Press Review CW 5/2024: Cracks and Bridges
Press Review 26 January 2024 to 2 February 2024

Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger announce their withdrawal from ECOWAS

On Sunday, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger announced their immediate withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in a statement broadcast on television. In a joint statement, the Sahel states led by military juntas justified their move with the failure of ECOWAS to successfully combat terrorism in the region and criticised the sanctions imposed by the regional organisation against their regimes following the unconstitutional change of power as illegal and inhumane. At the same time, they accused the bloc of betraying the principles of the founding fathers of ECOWAS, allowing itself to be influenced by foreign powers and acting to the disadvantage of its member states and their populations. In the meantime, ECOWAS has also been officially informed by all three states of their desire to leave the bloc. However, an immediate withdrawal, as announced by Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, is not possible, but will take place over a period of one year in accordance with Article 91 of the ECOWAS Statute. The move by the three military governments comes as no surprise. Despite efforts to negotiate the readmission of the states to the economic community following their suspension as a result of the coups, relations between the three juntas and the regional organisation have steadily deteriorated. The main reason for this are the tough sanctions, particularly against Mali and Niger. The fronts also hardened further after ECOWAS, chaired by Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, threatened Niger with military intervention following the coup in July 2023 if Niger’s democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum was not reinstated (press review CW 30/2023). Burkina Faso and Mali then announced that they would provide military support to the neighbouring country in the event of a military intervention by ECOWAS. In September last year, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger also founded the so-called Alliance of Sahel States (Alliance des États du Sahel, AES) in order to strengthen military and economic cooperation and support each other in the fight against terrorism (press review CW 38/2023). Previously, they had jointly withdrawn from the G5 Sahel military alliance supported by France. Just last Thursday, a planned negotiation meeting between an ECOWAS delegation and representatives of Niger’s military government in the Nigerien capital Niamey was cancelled. Niger’s Prime Minister Ali Lamine Zeine accused ECOWAS of malice, which in turn justified the delegation’s non-appearance with a technical defect on the aircraft. After Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger publicly announced their withdrawal, ECOWAS emphasised in a statement on Sunday that it would continue to work towards a negotiated solution with all three countries. Nigeria also regretted the decision in a public statement. Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairman of the African Union (AU) Commission, called on both sides to engage in dialogue and offered the support of the AU. Meanwhile, among the population of the three Sahel states, there was strong support for leaving the regional organisation, especially among radical supporters. On Sunday, the withdrawal was celebrated on the streets of Niger’s capital and elsewhere. Business people, however, expressed concern, as an actual withdrawal would have far-reaching economic consequences. The free movement of people and goods applies within ECOWAS – a complete withdrawal would therefore also mean the reintroduction of visa requirements and trade tariffs, which in turn would lead to an increase in the price of consumer goods in the three landlocked countries. Many people could also lose their jobs as a result of the withdrawal. Burkina Faso, for example, accounts for around 15% of the total workforce at ECOWAS, whose jobs are now at risk. At the same time, the states will no longer be able to access funding from the regional development bank EBID (ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development). Following their withdrawal from ECOWAS, it is also questionable whether the three countries will remain in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), which uses the common currency of the CFA franc, which is pegged to the euro. While Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop confirmed on Thursday that they would remain in the UEMOA, Burkina Faso’s de facto head of state Ibrahim Traoré had already indicated that they would also consider withdrawing from the monetary union. The consequences of the withdrawal are also enormous for ECOWAS, as the regional organisation with its 15 members was long regarded as the model of success for regional economic integration in Africa. However, with the withdrawal of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – all three founding members of the regional organisation – the ability to act and the credibility of ECOWAS, which had already suffered from the six coups within three years, will now be further impaired. Furthermore, the withdrawal of the three Sahel states from the regional organisation is also a setback for Germany and the EU in the competition with Russia for influence in the region. The security situation in the Sahel states remains volatile and with the withdrawal from ECOWAS, they will have to look for new partners. All three states already have a military cooperation with Russia – whether and to what extent this will now be expanded remains to be seen.

