Alliance of Sahel States: Another Wrong Answer for the Wrong Question from Africa

“From now on, we say, whether you’re from Mali, Niger, or Burkina, we have the same destiny. We’re going in together; it is up to us to control our destiny”.

“From now on, we say, whether you’re from Mali, Niger, or Burkina, we have the same destiny. We’re going in together; it is up to us to control our destiny”. A statement from Burkinabe premier Appoinaire Joachim Kyelem at a joint conference in Niger’s capital Niamey. 

On September 16, 2023, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso declared the creation of the Alliance of Sahel States (AoSS) after the signing of the “Liptako-Gourma” Charter. Through the charter, the three neighboring states ruled by military officers who seized power by coup, aim to establish a collective defense and mutual assistance framework for its population, together with combining military and economic efforts to confront common security threats and advance the well-being of its people.

After the punitive measures imposed by ECOWAS on the AoSS, such as blocking financial and banking transactions, energy embargo, the pause of commercial flights, closing of the borders, and economic and diplomatic constraints, the AoSS announced their exit from the community. The AoSS members blame the ECOWAS for deviating from its founding ideals and being subservient to foreign powers, especially France. As ECOWAS claims the AoSS states on their failure to return the power to the civilian government after the coups.

Challenges face the AoSS

In 2023, more than 8,000 people in Burkina Faso were reportedly killed due to the civil war-like proportions and the number of people killed by acts of political violence doubled, placing highest after Nigeria in West Africa. Burkina Faso has been ranked as the first country in the world impacted by the most terrorist attacks above Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israel.

In Niger, the first six months of 2023, the country witnessed a decrease in political violence by 39% compared to the previous six months. Attacks on civilians decreased by 49% due to the increase in Nigerien security operations. Despite the security improvement, 13 percent of the Niger total population is under accurate food insecurity with a probability of 28 percent at risk of dropping into that category too.

While in neighbouring Mali, an offensive led by the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) with its associate Wagner group led violence to shift northward toward areas previously under the control of the insurgency. The offensive reawakened the rebellion by predominantly Tuareg and Arab armed groups operating under the banner of the Permanent Strategic Framework (CSP) framework. Recently, the offensive has gradually extended across the Northern region of Timboctou, Gao, and Kidal.

3 million people from the Central Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger) are forcibly displaced either internally or externally.

What AoSS might do to tackle the Challenge

Cooperation with Russia

Recently, ECOWAS announced the lifting of sanctions imposed on Niger. The bloc announced the lifting is due to “purely humanitarian grounds” to ease the suffering caused by the sanctions. Among the AoSS member states, Niger poses strategic potential due to its possession of Uranium.

After the Nigerien government’s announcement on ending its military alliance with the U.S. early this year, Iran has been accused by the U.S. of secretly exploring the deal on Uranium with Niamey. The expulsion seems to be a huge blow for the U.S. as U.S. Air Base 201 at Agadez has been used as a “headquarter” for encountering the Islamic insurgency in the Sahel. This decision came shortly after the Niamey government also kicked out the French troops.

It should be recalled that, In December 2023, Russia and Niger agreed to develop military cooperation in a joint action to stabilize the security situation in the region. The same cooperation has Russia agreed with Burkina Faso and Mali via the Russia PMC, Wagner Group.

Despite the security assistance, Russia had been in a discussion with Mali in agriculture and energy cooperation too. 

Cooperation with China

Due to its “Non-Interference of Internal Affairs Policy”, China has already become a major player, as the President of Burkina Faso once quoted in its statement that “Burkina Faso regards China as a prior and important cooperative partner and thanks to China for actively supporting Burkina Faso in coping with security crises and promoting economic and social development”. 

The bloc is enriching Uranium, Oil, Lithium, and Natural Gas as by default will attract the major economic global players’ influence. This attraction might pull the resources needed to secure the economic and security stability within the countries.

The New Bloc Definition towards African Trade, Development and Sovereign

In November 2023, Niger was expelled by the U.S from the AGOA trade agreement due to the “failure of making continual progress towards establishing, the protection of political pluralism and the rule of law”. This leaves Niger with no choice other than opening her full arms to China, Turkey, Iran and Russia. 

How about ECOWAS? Intra-trade between ECOWAS members is just 2.77 percent as this figure signifies how much the block members depend less on each other. For instance, Burkina Faso’s main trade partners in Africa are Mali and Ivory Coast which contribute 6.7 and 3.7 percent respectively of the total export, while Switzerland its main export partner contributes 68.8 percent mainly in gold and cotton trade. As the ECOWAS and WAEMU member, Mali had been contributing 1.7 percent of the total export trade from the block while Burkina Faso and Niger’s contribution was 1 percent respectively. 

AoSS still needs Africa as 75 percent of Mali’s wheat imports come from Senegal and it is ranked 98 out of 125 on the global hunger index. Due to the challenges faced by AoSS member states at the time, China and Russia might occupy the trade opportunity with these countries. 

Africa should take every advantage drop upon. The expulsion of Niger from AGOA has to be calculated as the trade advantage between African countries. Instead of relying on posing sanctions against one another, an option that has proven weak, outdated, and failure, Africa should begin competing with these “giant-economic countries” in Investment through its “own” AfCFTA.

After Uganda’s suspension from AGOA for “not recognizing the human rights”, It should be translated by fellow AfCFTA member states as the trade opportunity worth US$ 8.2 million that was being exported to the US.  Products ranging from fish, tea, coffee, footwear, dried fruits can be traded within African countries from Uganda.

As it was detailed after the Niger coup, sanctions upon it from the ECOWAS block created a shortage of medical products, reduced education financing, and the average basket of food went up by 10 to 16 percent respectively from June and August 2023, which led to the increase in food insecurity.

The more Africa becomes fragmented, the more its security, trade, and economy are at stake. Africa should utilize every challenge and grab every opportunity granted upon her.

Ezra Nnko
Ezra Nnko
Ezra Nnko is a Geopolitics and International Policy expert based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He works for Liberty Sparks, an independent think-tank based in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Malawi.