Military-led Sahel states rally thousands to support alliance

Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali are all ruled by military officers who have seized power in coups since 2020

Reuters
Published : 31 Dec 2023, 06:12 AM
Updated : 31 Dec 2023, 06:12 AM

The prime ministers of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali on Saturday affirmed their commitment to a shared future under an alliance that has seen the three junta-led countries distance themselves from the larger West African political bloc since their coups.

The three neighbouring states are all ruled by military officers who have seized power in coups since 2020. This has put them at odds with the rest of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which is urging them to return to democratic rule.

"From now on, we say, whether you're from Mali, Niger or Burkina, we have the same destiny. We're going in together," said Burkinabe premier Appolinaire Joachim Kyelem de Tambela at a joint press conference in Niger's capital Niamey.

"It is up to us to take control of our destiny," he said.

A day earlier the three premiers appeared in front of a crowd of thousands celebrating the recent full withdrawal of French troops from Niger.

The juntas have all severed long-standing military ties with former colonial ruler France, dealing a blow to France's influence in the region and complicating international efforts to curb a decade-old Islamist insurgency that has destabilised the Sahel region.

In a show of independence from France and ECOWAS, the three countries have sought to forge closer security, political and economic ties through a new union called the Alliance of Sahel States (AES).

"And so AES was born. If you notice, it all started with safety issues. Today, collaboration between our three armies has reached an extremely high level of integration. And that scares some people," said Malian Prime Minister Choguel Maiga.

In August, data from US-based crisis-monitoring group ACLED showed violence had soared in Mali and Burkina Faso since their militaries took power.

The countries have shared few specifics about the new alliance or their plans, but Niger's premier Ali Lamine Zeine said all future cooperation would be done trilaterally.

"We have now decided to hold unified joint commissions for all three countries," Zeine said at the press conference that was interrupted by loud chants of support.