ACCRA – West African leaders on Saturday opened a meeting in Ghana’s capital Accra to decide whether to ease or ramp up sanctions against junta-ruled Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is expected to decide whether to keep, lighten or lift retaliatory measures on Mali, imposed in January after its military regime announced an intention to rule for another five years.
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo Ado opened the summit, attended by the heads of state of most of the 15-member countries but without any representative from Mali, Burkina Faso or Guinea visible in the audience.
"This present summit will re-examine and assess the situations in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso in light of recent developments within the region and global context," he said.
"Our objective has always been to find ways to help these countries return to constitutional order."
Guinea, Burkina Faso and Mali are currently suspended from ECOWAS bodies.
While Mali has already been slapped with sanctions, the other two countries risk further punitive measures from the bloc after ruling juntas in their respective capitals vowed to hold onto power for another three years.
West Africa has seen a succession of military coups in less than two years – two in Bamako, followed by Conakry last September and Ouagadougou in January.
ECOWAS, keen to limit political instability spreading further, has held summits and piled on the pressure to shorten the juntas’ so-called transition periods before a return to civilian rule.
But strongmen Colonel Assimi Goita in Mali, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya in Guinea and Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba in Burkina Faso, have all flouted that pressure and since been sworn in as presidents.
They invoke the severity of domestic crises – that span jihadist insurgency to social problems – and claim they need time to rebuild their states and organise elections.
A UN report published last week said the West African sanctions had contributed to worsening living conditions, particularly for the poor.
One of the most volatile and impoverished countries in the world, Mali is battling a decade-old jihadist revolt, which began with a regional insurrection and then spread to Niger and Burkina Faso.
ECOWAS closed borders and suspended trade and financial exchanges, except for basic necessities.
In Guinea, the military overthrew president Alpha Conde last September and has vowed a return to civilian rule in three years.
Burkina Faso’s government was overthrown in January, when disgruntled colonels ousted elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore.