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MAI FATTY WARNS ECOWAS ON BRINK OF DISINTEGRATION

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By Omar Bah

Following reports of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger leaving the Economic Community of West African States, the leader of the Gambia Moral Congress has warned that the regional bloc is on the brink of disintegration.

On Sunday 28th January, three West African junta-led states Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso announced they are immediately leaving Ecowas, a regional economic bloc that has been urging them to return to democratic rule. The main decision is reportedly linked to what they described as Ecowas’ subservience to foreign interests, betrayal of founding principles and inhumane sanctions emasculating their economies.

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Reacting to the news in a Standard exclusive, Mai Fatty said: “This is by no means a significant setback that may seriously weaken Ecowas drive towards regional integration as well as its resolve in achieving regional consensus on common issues affecting the block. It is also bad news for combating insecurity in West Africa.

“I am very concerned about the timing of such an unfortunate development in the context of growing instability and insecurity in Africa and elsewhere and contraction in global economic growth.

Barely three months ago, the three States signed the Liptako-Gourma charter, creating the Alliance of Sahel States to help counter potential threats of armed rebellion or external aggression. It must be noted that the Liptako-Gourma region is home to 45% of the entire population of the three States, with a massive territory of 370,000 km. This is also the common border area in central Sahel with most insecurity adversely impacting the three states.”

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Fatty said the main purpose of the mutual defence pact initially is to deter Ecowas’ threat of military intervention in Niger to restore constitutional order.

“I think on Mali’s part, it also reflects deep dissatisfaction with the way G5 Sahel Joint Force and Operation Barkhane conducted the war against terrorism. Equally for Burkina Faso, Operation Sabre launched by France was perceived to be a huge disaster and counter-productive.

The charter establishes that any attack against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more contracting parties will be considered as aggression against the other parties. My view is that as a mechanism of deterrence, it continues to work successfully. If Ecowas had attacked Niger to restore former President Bassoon, Niger would inevitably invoke the charter. Mali and Burkina Faso would be legally obliged under the charter to join Niger in a brutal war against Ecowas, potentially setting the whole region ablaze. Such a pernicious reflection was sufficiently formidable to compel a rethink on the part of Ecowas to pursue diplomacy and jettison the military option,” he added.

Having expelled perceived ineffectual western intervention in the war of attrition against terrorism, the GMC leader added, the Sahel States radically changed their strategic calculations towards uncharted waters.

“To me, in effect the Alliance states expressed their desire to confront war on terror on the strength of their own boots, through mutual solidarity, sheer will and faith in a new international ally, with no visible impact on the battlefields so far. Burkina Faso has the highest victims of terrorist acts in the world and last year alone, deaths linked to political violence increased by 77%. Mali on the other hand experienced an increase of 150% last year, compared to 2022 in deaths linked to acts of terrorism.

Yet I believe the withdrawal of membership may not be helpful. Fighting terrorism can succeed but without multilateral support and coordination, it may be extremely challenging for these States acting on their own. The lack of significant air capability, which is a must, may pose great difficulties in policing multiple insurgents deep in the deserts and elsewhere,” he added.

The trained lawyer added that Ecowas must change its ineffective diplomatic strategy, including using the vast experience of respected African negotiators instead of the usual faces who already lost all influence and credibility with the leaders and peoples of Sahel States.

“It is not too late. Although a regional issue, I encourage President Barrow to make a meaningful demarche to Bamako, Ouagadougou and Niamey, with a small but professional team including highly experienced veteran Gambian diplomats, some of whom may be in retirement exclusively for this mission,” he advised.

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