Alliance of Sahel States Sign Confederation Treaty

Bianca Bridger
Bianca Bridger
Bianca holds a degree in Political Science from the University of Otago, New Zealand. As the Africa Desk Chief for Atlas, her expertise spans conflict, politics, and history. She is also the Editor for The ModernInsurgent and has interests in yoga and meditation.

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The first summit of the members of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso, held on July 6th in Niger’s capital of Niamey, has produced the ‘Niamey Declaration’ which sets out to turn the alliance into a confederation. The AES summit occurred just one day before the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)- which the three Sahelian nations withdrew from early this year- held its own summit, to discuss how to reintegrate the withdrawn states back into the economic bloc.

What You Need to Know

The concept of a confederation of the nations in the Liptako-Gourma subregion is not a new one, with a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed on December 1970 that sought to create the ‘Liptako-Gourma Region Integrated Development Authority.’ Moreover, amendments were made to the initial MOU in 2000, and most recently 2017.

However, neither the Niamey Declaration nor the Liptako-Gourma Charter, which established the AES in September 2023, make any mention of the original MOU.

The Declaration states that the confederation will seek to enable the free movement of people, services, and goods to promote regional integration; create an AES investment bank and stabilisation fund; promote an endogenous economic and social policy; and ‘join forces to combat this scourge which is hitting the region hard.’

Despite announcing in March the creation of a joint force to address the terrorism ‘scourge’ facing the region, little gains have been made against the many al-Qaeda and Islamic State-linked armed groups making use of the three nation’s porous borders to conduct hit-and-run attacks.

As a result, the Permanent Strategic Framework for the Defense and Protection of Azawad (CSP-DPA), an umbrella group of Tuareg rebel groups operating in Mali, released a statement on the same day of the AES summit calling for Burkina Faso and Niger “not to let themselves be involved in any form of interference in the conflict opposing it [the Tuaregs] to the central military power in Bamako.”

A confederation refers to a political alliance whereby autonomous/sovereign states unite with other sovereign/autonomous states under a common framework for a common purpose. A confederation enables states to maintain alliances above that of which can be provided by bi-lateral frameworks, while at the same time ensuring the sovereignty of the member states. Confederations tend to lack a centralized authority, although the AES confederation has announced its first Presidency is to be held by Colonel Assimi Goita, Mali’s military leader.

Since coming to power through a series of successive coups between 2021 and 2023, the military juntas of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, have worked to remove themselves from regional platforms such as ECOWAS and cut ties with the West and other multilateral institutions. Speaking at the summit, Niger’s military leader, General Abdourahmane Tchiani, claimed that ECOWAS is a “threat to our states,” referencing the period after Niger’s coup during which the economic bloc placed heavy sanctions on the country and threatened military intervention in an attempt to force a handover of power back to Niger’s civilian leaders.

After the threatened ECOWAS intervention did not materialize, and in late May, Niger’s Prime Minister, Ali Lamine Zemine, extended an invitation to ECOWAS member nations to join the AES.

The political ‘tit-for-tat’ comes as Burkina Faso’s Ibrahim Traore in his own speech at the summit stated, “Westerners consider that we belong to them and our wealth also belongs to them. They think that they are the ones who must continue to tell us what is good for our states.”

Most recently, and one day after the first AES summit, the United States announced the completion of its withdrawal from its Airbase 101 near Niamey airport, in the lead up to its withdrawal from its airbase 201 near Agadez on September 15th. French forces withdrew from Mali in 2022, and Niger and Burkina Faso in 2023. Meanwhile, the United Nation’s mission in Mali, MINUSMA, upon its withdrawal from the country in December 2023, was labeled the UN’s second-most dangerous peacekeeping mission after 311 personnel were killed while on duty.

Isolation from regional and international platforms has pushed the three nation’s military leaders to pursue an ever-closer relationship with the likes of Russia and China, with Chinese Ambassador to Burkina Faso, Lu Shan, donating $26 million to the country to be used in ‘a project of its choice for the benefit of the population,’ just two days before the AES summit.

The monetary gesture is thought to come as China seeks to ensure the participation of Burkina Faso in the September 2025 China-Africa Cooperation Forum, through which China has made billions of dollars worth of bi-lateral trade deals with African nations.

At the same time, Russia is establishing its own ties that extend beyond military cooperation, with the Sahel’s military governments. Signing multiple MOUs regarding nuclear and solar energy with Mali and Burkina Faso between June and July, Russia is pushing into Sahelian energy markets as Niger begins to cancel its uranium mining licences with the likes of French company Orano and most recently Canadian company GoviEx.

So, What Now?

The AES signing of a confederation treaty illustrates that the Sahel’s military juntas are unlikely to relinquish power at the end of their stated transitional periods, with Burkina Faso recently extending its transitional period for another five years. The exit of the AES nations from ECOWAS will likely serve to further their regional and international isolation, pushing them closer to the Russian and Chinese spheres of influence.

How effective the confederation will be is yet to be seen, as Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso remain multidimensionally poor nations, with with a global poverty ranking out of 190 nations, of 6, 15, and 16, respectively.

Moreover, Mali is currently waging a multi-pronged counter-insurgency campaign with aid from Russia’s Wagner group against the likes of the Tuaregs, multiple al-Qaeda-linked armed groups, and multiple Islamic State-linked groups.

The military junta of Burkina Faso controls just half of its national territory, with the other half under competing claim by various militant Islamic groups, while 13 percent of Niger’s population will be at crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity between June and August this year, according to UNICEF statistics.

Thus, while a Sahel confederation has the ability to bring welcome change to the region, key issues must first be addressed. A deteriorating security environment, absolute poverty and malnutrition, as well as a lack of governmental transparency are likely to be key ‘speed-bumps’ on the road to an effective confederation framework.