Bloc Battles on the Dark Continent


In West Africa, there were two summits of West African alliances —  AES and ECOWAS. The results of the first summit became a subject of heated discussions at the second one.

The first AES (Alliance of Sahel States) summit was historic for the region, marking the official «launch» of the Sahel alliance, which was previously a regional military union. Leaders of the three member countries (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso) addressed a number of issues, taking another step towards further, tighter integration. As a result of the summit, four documents were adopted: the Treaty on the Establishment of the AES Confederation, the Rules of Procedure for the AES Heads of State Council, the Final Communique, and the so-called Niamey Declaration. Additionally, during the discussion, it was decided to create a single AES bank, a single space for the movement of goods, develop a unified security policy, a unified communication policy, and coordinate foreign policy steps.

Everything would be fine, but this regional union calls into question the very existence of ECOWAS. According to representatives of the member countries of this organization, the withdrawal of AES countries from it in January this year and the signing of the confederation treaty will lead to «disintegration and deterioration of security in the entire western part of Africa».

Let us remind you: relations between AES and ECOWAS significantly worsened in 2023. ECOWAS imposed harsh economic sanctions on Niger and threatened military intervention, demanding the return of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. Although the sanctions were lifted in February, relations between the two sides remain literally icy. Additionally, the withdrawal of the three countries from ECOWAS was partly due to their accusations that Paris «manipulates the bloc and does not provide sufficient support to the region’s anti-jihadist efforts».

Assessing the crisis within the organization, Bola Tinubu, President of Nigeria and Chairman of ECOWAS, held the 65th summit of the West African bloc on July 7, right after the AES summit. Naturally, the leaders of the organization still hope for the swift return of the three countries or at least the signing of agreements with them on the free movement of people, goods, and cargo and/or anti-terrorist cooperation.

However, the chances of this are practically zero. At least, in the short term.

Why are ECOWAS members so afraid of losing Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso?

It’s about money and influence. The withdrawal of the three states from the community could lead to the cessation of all projects and programs, which are valued at more than 500 million US dollars. Diplomatically and politically, it isolates ECOWAS on the international stage. It will lose support from blocs such as the African Union, the UN, and other similar organizations. Travel and immigration requirements will become stricter, as citizens will now need visas to enter the subregion. Moreover, they will no longer be able to live freely in the region or start businesses within the economic opportunities of ECOWAS and will be subject to national laws.

Institutionally, the decision to withdraw the three member states will lead to the closure of several ECOWAS regional structures in these countries. Their loss would be a significant obstacle to regional integration and development.

During the ECOWAS summit, Presidents Bassirou Diomaye Faye (Senegal) and Faure Gnassingbé (Togo) were appointed as ECOWAS coordinators in AES. The Senegalese president was tasked with negotiating with the leaders of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger to try to reunite the region, whose stability was threatened after their decision to leave the bloc.

Moreover, during the summit, which lasted only a couple of hours, Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was unanimously re-elected as Chairman of the ECOWAS Heads of State and Government Council, which did not please the public in the member countries. Many criticize this decision, considering Tinubu’s work ineffective.

There are reasons for dissatisfaction. While Tinubu discusses measures to combat terrorists, residents of northeastern Nigeria suffer from their attacks. For example, terrorists, disguised in women’s Muslim dresses, abducted 26 people in Katsina state.

Meanwhile, Burkina Faso, for example, not only successfully repels but also prevents terrorist actions. Thanks to the vigilance of the Ouagadougou Armed Forces, a large-scale attack on the city of Djibo was foiled. All participants were eliminated before the attack began.

Furthermore, the authority of President Tinubu is undermined by the economic crisis in Nigeria itself, which will have to massively import food this year to mitigate the negative impact of the crisis.

Additionally, appointing the President of Senegal as a mediator is also questionable. The young politician lacks the depth, understanding, and experience necessary to establish relations of peace, good neighborliness, and mutual respect that could contribute to the rapprochement of the blocs. Not to mention that he maintains very friendly relations with France, although it is largely because of France that AES countries left ECOWAS.

It seems that ECOWAS is pursuing a very strange, inconsistent, and partly childish policy towards the seceded countries. It alternates between warmth and sudden coolness in relations, threatens with ineffective economic sanctions and surreal military intervention plans, and futilely calls for dialogue. One thing is clear: the organization has no action plan, no unity, and, as a result, fewer chances to stay afloat. It is likely to face the same fate as the G5 Sahel, which, with the withdrawal of Mali (2022) and then Niger and Burkina Faso (2023), quietly ceased to exist.

But where does such courage come from in the AES countries? The presence of Chinese investments and, more importantly, Russian private military companies (PMCs) has provided these seceded states with a certain level of security, as well as influence on the continent and in the region.

Whether this new confederation will prosper remains to be seen, but considering the international political landscape, it is unlikely to return to ECOWAS. At least not in the near future. And by then, there might not be anything to return to.