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W African bloc suspends Burkina Faso after military coup

Burkina Faso’s army overthrew President
Roch Kabore on Monday, presenting the latest test to the 15-member Economic
Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has struggled to mount an
effective response to a series of coups in the region over the past 18 months.

A delegation of ECOWAS defence chiefs will
travel to Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou on Saturday, followed by a
ministerial mission a few days later, the statement said.

Heads of ECOWAS member states will
reconvene for another summit in Ghana’s capital Accra on Feb 3 to discuss the
findings of the two delegations.

ECOWAS and its international allies have
condemned the coup in Burkina Faso, which they fear could further destabilise a
country beset by Islamist violence, but find themselves with limited leverage.

The bloc’s decision to not sanction
Burkina Faso contrasted with its response to coups in Mali and Guinea, with
which ECOWAS member states closed borders and imposed some economic sanctions
after military takeovers in May and September.

ECOWAS sanctions on the juntas in Mali
and Guinea have done little to sway their behaviour, however, nor did they
deter the latest coup.

The bloc could still choose to sanction
Burkina Faso when members reconvene next week.

Pro-democracy activists say ECOWAS is
suffering from a crisis of credibility, with West Africans losing faith in
regional leaders they see as manipulating the democratic process and failing to
alleviate poverty or contain Islamist violence.

In opening remarks to the summit,
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, the acting ECOWAS chairman, acknowledged the
organisation has work to do convincing people of the benefits of democracy.

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“The happenings in the region tell
us that not everybody has accepted democracy as the preferred mode of
governance,” Akufo-Addo said.

HARD LINE

He added that the rest of the world was
looking to ECOWAS “to be firm in this matter”.

ECOWAS imposed sanctions against Mali
and Guinea following military takeovers in August 2020 and September 2021,
respectively.

It significantly tightened the sanctions
on Mali this month after the transitional government there went back on an
earlier commitment to hold elections in February. The new restrictions included
closing member states’ borders with Mali and freezing most financial
transactions.

But the hard line has arguably backfired
by boosting the junta’s support at home. Protests against the sanctions drew
tens of thousands into the streets.

As in Mali, Burkina Faso’s coup was in
part precipitated by public frustration with insecurity caused by an insurgency
by militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

The violence has killed thousands and
displaced millions across the Sahel region in recent years.

The coup leader, Lieutenant Colonel
Paul-Henri Damiba, said on Thursday that Burkina Faso would return to constitutional
order “when the conditions are right”.

The European Union has said it would
follow ECOWAS in imposing sanctions on Mali. Asked by Reuters on Friday whether
it also planned to impose sanctions on Burkina Faso, EU foreign policy chief
Josep Borrell skirted the question.

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