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Regional bloc backtracks on economic sanctions

Leaders say the decision to lift restrictions has been made for humanitarian reasons as they urge Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso not to leave the community

The decision by leaders of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) to lift economic sanctions on Niger's military regime is an embarrassing  admission of defeat by the bloc.

The military regimes of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso announced plans to leave Ecowas in a joint statement in January, and that move has had swift results (Dispatches, 30/1/24, Juntas walk out of Ecowas claiming it's under western control).

In a communique following a meeting of leaders on 24 February, Ecowas stated that the decision to end border closures, trade tariffs and restrictions of business transactions had been taken for humanitarian reasons, adding that 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.'

The sanctions had already prompted Niger to slash public spending and default on US$500 million of debt repayments, but had resulted in a group of actors, including Russia, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates making offers to Niger.

That is another setback for Ecowas, which has been widely criticised for its weak and ineffectual response to the coups in the Sahel. The bloc initially threatened military intervention to restore ousted President Mohamed Bazoum to power in Niger last year, only to backtrack. In the meantime, the European Union and United States refused to engage with the junta and pledged to back Ecowas, only to find themselves facing lost influence in the region when Ecowas did not act.

Ecowas chairman, Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu, said the bloc had had to rethink its strategy and urged Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea 'not to perceive our organisation as the enemy'.

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