In the Spirit of Lent, Ramadan, ECOWAS Lifts Economic Sanctions on Niger, Mali, Guinea

In the Spirit of Lent, Ramadan, ECOWAS Lifts Economic Sanctions on Niger, Mali, Guinea

*Says political and targeted sanctions remain in force*Tinubu urges Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali to rejoin sub-regional body
*ECOWAS insists on release of ex-President Bazoum of Niger from detention
*Canvasses transition programme for restoration of constitutional order in Niger Republic

Deji Elumoye in Abuja

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) rose from its extraordinary session in Abuja yesterday with a resolve to immediately lift some of the sanctions imposed on Niger, Mali, and Guinea, in response to an unconstitutional change of government in the three countries.

The civilian governments in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger fell under military control in May 2021, September 2022 and July 2023, respectively.
Consequently, the ECOWAS announced economic sanctions that isolated the three states alongside Guinea, where the military took over in September 2021.
The bloc suspended all commercial and financial transactions between its current members and the junta-led states, freezing all their assets at the ECOWAS Central Bank.

On January 28, the three nations announced their withdrawal from the ECOWAS, saying its “illegal sanctions” were harming the people.
They also alleged that the bloc had fallen under the influence of foreign governments whose interests, they said, were far from the peoples’’.
Although ECOWAS’ rules mandate a withdrawing member state to issue one year’s notice, the junta declared their secession as immediate. It was the first withdrawal nearly 24 years after Mauritania pulled out in December 2000.

On February 15, ministers from Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger announced plans to establish a confederation called the Alliance of Sahel States.
President of the ECOWAS Commission, Dr. Omar Alieu Touray, who announced the lifting of some sanctions on the countries while presenting the communique issued at the end of an Extraordinary Summit of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the ECOWAS, said the decision was based on humanitarian considerations due to the month of Lent and the approaching month of Ramadan.

This is coming as President Bola Tinubu, who is the Chairman of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the organisation, called on Burkina Faso, Niger, and Mali to rejoin the sub-regional body.

Touray, however, clarified that political and targeted sanctions are still in force against the three nations.
According to him, while the political and targeted sanctions on the Niger Republic remain, the regional bloc lifted some financial and economic sanctions on Guinea and some targeted sanctions on Mali.
In the communique as read by ECOWAS Commission’s President, the sub-regional bloc demanded the release of former President Mohammad Bazoum of the Republic of Niger.

ECOWAS also called on the transition authorities in Niger to provide an acceptable transition timetable to the constitutional order.
On sanctions, Touray said ECOWAS resolved to lift with immediate effect, the following measures imposed on the Republic of Niger: “Closure of land and air borders between ECOWAS countries and Niger to be lifted; no Fly Zone of all commercial flights to and from Niger is to be lifted and suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS member states and Niger is to be lifted.”

ECOWAS, he said, also resolved that the “freezing of all service transactions including utility services is to be lifted.
“Freezing of assets of the Republic of Niger in ECOWAS central banks is to be lifted.
“Freezing of assets of Niger State and the state enterprises and parastatals in commercial banks is to be lifted.
“Suspension of Niger from all financial assistance and transactions with all financial institutions particularly ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) and BIRD is to be lifted.

“Travel ban on the government officials and their family members is also to be lifted.”
The President of the ECOWAS Commission said: “This decision is based on humanitarian considerations especially as we are in the month of lent and as we prepare for the holy month of Ramadan.”

ECOWAS also resolved to lift the sanctions regarding the recruitment of Malian citizens in statutory and professional positions within ECOWAS.
It also resolved to lift financial and economic sanctions on the Republic of Guinea.
ECOWAS also directed the President of the Commission to invite Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, and Guinea, to attend the technical and consultative meetings of ECOWAS as well as all security-related meetings.

On the withdrawal of the three countries, ECOWAS urged the countries to reconsider the decision because of the benefits that the ECOWAS member states and their citizens enjoy in the community.
It urged the three member states to adhere to the provisions of the 1993 revised treaty relating to withdrawal, particularly Article 91.
ECOWAS hailed Nigeria’s former military Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd), for his interest in the welfare of the community and his valuable suggestions.

Asked if the lifting of these sanctions will not suggest ECOWAS as weak and incentivies others with similar tendencies, Touray said “Now, let me make it very clear what I have listed is not exhaustive. Political sanctions have not been lifted. Border closures have been lifted. And commercial sanctions have been lifted. But there are targeted sanctions as well as political sanctions. That remains in force.
“I think our sanctions regime should be assessed correctly. The list I have given relates mainly to Niger because all the other countries still have political sanctions on them.

“So, the border closures, the commercial sanctions, and all that are on leisure and that is what the leaders have decided to lift. But individual sanctions as well as political sanctions remain in place in Niger.
“Now for other countries, political sanctions remain. That is the limited ability to attend ECOWAS Summit as well as ministerial sessions,” he added.
ECOWAS also lifted sanctions on Guinea and invited all four countries to attend technical consultative meetings of ECOWAS going forward.

Highlighting the various implications of the planned withdrawal by the three countries from the community, Touray said “Pulling out of the community might result in the halt or the suspension of all ECOWAS projects and programmes worth more than $500 million, various regional projects being executed by the region’s financial institutions, worth about $321.6 million may be halted, while they may be exited from the regional electricity market, known as the West African Power Pool project.

President Tinubu had earlier called for the suspension of economic sanctions imposed on Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea by ECOWAS.
Welcoming the ECOWAS leaders to the Extra-ordinary Summit of ECOWAS, President Tinubu stated: “Everything we did was in hopes of persuading our brothers that there existed a better path, a path that would lead to genuine improvement of their people’s welfare through democratic good governance. And this was a path each of our nations had solemnly agreed with one another pursuant to formal regional treaties and protocols.

“However, the sanctions that we contemplated might help lead our brothers to the negotiating table have become a harsh stumbling block. In my mind and heart, that which is hurtful yet ineffective serves no good purpose and should be abandoned.”
The president further explained that ECOWAS took the steps it did based on the regional ideals of security, social stability; democratic governance, political freedom, broad-based prosperity, and sustainable economic development through fair opportunity for everyone in West Africa.

He said neither hatred nor hidden motive influenced the steps taken and that there was never any intention to douse or undermine the legitimate political aspirations of any member state or to advance the interests of any outside party.
In calling for the suspension of sanctions, President Tinubu stressed that: “We must take note of the approach of the holy month of Ramadan and Lent. Whether you pray in the mosque or the church, this represents a time for compassion, hope, and harmony. It is a time that we must not only seek God but also a closer relationship with brother and neighbour.

“In the Spirit of the holy month and of the Lenten period, and with hearts bestirred by goodwill towards all our people, let us extend a hand as brothers and friends to those in Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea.”

“What I suggest in real and practical terms is that we, my colleagues and fellow heads of state in ECOWAS, indefinitely suspend economic sanctions against Niger, Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso and against the leadership of the military authorities in those nations.”
Tinubu called on the leadership in Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, and Niger to embrace the hand of fellowship extended by ECOWAS.

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