West African leaders are holding a summit following a wave of coups that are causing concern in the region
West African leaders hold a key summit on Thursday as a series of coups featuring a region struggling with poverty and a long history of turbulence.
Emergency calls in Ghana’s capital Accra were triggered after Burkina Faso on January 24 became the third member of a 15-nation economic community of West African states (ECOWAS) to be overtaken by the military.
Burkina followed Mali, where a coup in September 2020 was followed by another in May 2021, and Guinea, where President-elect Alpha Conde was ousted in September last year.
A pistol attack on Tuesday against Guinea-Bissau’s president, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, intensified unrest in the region, which raised fears that years of efforts to steer West Africa towards stability and democracy will fail.
Thursday’s one – day meeting, scheduled to start at 1000 GMT, will evaluate the outcome of two missions to Burkina after the coup.
Burkina Faso was shut down by ECOWAS after rebels arrested President Roch Marc Christian Kabore amid public outrage over his handling of a jihadist uprising.
The question now is whether the country – ranked as a miserable 182nd out of 189 countries in the UN’s worldwide development index – will avoid economic punishment.
ECOWAS has already imposed devastating sanctions on Mali and Guinea for dragging their feet on commitments to restore civilian rule.
These measures have included the closure of ECOWAS members’ borders, an embargo on trade and financial transactions and sanctions against individuals.
Positive signs Military commanders from ECOWAS flew to Ouagadougou on Saturday for talks with the junta, followed on Monday by a diplomatic mission led by Ghanaian Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey.
The early reactions from the envoys have been positive.
“They seemed very open to the suggestions and suggestions we made. For us, it is a good sign,” Botchwey told reporters after meeting with Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba and other junta members.
The talks were attended by the UN Special Representative for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mahamat Saleh Annadif, who described a “very sincere exchange”.
The delegation met in particular Kabore, whose well-being and demands for release from house arrest are important issues.
During the visit, the junta declared that it had restored the constitution, which it had quickly suspended after the coup, and appointed Damiba president and commander of the armed forces during a transitional period.
And on Tuesday, Damiba met with political party leaders, many of whom said they were keen to participate in the re-establishment of civilian rule.
But big questions remain unanswered, including the key question of an election date. On January 24, the junta promised to restore “constitutional order” within a “reasonable time.”
When deciding whether to impose sanctions, ECOWAS leaders must balance the credibility of their organization with the fragility of some of their states, especially in the Sahel.
Mali and Burkina Faso are in a nearly decade-old jihadist emergency that has claimed thousands of lives and forced at least one and a half million people out of their homes.
Escalating political frictions with the junta in Mali have pushed Bamako closer to the Kremlin and cast a shadow over France’s anti-jihadist mission in the country.