Insiders said West African leaders failed to agree on what measures to take against military juntas in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea on Saturday, delaying a decision for a month.
They decided to hold off until the next ECOWAS summit on July 3, according to a senior source in the Ghanian presidency who requested anonymity.
According to another source, the leaders were unable to reach an agreement, “especially regarding Mali.”
The summit in Ghana’s capital, Accra, was supposed to be a meeting to decide whether to reduce or tighten sanctions against the three junta-ruled countries that are dealing with jihadist insurgencies.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) gathered to decide whether to preserve, relax, or abolish sanctions against Mali, which were imposed in January after the country’s military administration revealed plans to stay in power for another five years.
The summit was launched by Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, who was joined by the heads of state from most of the 15 member countries. Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea were not represented in the audience.
“This present summit will re-examine 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 now barred from participating in ECOWAS organizations.
While Mali has already been sanctioned, the other two nations face additional punishment from the EU after ruling juntas in their respective capitals pledged to stay in power for another three years.
In less than two years, West Africa has seen two military coups in Bamako, followed by Conakry in September 2021 and Ouagadougou in January.
ECOWAS has conducted summits and piled pressure on the juntas to shorten their so-called transition periods before returning to civilian administration in order to prevent further political instability.
Colonel Assimi Goita of Mali, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya of Guinea, and Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba of Burkina Faso, all strongmen, have defied the pressure and been sworn in as presidents.
They point to the severity of domestic difficulties, which range from Islamist insurgency to societal issues, and declare that they need more time to reconstruct their states and hold elections.
According to a UN assessment released last week, West African sanctions have worsened living circumstances, particularly for the poor.
Mali, one of the world’s most dangerous and impoverished countries, is fighting a decade-long Islamist insurgency that began as a regional insurgency and then moved to Niger and Burkina Faso.
Except for fundamental necessities, the ECOWAS closed its borders and halted trade and financial transactions.
In Guinea, the military deposed President Alpha Conde in September and promised a three-year transition to civilian governance.
Disgruntled colonels deposed elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore in Burkina Faso’s government in January.