Expert urges ECOWAS to deploy diplomatic dexterity to make Mali, Burkina Faso. Niger return

Prof. Amadu Sesay, a don, has called on ECOWAS leaders to adopt vigorous diplomatic tact to convince Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger to return to the bloc.

Sesay, the former Head of the Department of International Relations, Obafemi Awolowo University, OAU, Ile-Ife, advised in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Thursday.

The university teacher, who is the author of the popular book: “The Politics of Regional Integration in West Africa,” said by lifting the sanctions, which it earlier imposed on the three countries over military takeovers, ECOWAS would have effectively put paid to the threat of the use of force that was being used to compel them to return to civilian rule.

According to him, the emphasis has now shifted to the search for acceptable diplomatic solutions that would hopefully lead to a mutually acceptable resolution of the impasse.

He, therefore, urged ECOWAS leaders to do the needful by searching for capable, credible, and competent emissaries, who would drive the expected series of diplomatic engagements that would be acceptable to all parties, including the three countries.

Sesay said: “I hope that ECOWAS will look within the membership of its Committee of the Wise and Elders to choose those who would drive the series of diplomatic engagements that will provide realistic and practical pathways for the return of the three countries to its fold.

“This is a very delicate and time-consuming endeavour.

“The outcomes are also unpredictable, and no one should expect quick fixes because ECOWAS is made up of equal sovereign states. It has no supranational powers like the European Union.

“Tact and patience are, therefore, of utmost importance, especially at this initial stage of engagements.

“We should remember that the three countries made it clear that they had taken sovereign decisions, which implies that national egos, pride, and prestige are already at stake.”

He said that the ECOWAS leaders’ decision to lift the sanctions, even when the three countries had yet to make any concessions, especially on their threat to quit ECOWAS, was “right and realistic in the prevailing circumstances.”

Sesay, however, said that the decision also implied a sign of weakness on the part of ECOWAS and a tacit admission that it had not achieved the desired results, as well as their negative fallout on all sides.

“ECOWAS is not a supranational body, it cannot compel compliance with its decisions as the actions of Niger Republic, Mali, and Burkina Faso have demonstrated.

“What lifting the sanctions also implies, is that the Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, once the backbone of ECOWAS’ strategy to promote democracy and good governance in the region, is no longer realistic.

“Neither is it enforceable in the prevailing political and socio-economic conditions in the member states and in the region in general.

“It remains to be seen how ECOWAS will fill the gap in promoting democracy and good governance in the region after that.

“I hope the action will not lead to dramatic democratic and governance reversals in the region,” he said.

Sesay noted that the rationale of trying to bring the three countries back to ECOWAS’ fold was to curb the rampant terrorism and insurgencies, which have become major challenges to peace, security, and development in the region, especially in the Sahel.

According to the don, the West African subregion needs national, as well as regionwide efforts, to tackle the devastating national and regional effects of the activities of jihadists, terrorists, and insurgents.

While agreeing with the military leaders on one of their grievances, which is the undue influence of France in the subregion, Sesay said that France has for long been a “negative and obnoxious player in Africa, particularly in its former colonies.”

“Doing away with France as the three countries are trying to do is commendable. I, however, hope that they are not just trading partners by moving uncritically close to Russia and China.

“I hope the three countries will sustain their patriotic and commendable stand against France in the long run. I also hope that they will get the support of ECOWAS and its members to achieve this laudable goal.

“The most challenging situation of African countries in the last six decades of independence is their inability to pursue homegrown and self-sustainable growth and development due to factors that we cannot go into here,” he said.

Appraising ECOWAS’ scorecard ahead of its 50th anniversary in May 2025, he said: “One of the biggest achievements of ECOWAS in the last five decades, is the absence of inter-state conflicts in the region, either over territory or natural resources.

“Fifty years after its creation, however, it is arguable that most, if not all of its members and the region, are much worse now politically and economically.

“There have been serious governance and economic reversals, especially in the last two decades.

“I think that ECOWAS will overcome the present challenges to its integrity if it devotes more attention to promoting prosperity in the region by developing and undertaking regionwide projects that will impact positively on the citizens of the region and enhance its stature and relevance to its members,” he said.

Sesay identified the driving force behind the seeming epidemic of military coups that are currently bedevilling West Africa, and indeed Africa, as the yawning governance deficits in many member states.

He challenged ECOWAS and other African leaders to pay more attention to meeting the basic needs of the citizens, or what his colleague famously described as “democracy of the stomach.”

“The forces responsible for these coups are the dictatorial tendencies of democratic governments in member states and the desire to hold on to power at all cost through undue tenure elongation.

“Others are the manipulation of electoral and judicial processes; over-reliance on so-called development partners; weak national economies and excruciating poverty among the majority of the citizens.

“This is why voiceless citizens sometimes openly call for or welcome the military as the only way out in the prevailing circumstances,” Sesay said.

NAN recalls that Sesay, ECOWAS’ official historian, also authored the ECOMOG book, “The Search for Lasting Peace in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea Bissau,” as well as “Post-war Regimes and State Reconstruction in Liberia and Sierra Leone. (NAN) (www.nannews.ng)