What is the new ‘Alliance of Sahel States’ challenging neo-colonialism in West Africa?

Photo: Soldiers of the armed forces of Burkina Faso, one of the member countries of the Alliance of Sahel States.

Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger recently established the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), three countries that in the last few years have seen a wave of new military governments come to power that have sought to reorient away from the former colonial power France and the United States. This security pact, which was finalized on Sept. 16, follows the July coup in Niger. After the government was ousted, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea in a separate communique, stated that they would come to the aid of Niger in the event of an invasion. AES institutionalizes the policy that an attack on one country is considered an attack on the other two.

AES was formalized with the signing of the Liptako-Gourma Charter, named after the regional border in which the three countries converge. This alliance signifies a new development in regional political and defense cooperation independent of the ECOWAS regional bloc and other instruments of U.S. and French influence. 

Whether or not the pro-West ECOWAS alliance will follow through on its threat to invade Niger is still an open question. But certainly they have not lifted the unjustly-imposed sanctions on the country. In the past few days, Niger has reported a severe shortage of medical supplies that are a direct result of ECOWAS sanctions. Much of the country’s medical supplies travel through the neighboring country of Benin, but 60 containers of desperately-needed supplies have been blocked at Benin’s port of Cotonou or the border between the two countries. 

This suffering is typical of how the major imperialist powers impose brutal and deadly sanctions on countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America that assert their independence. After decades of severe exploitation and unilateral sanctions, there is growing desire around the world for a different economic order that supports the development of all nations. 

Countries in West Africa and around the world now have alternative economic partners. China has recently been providing substantial debt forgiveness to African countries. The Russia-Africa summit held in late July revealed renewed or new opportunities to boost mutual cooperation economically, politically and technologically. These efforts are very much a work in progress, but there is greater readiness to confidently engage in a new direction.

The governments of Europe and the United States claim to be concerned with democracy, human rights and the rule of law. But if left up to them and neocolonial puppets in ECOWAS, Nigeriens would die of preventable disease, starve and suffer. Western “experts” on African politics express surprise and consternation at countries like Niger “not accepting the concept that ECOWAS as a whole has the right to become involved in managing their crises and moving them back towards constitutional rule.”

It is clear to see now that the three Sahel countries are charting a new path that establishes cooperative structures outside the imposition of Western-backed African institutions. But there are major challenges ahead. French troops are still present in Niger and do not recognize the legitimacy of the new government. And the threat of an invasion continues to loom. The Alliance of Sahel States represents an effort to uphold the demands of sovereignty and the right to self-determination — something that the people of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali have poured into the streets in support of.

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