West African leaders hold emergency summit to address coups

ECOWAS representatives gather for a group photo.

West African leaders hold a key summit on Thursday to discuss the recent wave of coups in a region struggling with poverty and a long history of turbulence.

Emergency talks in the Ghanaian capital Accra were triggered after Burkina Faso on January 24 became the third member of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to be overtaken by the military in less than two years.

Burkina followed Mali, where a coup in September 2020 was followed by a second in May 2021, and Guinea, where elected president Alpha Conde was ousted last September.

Adding to the region’s turmoil was a gun attack on Tuesday on the president of Guinea-Bissau, Umaro Sissoco Embalo, stoking fears that years of efforts to steer West Africa towards stability and democracy are failing.

Thursday’s one-day meeting will assess the outcome of two missions to Burkina following the coup.

Burkina Faso was suspended from ECOWAS after rebel soldiers arrested President Roch Marc Christian Kabore amid public anger at his handling of a militant insurgency.

The question now is whether the country will escape economic punishment.

ECOWAS has already slapped crippling sanctions on Mali and Guinea for dragging their feet on commitments to restore civilian rule.

Those measures have included the closure of borders by ECOWAS members, an embargo on trade and financial transactions and sanctions against individuals.

The sanctions prevented Mali from honouring its latest bond payments, a move that could prove potent.