Several West African leaders met Tuesday in Nigeria to discuss how to manage security at the end of a UN peacekeeping mission in Mali and push for a return to democracy after a series of coups.
The UN Security Council last month voted to end a decade-old peacekeeping mission in Mali, after the ruling junta demanded the withdrawal of foreign forces and aligned itself closer to Russia.
Three members of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc — Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea — are run by juntas after five coups among them since 2020.
Al Qaeda and Islamic State allied jihadists are also gaining ground in the Sahel and their wars creeping south to coastal West African states.
Nigeria’s new President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, elected this month as chair of ECOWAS, met in the Nigerian capital Abuja on Tuesday with leaders from Niger, Guinea-Bissau, and Benin.
Nigeria, Benin, and Guinea-Bissau formed a three-state commission backed by Niger looking for alternative security options after the UN’s Mali withdrawal, including the possible involvement of ECOWAS member troops.
Representing the task force, Benin’s President Patrice Talon will travel soon to the three coup-hit nations to discuss security and their transition to democracy, Omar Alieu Touray, the ECOWAS commission president, told reporters in Abuja.
“The leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to expeditious transition to democracy in these countries,” he said.
“With regards to security, the leaders have resolved to provide a robust response… The regional response shall include the operationalisation of the ECOWAS plan of action, with the region’s own troop.”
Last year, West African leaders agreed to create a regional security force to intervene against jihadists and prevent coups.
But details on how that force would work and its funding are still unclear with ECOWAS defence chiefs expected to make decisions later this year.
Facing anti-French sentiment, Paris last year was forced by Mali’s junta to pull its troops out. Burkina Faso’s military leaders this year asked French troops to leave.
Since 2012, Mali been battling a jihadist insurgency that has since spread to Burkina Faso and Niger, killing and displacing thousands of people.