 

Italy-Africa Summit

On Monday, Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni hosted the Italy-Africa Summit at Palazzo Madame, the seat of the Italian Senate, in Rome. The aim of the summit was to strengthen cooperation between Italy, which holds the G7 presidency this year, and the neighbouring continent, particularly in the areas of migration, energy security and agriculture. The one-day summit was attended by high-ranking representatives from a total of 46 African countries, including Kenyan President William Ruto, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo and Senegalese President Macky Sall, as well as the Chair of the African Union (AU) Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat. Also in attendance were the European Union (EU, represented by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, Council President Charles Michel and Parliament President Roberta Metsola, as well as the United Nations (UN) and international financial institutions. Meloni used the summit to present a series of pilot projects as part of her government’s so-called Mattei Plan, which is intended to lay the foundations for a new, equal partnership with Africa for shared growth. This plan aims to boost the economies of African countries, create jobs and reduce migration from Africa to Italy. Named after Enrico Mattei, the founder of the state-owned energy company ENI, an initial €5.5 billion, including state guarantees and loans, is to be made available for the implementation of the plan, including €3 billion from Italy’s climate fund and €2.5 billion from a newly established multilateral fund at the African Development Bank (AfDB). The Mattei Plan, which Meloni announced shortly after her election in October 2022 and a few months after the Russian attack on Ukraine, places a particular focus on cooperation in the energy sector. Italy is to become an energy hub for gas and hydrogen supplies from Africa to Europe in order to further reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian gas supplies. A training centre for renewable energies is to be established in Morocco for this purpose, while a pilot project for the production of green hydrogen is planned in Zarzis, Tunisia, according to information from Italian diplomatic circles. The topic of migration also played an important role at the summit. Meloni is focussing on combating the causes of flight in order to stem illegal migration. The Mattei Plan also envisages cooperation in the education, health and agricultural sectors: The pilot projects presented at the summit include several educational institutions in Tunisia and health centres in Côte d’Ivoire. Meloni also called for the EU migration agreement initiated by Italy with Tunisia to be extended to countries such as Egypt and Libya. Tunisia receives development funds from the EU and in return controls migration to Europe. The African side was rather reserved at the summit and there were also some critical voices. For example, Moussa Faki Mahamat emphasised that African countries had had enough of empty promises and criticised their non-participation in the development of the Mattei Plan. There was also criticism from civil society organisations and the Italian opposition, which organised a separate press conference in which it described the Mattei Plan as an empty shell and accused the government of neo-colonialism. Migration will also be one of the major topics at the upcoming G7 Summit of Heads of State and Government in Apulia in mid-June, Meloni announced on Monday and assured that Africa would be given a “place of honour” at the summit. Meloni and her ultra-right party Fratelli d’Italia are currently under pressure domestically, as curbing illegal migration was one of her key election campaign promises, but last year 160,000 refugees, more than ever before, arrived in Italy via the Mediterranean. Accordingly, the implementation of the Mattei Plan, which she has tasked her own office with, is one of the government’s foreign policy priorities.

 

In other news

The exhibition “Et Si Carthage” (“And what if Carthage…”) by Tunisian artist Nidhal Chamekh has been on display in the Tunisian capital Tunis for a week now. The title of the exhibition refers to a poem by the French philosopher Édouard Glissant, in which he plays out the thought game of what could have become of the city of Carthage if it had not been destroyed by the Romans in the 2nd century. Chamekh uses collages, sculptures and masks to artistically project this story onto more contemporary episodes, such as the transatlantic slave trade and the flight of many North Africans to Europe today. The exhibition is made possible by the Tunisian founder and director Selma Feriani, who recently opened the 800 square metre gallery in order to put North Africa’s modern art scene and its talents more in the spotlight on the global stage. “Et Si Carthage” is the gallery’s first exhibition and can be viewed until 7 April.

 

Event notice

The exhibition FeEd Me NoT launches next Friday at the Artco Gallery in Berlin. The participating artists, Jana Heinemann (Germany), Natisa Exocé Kasongo (France), Maurice Mbikayi (Democratic Republic of the Congo), Selva (Argentina), Patrick Tagoe-Turkson (Ghana) and Martin Wöllenstein (Germany), question today’s society’s relationship to materials, information and emotions with their works, some of which are made from electronic waste, bulky waste or old flip-flops. The exhibition aims to encourage reflection on global supply chains, the overproduction of plastic and our responsibility for the planet. The pre-opening will take place next Tuesday at 15:00h. Jana Heinemann and her fashion label IMPARI will be hosting a fashion show as part of the Berlin Fashion Week. You can find more information about the exhibition here.

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