West Africa junta chiefs to cement alliance with first meeting

Africa

The leaders of three West African military governments are due to meet together for the first time to cement an alliance created in the face of opposition from neighbouring countries.

Soldiers took power in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in a series of coups from 2020 to 2023.

All three countries – which now form the Alliance of Sahel States – have been affected by jihadist violence, in part a reason given for the army takeovers.

In January, they all announced a plan to leave the wider regional bloc Ecowas, which is holding its own summit on Sunday.

At Saturday’s meeting in the Nigerien capital, Niamey, the junta chiefs are expected to formally establish the alliance, known by its French acronym AES.

Niger’s coup leader, Gen Abdourahmane Tchiani is hosting the talks, joined by Burkina Faso’s Capt Ibrahim Traoré and Mali’s Col Assimi Goïta.

Security co-operation is high on the agenda, but the AES will also look towards forming closer economic ties, including the aim of creating a common currency. This would be a rejection of the French-backed CFA Franc, which is used in many states across the region.

All three countries have expelled French soldiers who were there as part of an anti-jihadist mission and turned towards Russia for military assistance.

Calls for greater sovereignty and a rejection of the former colonial power have been a key part of the rhetoric coming from the junta leaders.

The countries have also resisted calls from Ecowas for a rapid return to civilian rule.

Capt Traoré arrived in Niamey a day ahead of the meeting and was welcomed with an enthusiastic reception. Television pictures show cheering crowds waving Nigerien and Burkinabé flags.

Among them was Sidi Mohamed, the head of the National Youth Council.

“Today, as Africans, we are very proud to see a summit where it’s an African summit, a summit where states have decided to pool their energies, to pool their forces to create an alliance for their development, without any foreign stakeholders, without any counterparts from the powers that are used to ruling over us,” he told journalists.

Col Goïta was expected to arrive on Saturday.

The presidents of the wider West African bloc will have their chance to respond at a heads of state meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on Sunday.

They are also due to announce the activation of a standby force to fight regional insecurity.

Over the past decade, the Sahel has become an increasing focus of Islamic State militant activity, creating insecurity and instability.

The juntas in Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali have so far failed to quell the violence.