Analysis-W. African coups show the limits of diplomacy, opening the door to new players | world news

By Aaron Ross and David Lewis

DAKAR (Reuters) – Earlier this month, West African countries imposed tough economic sanctions on Mali to punish putschists seeking to extend their grip on power and to halt a series of military takeovers that have plagued the region since 2020.

The army of Burkina Faso did not understand the message. On Monday, two weeks after the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) announced the sanctions, the Burkinabe army arrested President Roch Kaboré and seized power https:/ /

As the international community condemned West Africa’s fourth coup in 18 months, crowds in the capital Ouagadougou cheered celebrates-west-africas-latest-coup-2022-01-25 the Burkinabe military – a contrast to the anti-coup protests that erupted when the military briefly took power in 2015.

The reaction echoed scenes in Mali and Guinea, whose putschists were warmly welcomed home.

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West African nations and international allies have struggled to mount an effective response, as people lose faith in governments that many see as manipulating the democratic process and unable to reduce poverty or repel violence from Islamist militants. .

The problems predate recent coups. In contrast to its vocal opposition to military coups, ECOWAS has remained silent as sitting presidents maintain their grip on power by extending terms under what critics call “constitutional coups”.

“Today, ECOWAS is not a credible institution for people,” said Abdoulaye Barry, a Burkinabé researcher at the United Nations University for Peace.

“As long as they do not provide adequate responses to the governance deficit, coups d’etat will multiply.”

An ECOWAS spokesperson was unavailable to comment on his tally.

Other countries, including France and European allies, have maintained a military presence in the region and are joining forces with local armed forces to fight groups like Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, which means that military support continues despite criticism of the coups.

France in particular has deployed thousands of troops to West Africa’s Sahel region over the past decade, but security has steadily deteriorated, fueling anti-French sentiment.

The international sanctions and condemnations have undoubtedly strengthened the position of the putschists at home.

Mali’s military-led transitional government, which took power in a coup in August 2020, has backtracked on its commitment to hold elections next month. Instead, he offered to rule for another four years.

ECOWAS sanctions included the exclusion of Mali from regional financial markets and the closing of its borders, potentially devastating blows for the impoverished landlocked country.

Although the pain caused by rising food prices and shortages could still turn people against the authorities, forcing the junta to the negotiating table, for now the sanctions seem to be having the opposite effect.

Protests against the sanctions, which even some critics of the junta say are draconian, have drawn tens of thousands into the streets. People were holding placards that read: “Down with ECOWAS” and “Down with France”.

The putschists have found new allies. As tensions with France mounted, Mali’s interim government struck a deal with Russia to send -12-25 military trainers.

France and its Western allies claim that many of these trainers are mercenaries from a private military contractor under European Union sanctions. The Malian authorities deny this.

“Coalitions outside the traditional UN structures are emerging and claiming security and economic partnerships in Africa,” said a West African diplomat, citing Russia, China, Turkey and the Gulf states.

On Tuesday, Alexander Ivanov, the official representative of Russian military trainers in the Central African Republic, issued a statement on the situation in Burkina Faso.

“I believe that if Russian instructors are invited to train the Burkinabe army, they will be able to do so effectively,” Ivanov said.

The new Burkinabe authorities have not commented on a possible Russian deployment. At Tuesday’s pro-coup rally, some in the crowd held Russian flags.

Alliances closer to home can also undermine attempts to punish military takeovers.

When ECOWAS ordered member states to close borders with Mali, Guinea said it would not comply, allowing continued access to the port of Conakry. The Burkina Faso junta, also bordering Mali, has not yet said whether it will do the same.

ECOWAS, founded in 1975 to promote economic integration in post-colonial West Africa, can still inflict pain through sanctions.

Nearly 30% of Mali’s trade is with ECOWAS member states, according to UN data, and food prices are starting to rise in the capital Bamako, according to locals.

But diplomats and analysts said the influence of ECOWAS and foreign powers traditionally active in the region has been hampered by eroding credibility.

Some have traced this back to 2015, when the bloc nearly banned third presidential terms after veteran Burkina Faso leader Blaise Compaoré was ousted the previous year in an uprising sparked by his efforts to extend his term. mandate.

Such a decision would have been a first for an African regional body, but it never happened.

ECOWAS remained silent in 2020 as the presidents of Guinea and Ivory Coast won third terms after changing constitutions that barred them from running again.

“ECOWAS must address the root causes of recent coups…including situations where governments manipulate constitutions to stay in power,” said Said Djinnit, former peace and security commissioner of the African Union and senior UN diplomat in the West. Africa.

Anger over Guinean President Alpha Condé’s third term in office was one of the reasons the army gave when it overthrew him last September.

Guinea’s ruling junta has promised to oversee a transition to democracy, but has refused to set a date for elections. ECOWAS imposed targeted sanctions against members of the junta and their families.

(Reporting by Aaron Ross in Dakar and David Lewis in Nairobi; Editing by Edward McAllister and Mike Collett-White)

Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.

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