West African political bloc ECOWAS is meeting Friday to discuss dealing with coups in Burkina Faso and Mali. The bloc has already put sanctions on Mali for its coup leaders delaying elections and Burkina Faso could be next. But analysts say sanctions must be handled carefully to avoid further damage to the region's security and stability.
On Friday, after an extraordinary session to discuss recent military coups in Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso, the regional political bloc ECOWAS announced it was suspending Burkina Faso’s membership and would send a delegation to the capital, Ouagadougou.
The move comes after a military coup in Burkina Faso on Monday led by Colonel Paul Henri Damiba, which saw the democratic government of former president Roch Kabore ousted by mutinying soldiers.
ECOWAS has already placed sanctions on Mali after its military junta sought to extend the transition period to democratic rule by five years. ECOWAS could now be gearing up to do the same for Burkina Faso.
Alexandra Lamarche is the senior advocate for West and Central Africa at Refugees International. She says sanctions could have devastating consequences in a country where there are already 1.5 million people displaced by a six-year conflict with armed groups linked to Islamic State and al-Qaida.
“In Burkina Faso this could further exacerbate already dangerous resource scarcity… With decreasing food production and with the lean season expected to start earlier this year, it is projected that more than 2.6 million people will be food insecure by this summer. The ripple effects of the coup and possible impacts of ECOWAS sanctions could raise this projected number and leave more people in need of assistance,” Lamarche said.
In his first address to the nation Thursday night, Damiba appealed for the support of Burkina Faso’s “friends” within the international community.
Burkina Faso needs its partners more than ever. This is why I call on the international community to support our country so that it can emerge from this crisis as quickly as possible," he said.
Ibrahima Maiga is a pro-coup activist with the Movement to Save Burkina Faso. He pointed out that many ECOWAS states have leaders who have changed constitutions to stay in power.
He also warned sanctions may have other consequences.
“In Mali, we can easily say that it will give the opportunity to Russia to gain more opportunities in this region, because if you put sanctions on our countries, they will for sure change their relationship they have with France and others, because most people believe that France is behind ECOWAS.”
Anti-French and pro-Russian sentiment in both Burkina Faso and Mali has been growing in recent months.
Michael Shurkin is director of global programs at 14-N Strategies, a Senegal- and U.S.- based political advisory firm. He says sanctions are unlikely to have much impact, but probably have to go ahead anyway.
“ECOWAS is really in a jam and it has to come out strongly against the coup and sanction the coup, but at the same time it’s very clear that it doesn’t help, right, so it’s not really clear what ECOWAS can do,“ Shurkin pointed out.
Meanwhile, the U.S. ambassador to Burkina Faso has said the United States would need to review its aid arrangements with the country if Monday's coup is deemed to be undemocratic.