West African leaders Saturday failed to agree what action to take against military juntas in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, postponing a decision for a month, insiders at the meeting said.
They decided to wait until the next ECOWAS summit July 3, a senior source in the Ghanian presidency told AFP, asking to remain anonymous.
Another source said the leaders had not been able to agree, “particularly over Mali.”
The summit in Ghana’s capital Accra had been billed as the forum to agree whether to ease or ramp up sanctions against the three junta-ruled nations facing jihadi insurgencies.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) had met in a bid to rule whether to keep, lighten or lift retaliatory measures on Mali, imposed in January after its military regime announced plans to stay in power for another five years.
Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo opened the summit, attended by the heads of state of most of the 15-member countries but without any representative from Mali, Burkina Faso or Guinea visible in the audience.
“This present summit will reexamine and assess the situations in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso in light of recent developments within the region and global context,” he said.
“Our objective has always been to find ways to help these countries return to constitutional order.”
Guinea, Burkina Faso and Mali are currently suspended from ECOWAS bodies.
While Mali has already been slapped with sanctions, the other two countries risk further punitive measures from the bloc after ruling juntas in their respective capitals vowed to hold on to power for another three years.
West Africa has seen a succession of military coups in less than two years — two in Bamako, followed by Conakry in September 2021 and Ouagadougou in January.
ECOWAS, keen to limit political instability spreading further, has held summits and tried to pile on pressure to shorten the juntas’ so-called transition periods before a return to civilian rule.
But strongmen Colonel Assimi Goita in Mali, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya in Guinea and Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba in Burkina Faso, have all resisted that pressure and since been sworn in as presidents.
They invoke the severity of domestic crises — that span jihadi insurgencies to social problems — and claim they need time to rebuild their states and organize elections.
A U.N. report published last week said the West African sanctions had contributed to worsening living conditions, particularly for the poor.
One of the most volatile and impoverished countries in the world, Mali is battling a decade-old jihadi revolt, which began with a regional insurrection and then spread to Niger and Burkina Faso.
ECOWAS closed borders and suspended trade and financial exchanges, except for necessities.
In Guinea, the military overthrew President Alpha Conde in September and has vowed a return to civilian rule in three years.
Burkina Faso’s government was overthrown in January, when disgruntled colonels ousted President Roch Marc Christian Kabore.