According to a senior official, leaders of West Africa decided on Sunday to establish a regional force to act against jihadism and in the case of coups.
Omar Alieu Touray, head of the ECOWAS commission, informed journalists during a summit in Nigeria that the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States had decided to take action to “take care of our own security in the region.”
He continued, saying that they are “ready to invent a regional force that will intervene in the case of need, whether this be in the area of security, terrorism, and restore constitutional order in member nations.”
Touray, however, asserted that this choice would “restructure our security architecture.”
Defense commanders will review the operational details of the envisioned regional force in the second half of 2023, according to Touray.
Although the ECOWAS official emphasized that such an operation could not exclusively rely on voluntary contributions, it is necessary to identify how the force will be funded.
Strain on Mali
The West African presidents instructed Mali’s ruling junta to free the 46 Ivorian soldiers it has been holding since July in order to address a different regional issue.
At the Abuja conference, Touray stated, “We ask the Malian government to free the Ivorian soldiers by January 1, 2023 at the latest.”
The Gambian envoy stated that if the soldiers were not freed by January 1st, the West African bloc reserved the right to take action.
A West African ambassador warned AFP that penalties would be imposed by ECOWAS if Mali did not comply.
On July 10, as the Ivorian soldiers arrived at the airport in Bamako, Mali, they were detained.
Ivory Coast claims the soldiers are being wrongfully held despite having been dispatched to support MINUSMA, the UN peacekeeping force in Mali.
Mali accuses the soldiers of being mercenaries and has taken them into custody on suspicion of seeking to compromise national security.
Nations Afflicted by Coups
The leaders of West Africa have been pushing for the earliest return to civilian rule in the three nations that experienced coups recently for months out of concern for instability and contagion.
All three nations have been expelled from ECOWAS’s decision-making bodies.
Under pressure, the heads of the military juntas agreed to leave office after two years, allowing for a transitional period during which they all stated their desire to “rebuild” their respective states.
The ECOWAS has been monitoring the progress that each country has made toward reestablishing constitutional order.
According to Touray, “it is crucial that constitutional order resume in Mali within the anticipated timeline.”
After months of conflict with ECOWAS and a severe trade and financial blockade that has since been eased, the “transition” in Mali will really have lasted three and a half years if the military fulfills the stated target of March 2024.
Touray encouraged Guinea’s junta to “immediately” engage in talks with civil society and all parties about the process of restoring civilian governance.
The majority of the local civil society as well as the major political parties have boycotted the government’s invitation of conversation.