• Friday, April 12, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

ECOWAS and the exit of the trio

ECOWAS sanctions as a strategic gamble.

“It’s a hard one but it’s difficult to influence people if you alienate them. You can at least find somewhere to meet on a bridge but it’s almost impossible across a wall.” – Anonymous

Rather than strengthening ECOWAS, this move weakens it and is not something to be proud of; ECOWAS is currently focused on finding a peaceful solution to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was established in 1975 with 16 member countries. However, it has since decreased to 15 members and is now expected to further decrease to 12 due to alleged marginalisation by the leadership of the regional economic body.

The decision of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso to exit ECOWAS is causing increased tensions in the region. The “Alliance of Sahel States” as they are now called the trio have entered into a defence pact to ward off any military attack from the regional intervention force following the coup in Niger recently. This situation does not augur well for the future of the organisation, as it signifies a decline and potential collapse. Rather than strengthening ECOWAS, this move weakens it and is not something to be proud of. ECOWAS is currently focused on finding a peaceful solution to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger.

Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso are landlocked countries, meaning they do not have any territories directly connected to the ocean. However, they still have access to and from the ocean as outlined by the UN Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) III of 1982.

Being landlocked countries puts Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso at political and economic disadvantages compared to countries with ocean access. The level of development in landlocked countries can either alleviate or worsen their economic problems. It is worth noting that globally, there are a total of 44 landlocked countries, with 12 in Europe and 15 in Africa.

There are reports suggesting that some landlocked countries in Europe are affluent. The United Nations (UN) refers to these countries, many of which are in Africa, Asia, and South America, as Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs). Unfortunately, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso are among the LLDCs with the lowest Human Development Index in 2021/2022. The health, education, and standard of living of the people in these countries are below par. It is puzzling why these three countries have decided to leave ECOWAS, considering the challenges they already face.

The withdrawal of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso from ECOWAS is a concerning development. Many experts are worried that Nigeria, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire need to step up and prevent further disintegration of the regional bloc. It has taken member nations many years to establish and develop ECOWAS, and it would not be in our best interest to let it collapse suddenly.

Some analysts have raised concerns about the ability of Nigeria, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire to foster unity among member nations due to their internal issues. They argue that while negotiations and diplomacy are possible, there is uncertainty about who will lead the process. A diplomatic source pointed out that those in power have lost legitimacy and moral authority, especially after cutting off the electricity supply to Niger Republic.

While some hope Nigeria’s ECOWAS leadership will stabilise the region, dialogue remains crucial even in its absence. Provocative ECOWAS comments don’t sway the populace. Survival instinct drives priority over democracy discussion in the three countries, where democracy hasn’t notably better living standards, concerning neighbouring West African nations.

Russia and other foreign powers offer aid to Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso. Despite this, these nations consider France their adversary. Exiting ECOWAS might grant them freedom from perceived threats, aligning with their national interests, as leaders carefully deliberate available options.

ECOWAS should heed the warning of potential withdrawal from neighbouring countries, reassessing its stance on unconstitutional government changes. It must prioritise economic unity over political concerns to avoid setbacks. Building is harder than destroying, and delayed monetary unification already poses challenges. ECOWAS should refocus on its core mission amid divisive politics.

It is uncertain how the alienation of these three countries will affect them. The remaining members of ECOWAS may struggle to exert influence over the leadership of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso. Aviation experts have cautioned that these three countries may close their airspace to Nigerian flights. Experts believe that these developments will have negative consequences for Nigeria’s economy, as the three countries account for approximately 50 percent of ECOWAS airspace.

The potential exit of these nations from ECOWAS could harm their fragile economies and exacerbate food insecurity. Visa requirements for Nigerians travelling to these countries could impede the movement of goods. Nigerian goods may face bans. Withdrawal might disrupt ECOWAS trade protocols, risking access to a $702 billion market and weakening $277.22 billion global trade.

Although it is challenging to predict the exact impact of the exit of the trio on the regional economy, it is important to keep all member countries united to create a conducive environment for growth. Before wrapping up, I invite my esteemed readers to speculate on which country could potentially be the next to leave ECOWAS. Your guess is as good as mine. Thank you.

MA Johnson, Rear Admiral (Rtd)