

ECOWAS closed borders and imposed the strict measures on Niger last year after soldiers detained President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26 and set up a transitional government, one of a series of recent military takeovers that have exposed the bloc’s inability to halt democratic backsliding.

The sanctions have forced Niger, already one of the world’s poorest countries, to slash government spending and default on debt payments of more than $500 million.

In its communique, ECOWAS repeated its call for the release of Bazoum and request for the junta to provide an “acceptable transition timetable”.

Niger’s coup followed two each in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso over the past three years, leaving a swathe of territory in the hands of military governments that have also moved to distance themselves from former colonial ruler France and other Western allies. The military also seized power in Guinea in 2021.

ECOWAS also imposed sanctions on Mali in a bid to hasten its return to constitutional order, although they were lifted in 2022.

The three countries have called ECOWAS’s sanctions strategy illegal and grounds for their decision to leave the bloc immediately without abiding by usual withdrawal terms.

The three have started cooperating under a pact known as the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) and sought to form a confederation, although it is not clear how closely they plan to align political, economic and security interests as they struggle to contain a decade-old battle with Islamist insurgents.

Reasons for lifting sanctions

One of the key reasons cited for lifting the sanctions was that ECOWAS recognized the importance of supporting these countries in their efforts to address pressing economic and social challenges. By lifting the sanctions, the regional bloc aims to facilitate economic recovery and development in the affected nations, promoting stability and prosperity for their citizens.

Impact on junta-led countries

The lifting of sanctions is expected to have a positive impact on the junta-led countries, enabling them to reengage with regional and international partners on various fronts. This includes diplomatic relations, trade agreements, and development assistance, which were significantly constrained during the period of sanctions.

Moreover, the removal of sanctions is likely to boost investor confidence in these countries, attracting much-needed foreign investment that can help stimulate economic growth and create employment opportunities. This renewed engagement with the global community is seen as a crucial step towards rebuilding these nations’ reputations and fostering sustainable development.

International Response

The decision by ECOWAS to lift sanctions on junta-led African countries has been met with mixed reactions from the international community. While some have welcomed the move as a positive step towards reconciliation and stability in the region, others have expressed concerns about potential risks associated with easing pressure on military regimes.

Critics argue that lifting sanctions could embolden authoritarian leaders and undermine efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Africa. They emphasize the importance of maintaining pressure on junta-led governments to uphold democratic norms and respect for rule of law.

Looking ahead

As ECOWAS lifts sanctions on junta-led African countries, all eyes are now on how these nations will navigate their transition back into the international fold. The coming months will be crucial in determining whether they can sustain their commitment to democratic governance and inclusive development, or if they will face renewed challenges that could jeopardize their progress.

Overall, this decision by ECOWAS underscores the complex dynamics at play in Africa’s political landscape and highlights the delicate balance between promoting stability and upholding democratic values in a region marked by diverse challenges and opportunities.

 

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