Restoring Democracy To West Africa A Mixed Picture

A series of military coups in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso since 2021 resulted in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) imposing “hard sanctions” on Mali and “soft sanctions” on all three countries. Today’s newsletter examines whether these sanctions have been successful in supporting a return to democracy in West Africa.

Mali seeks to alleviate its economic crisis

Mali has experienced two military coups in the past couple of years, in 2020 and 2021. Sanctions on the country included blocking major trade routes through ECOWAS countries and freezing all financial assets held at the Banque centrale des Etats de l’Afrique de l’ouest (the regional central bank for countries using the West African CFA franc). These appear to have worked—their devastating economic impact forced Mali’s junta to announce plans to hold a presidential election by February 2024. Although ECOWAS lifted the sanctions in early July, any delays or obstructions to the transition could result in their reimposition.

Burkinabè junta fails to deliver on security

In March 2022 Burkina Faso’s junta announced a 36‑month transition to democracy, which ECOWAS whittled down to 24 months in July. Just as in Mali, ECOWAS exercised considerable leverage on Burkina Faso, given the latter’s reliance on regional economic networks as a landlocked country and its use of the West African CFA franc. In addition, terrorist attacks in Burkina Faso have risen since the coup, and we expect persistent insecurity to eventually erode public confidence in the junta. Any backsliding on the timetable for the democratic transition would lead to fresh sanctions announced by ECOWAS.

Guinea shuns ECOWAS pressure

In May 2022 the military government of Guinea announced a three-year transition to democracy. This lengthy transition period symbolises the junta’s attempt to consolidate political power and halt Guinea’s return to democratic rule. ECOWAS has asked for a speedier transition timetable by end-July, but the junta has so far remained committed to its original schedule. Guinea’s more diversified economy (it is the world’s second-largest producer of bauxite) and direct access to the sea limit ECOWAS’s influence. Looking ahead, hard sanctions are likely to be imposed on Guinea, which will remain in place throughout the transition period.

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