West African leaders have maintained sanctions imposed on three military-ruled countries in the volatile Sahel region and dented hopes of a return to the regional bloc, according to a statement seen by AFP on Sunday.
Junta-led Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso are suspended from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) after undergoing military coups since 2020.
ECOWAS leaders met on the sidelines of the African Union summit in Addis Ababa to review the sanctions and discuss the progress in restoring civilian rule in the three countries.
“The Authority of Heads of State and Governments decided to maintain the existing sanctions on all three countries,” the bloc said in a statement signed on Saturday but shared on Sunday.
ECOWAS has also decided to impose travel bans on government officials and senior leaders in those countries, it added.
Fearing contagion in a region notorious for military takeovers, ECOWAS imposed tough trade and economic sanctions against Mali, but lesser punishments against Guinea and Burkina Faso.
The sanctions have badly hit poor and landlocked Mali, whose economy is already under severe strain from a decade-long jihadist insurgency.
The three countries agreed in February to work together to push for the lifting of their suspensions from ECOWAS as well as the African Union.
Juntas have seized power in Mali and Burkina Faso amid anger at the military over the toll from a jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives and forced millions from their homes.
The coup in Guinea had different causes, being rooted in public anger against then president Alpha Conde, over a lurch towards authoritarianism.
All three countries are under pressure by ECOWAS to return swiftly to civilian rule by 2024 for Mali and Burkina and a year later for Guinea.
AU Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said on Friday the body’s peace and security council would meet at an unspecified date to decide whether to readmit the three countries, as well as Sudan.
In an address to the AU summit on Saturday, Faki said the pan-African bloc needed to look at new strategies to counter the backsliding of democracy.
“Sanctions imposed on member states following unconstitutional changes of government… do not seem to produce the expected results,” he said.
“It seems necessary to reconsider the system of resistance to the unconstitutional changes in order to make it more effective.”