Coup-hit Burkina skirts sanctions at West African summit

AFP , Thursday 3 Feb 2022

West African leaders on Thursday decided against toughening sanctions against Burkina Faso after it became the region's latest country to be hit by a coup, opting instead to demand a timetable for a swift return to civilian rule, a source at an emergency summit said.

Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey Head of ECOWAS
Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, Chair of ECOWAS Council of Minister, at the second extraordinary summit on the political situation in Burkina Faso, in Accra, Ghana, on January 3, 2022. AFP

On January 24, Burkina became the third member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to have an elected president toppled by the military in the last two years.

The spate began with Mali, where a coup in August 2020 was followed by a second in May 2021, and then Guinea, where elected president Alpha Conde was ousted last September.

ECOWAS called an emergency summit in Accra to see whether Burkina should join the other two for trade and other sanctions, as well as suspension.

But leaders decided against this for the time being, after hearing the outcome of talks with the junta, said a summit participant.

"We are going to ask the Burkinabe authorities to propose a clear and fast timetable for restoring constitutional order," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"There are no new sanctions against Burkina Faso."

'Good sign'

A diplomatic team led by Ghana's foreign minister, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, reported positive signs after meeting in Ouagadougou with strongman Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba and other junta members.

"They seemed very open to the suggestions and proposals that we made. For us it's a good sign," she said.

The talks were attended by the UN's special representative for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Mahamat Saleh Annadif, who described a "very frank exchange".

The delegation also met ousted president Roch Marc Christian Kabore, whose wellbeing and demands for release from house arrest are major issues, at his Ouagadougou villa.

During their visit, the junta declared it had restored the constitution, which it had swiftly suspended following the coup, and named Damiba as president and head of the armed forces during a transition period.

And on the eve of the summit, the junta also lifted a nationwide 9:00 pm to 5:00 pm curfew.

But the duration of the transition period and other key questions have not been detailed.

After seizing power, the junta vowed on January 24 to re-establish "constitutional order" within a "reasonable time".

ECOWAS imposed measures against Mali and Guinea for perceived foot-dragging over spelling out or upholding pledges for holding elections.

These have included the closure of borders by bloc members, an embargo on trade and financial transactions and sanctions against individuals.

The sanctions have ratcheted up economic pressure, although there is no sign yet that this has translated into political action.

Fragile states

In deciding whether to impose sanctions, ECOWAS leaders have to balance the credibility of their organisation against the fragility of some of their states, especially in the Sahel.

Adding to the region's turmoil was a gun attack on Tuesday on the president of Guinea-Bissau, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, stoking fears that years of efforts to steer West Africa towards stability and democracy are failing.

"We have to think about these coups, despite the sanctions which we impose," Senegalese President Macky Sall said at the summit, in remarks quoted by one of his aides.

Kabore, like his former counterpart in Mali, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, was toppled by disgruntled officers on the back of public protests at the handling of a jihadist insurgency.

Both countries are in the throes of a nearly decade-old jihadist emergency that has claimed thousands of lives and forced at least one and a half million people from their homes.

Escalating political friction with the junta in Mali has driven Bamako closer to the Kremlin and cast a shadow over France's anti-jihadist mission in the country.

On Wednesday, the Malian government warned of the risk of sanctions triggering a wider crisis, saying the restrictions imposed on it in January by ECOWAS prevented it from honouring its latest bond payments.

In a statement that sought to reassure investors, the junta said it had the necessary funds in its coffers but the regional issuing bank, the Central Bank of West African States, had refused to allow the payment.

The payment is related to two bonds amounting to around 2.6 billion CFA francs (around $4.5 million, four million euros), launched by Mali on the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) market, the statement said.

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