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Burkina Faso suspended by West African grouping following military coup

FILE PHOTO: New Military Leader Of Burkina Faso, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, delivers a speech in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, January 27, 2022, in this screengrab taken from video. REUTERS TV via REUTERS

Burkina Faso was suspended from West Africa’s biggest regional group on Friday over this week’s military coup, but no penalties were imposed, its member states said in a statement.

The news: The army of Burkina Faso deposed President Roch Kabore on Monday, putting the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to the test. ECOWAS has struggled to mobilise an effective reaction to a number of coups in the area over the last 18 months.

  • According to the announcement, an ECOWAS defence chief’s team will visit Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, on Saturday, followed by a ministerial mission a few days later.
  • On February 3, the heads of ECOWAS member states will meet again in Ghana’s capital, Accra, to examine the results of the two delegations.

What’s going on: ECOWAS and its international allies have criticised the coup in Burkina Faso, fearing that it will further destabilise the country already afflicted by Islamist violence, but they have limited leverage.

  • The bloc’s decision not to censure Burkina Faso contrasts with its response to military coups in Mali and Guinea, which saw ECOWAS member states restrict borders and implement economic penalties following military takeovers in May and September, respectively.
  • Sanctions imposed by ECOWAS on the juntas in Mali and Guinea have had no effect on their behaviour, and the current coup was not prevented.
  • When the bloc’s members meet again next week, they may decide to censure Burkina Faso.
  • ECOWAS, according to pro-democracy advocates, is experiencing a credibility crisis, with West Africans losing faith in regional leaders they perceive as manipulating the democratic process and failing to alleviate poverty or manage Islamist terror.

What they’re saying: Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, the acting ECOWAS chairman, admitted that the organisation still has work to do in convincing people of the benefits of democracy in his opening remarks to the summit.

  • “The happenings in the region tell us that not everybody has accepted democracy as the preferred mode of governance,” Akufo-Addo said.
  • He added that the rest of the world was looking to ECOWAS “to be firm in this matter”.    

What’s important: Following military takeovers in August 2020 and September 2021, ECOWAS placed sanctions on Mali and Guinea, respectively.

  • It stepped up sanctions against Mali this month after the transitional government there failed to follow through on an earlier promise to hold elections in February. Closing member states’ borders with Mali and prohibiting most financial transactions were among the new limitations.
  • However, the tough stance appears to have backfired by bolstering the junta’s domestic support. Thousands of people took to the streets to protest the penalties.
  • Burkina Faso’s coup, like Mali’s, was sparked in part by public dissatisfaction with insecurity created by terrorists affiliated to al Qaeda and Islamic State.
  • In recent years, violence has killed hundreds and uprooted millions across the Sahel region.
  • Burkina Faso would return to constitutional order “when the conditions are right”.

The European Union has stated that it will impose sanctions on Mali in the same manner as ECOWAS. When asked by Reuters on Friday whether EU foreign policy director Josep Borrell intended to slap penalties on Burkina Faso, he dodged the question.

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