Calls for sovereignty fuel unrest in West Africa

Supporters of Burkina Faso's self-declared new leader Ibrahim Traore demonstrate holding a Burkina Faso and Russian flags in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso October 2, 2022. REUTERS/Vincent Bado

Supporters of Burkina Faso's self-declared new leader Ibrahim Traore demonstrate holding a Burkina Faso and Russian flags in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso October 2, 2022. REUTERS/Vincent Bado

Published Oct 1, 2023


WEST Africa has been in the news in recent months due to a series of coups and demands for sovereignty. The region has experienced four coups in the past two years, in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau.

These coups have been met with international condemnation, including from the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas). But they have also raised important questions about the future of democracy in West Africa.

One of the main factors contributing to the coups in West Africa is the growing discontent with the French military presence in the region. The movement has been fueled by the perception that France is not doing enough to help combat terrorism and insecurity in West Africa.

Many people in the region hold the belief that France's long history of military intervention in West Africa is no longer acting in their best interests. For example, in Mali, the 2012 coup led to political instability, allowing extremist groups like Al-Qaeda to gain a stronghold in the country.

This not only threatened the security of the region but also had global implications, as it increased the potential for terrorism and illegal activities. Some Malians have accused France of supporting Islamist militants.

Another factor is the economic crisis influencing the coups in West Africa. People are now more receptive to the claims of coup leaders due to increased unemployment and poverty.

West Africa has suffered greatly as a result of the coups there. While the military juntas may have succeeded in ousting their countries’ leaders, they have also brought about unrest, violence, and a humanitarian emergency.

In addition, the coups have made it more challenging for international organisations to work in the area, which has delayed efforts to solve the economic crisis and other issues.

There is also the Russian factor that the West has monitored. Russia's role in the West African coups is controversial and unclear.

However, there is some evidence to suggest that Russia has played a role in some of the coups, such as by providing military and financial support to junta leaders and allowing the Wagner Group to operate in their countries.

The Wagner Group is a Russian paramilitary organisation that has been accused of human rights abuses in a number of countries, including Mali, Libya, and the Central African Republic. The Wagner Group has also been accused of interfering in elections and supporting authoritarian regimes.

In reaction to the rise in coups and demands for sovereignty in West Africa, the French ambassadors to Mali and Burkina Faso, Joël Meyer and Luc Hallade, respectively, have been expelled from those countries - another sign of the deteriorating relations between France and its former colonies in West Africa

In particular, Burkina Faso's military junta leader and president, Ibrahim Traore, went further and also demanded that France withdraw its troops from the country. Burkina Faso's Prime Minister Albert Ouédraogo said in a speech to his nation that France needed to “respect the sovereignty of Burkina Faso”.

The developments in West Africa are also concerning because of the deterioration of the security situation in the region, with an increase in violence and instability. Secondly, the growing demands for sovereignty could lead to a further escalation of tensions in the region.

The region’s developments brought a reaction from Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni, who commented on the situation in West Africa.

While the Italian PM has been in the news over her government’s stance on irregular migration, particularly after her suggestion that the navy should blockade the coasts of North Africa was opposed, Meloni also believed that was where more focus was needed in that region and West Africa because she felt the West had ignored the African continent for too long.

“Italy is ready to support the efforts of the international community to promote peace and stability in West Africa," she said.

The situation in West Africa is complex and challenging. The coups have had a devastating impact on the region, and the demands for sovereignty have raised important questions about the future of democracy and relations with the West in the region.

More must be done to address the root causes of the coups. France should take more steps to relinquish its remaining power in the region to promote democracy, sovereignty, and good governance.

Without the presence of their (or any Western) military units, this and other agreed resolutions could ultimately reduce the likelihood of more coups and create a more stable West Africa.