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Niger: West African bloc ECOWAS lifts post-coup sanctions

February 24, 2024

West African leaders are meeting in Nigeria for a critical summit to discuss the region's challenges. The leaders have agreed to lift sanctions on Niger.

African leaders at the summit, as Bola Tinubu, Nigeria's president and chairman of ECOWAS, looks on
ECOWAS was founded in 1975 after many West African countries became independentImage: Kola Sulaimon/AFP/Getty Images

West African leaders and diplomats met on Saturday to discuss the region's challenges after a string of coups threatened to weaken the regional bloc of the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS.

The leaders announced that they were lifting a number of sanctions that had been imposed on Niger after the military took control there last year.

Niger, along with military juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso, announced in January they were quitting ECOWAS because of sanctions imposed by the bloc in response to coups in each of those countries.

ECOWAS Commission President Omar Touray with Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo and Nigerian Foreign Minister Yusuf Tuggar at the summit in Nigeria
ECOWAS Commission President Omar Touray with Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo and Nigerian Foreign Minister Yusuf Tuggar at the summitImage: Kola Sulaimon/AFP/Getty Images

Niger sanctions lifted with immediate effect

The regional bloc imposed sanctions on Niger following a coup in July that toppled Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum. The bloc also shuttered borders with the country, suspended financial transactions and froze Niger's assets.

Nigeria cut off power that supplied 70% of its neighbor, Niger's, electricity. ECOWAS said Saturday it would reverse those measures. Borders would be reopened and a freeze on financial transactions would be lifted.

The sanctions will be lifted with immediate effect, said Omar Alieu Touray, the president of the ECOWAS Commission. 

The lifting of the sanctions on Niger is "on purely humanitarian grounds" to ease the suffering caused as a result, Touray told reporters. "There are targeted individual sanctions as well as political sanctions that remain in force," he added.

Niger's junta in December had challenged the sanctions at the ECOWAS Court of Justice in the Nigerian capital Abuja, arguing they were causing severe hardship for Niger's citizens.

ECOWAS urges Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger to reconsider decision to quit bloc

One of the top priorities of the summit was to discuss the announcement made by Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger on January 27 that they would quit the region's most important political and economic bloc.

Decisions at the summit "must be guided by our commitment to safeguarding the constitutional order, upholding democratic principles, and promoting the social and economic wellbeing of the citizens," said Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who also serves as the chairman of the commission.

The departure of three countries has threatened to weaken ECOWAS, which has struggled to curtail a retreat of democracy in West Africa that started with a military takeover in Mali in 2020.

Their departure was also unprecedented because member states wishing to withdraw must give a written one-year notice. But the juntas said in their notice they planned to leave "without delay" as they did not feel bound by treaty terms.

"We must re-examine our current approach to the quest for constitutional order in our member states," Tinubu said. "I therefore urge them to reconsider the decision... and not to perceive our organization as the enemy."

rm/ab (Reuters, AP, AFP)