The Alliance of Sahel States: A Geopolitical and Security Impact Assessment

Discover how the formation of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) by Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger could shake up West Africa and the Sahel region’s geopolitical landscape! As these nations exit the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to enhance regional security and economic cooperation, Russia’s growing influence in the Sahel becomes undeniable. With military collaborations intensifying and Western forces withdrawing, the AES faces a complex path ahead. 

Can this new alliance overcome political instability and effectively combat terrorism? Stay tuned to understand the profound implications for regional stability, international relations, and Western businesses in the region. Join the conversation with Sitati Wasilwa and Ramu C.M and explore the future of the Sahel region today!

On January 24, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger made headlines by announcing their departure from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Fast forward to today, and these three nations have formalized their alliance by ratifying an agreement to establish the Alliance of Sahel States (AES). This move is aimed at enhancing regional security and economic cooperation. The formation of the AES marks a significant shift in the geopolitical landscape of West Africa, with potential implications for regional stability, economic development, and international relations.

Establishment of the Alliance of Sahel States

The military-led governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger signed the confederation treaty for the AES in Niamey on July 6, during their first official summit. This summit took place just a day before an ECOWAS meeting in Nigeria. Mali’s interim President Assimi Goita was appointed as the first chairperson of the AES for one year. The leaders of these countries reaffirmed their decision to exit ECOWAS, aiming to boost defense, security, and economic ties among themselves. This alliance emerged in response to ECOWAS’s earlier threats of military intervention to restore civilian leadership in Niger.

Impact on ECOWAS and Regional Security

ECOWAS has expressed concerns about the implications of this new alliance. On July 7, ECOWAS Commission President Omar Touray warned that the exit of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger could threaten the bloc’s cohesion, endangering benefits such as a common market and freedom of movement. Touray highlighted the potential suspension of USD 500 million worth of projects in the departing countries, stressing that their exit could weaken regional security cooperation and intelligence sharing, thereby hampering the fight against terrorism.

Growing Russian Influence

The formation of the AES coincides with an increasing Russian presence in the Sahel. In recent months, Russia has deployed military instructors and equipment to Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. For instance:

Burkina Faso: In January, around 100 Russian military instructors were deployed, with more expected soon.

Mali: Approximately 2,000 Russian instructors have been aiding the Malian armed forces since late 2021.

Niger: Russian instructors and air defense systems were deployed in April following a military cooperation agreement.

A regional map showing Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger
Source: Vanguard News

Anti-West Sentiments and Foreign Troop Withdrawals

The establishment of the AES also follows the withdrawal of French, US, and UN troops from the region, driven by anti-Western campaigns. The departure of these forces has created a security vacuum that Russia appears eager to fill.

Assessment of the AES’s Effectiveness

Despite the fanfare surrounding the AES, its effectiveness in tackling regional insecurity and fostering economic growth remains uncertain. The militaries of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger face challenges such as limited professionalism, size, and equipment. While Russian training and support may bolster their capabilities, the entrenched threat of terrorism and ongoing political instability could undermine these efforts.

Political Instability and Future Challenges

The AES member states are grappling with political instability. Military coups in these countries were precipitated by inadequate responses to insurgent threats. The ongoing political volatility poses a significant challenge to the AES’s long-term success and its ability to maintain stability.

Potential Impact on Western Businesses

In the long term, Russian companies are likely to be given preference for state contracts in the lucrative mining sectors of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. However, in the short term, Western companies may still enjoy access to state contracts perhaps with the exception of French businesses. This is due to the fact that it takes a long time to set up heavy infrastructure for firms in the mining sector – a domain where Western multinationals have excelled over the years.