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Experts Doubt ECOWAS Easing Sanctions on Juntas Will Have Impact

Abuja, Nigeria — The decision by West African regional bloc ECOWAS to suspend sanctions against Niger and to ease sanctions on Mali and Guinea has been mostly welcomed by regional political analysts. ECOWAS said its decision, announced Saturday, was based on humanitarian grounds and will pave the way for talks with the three countries’ military juntas. But some analysts are skeptical the decision will have much effect.

Forty-eight hours after ECOWAS announced its decision, there’s excitement over the development in Niger and parts of northern Nigeria affected by the measure.

ECOWAS unfroze Niger’s assets in West Africa, suspended border closures and ended the no-fly-zone for commercial flights to and from Niger.

Idayat Hassan, a senior associate for the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the decision should make life easier for average people in Niger.

“There’s actually expected to be like an improvement in the economy of this country. Particularly when it comes to Nigeria and Niger, we expect to see even the flow of food, goods and services. Beyond that citizens will have access to services more than they used to. We expect that the price of food will reduce in this country,” said Hassan.

The sanctions were the regional bloc’s response to the July ouster of Niger’s President Mohammed Bazoum by the military.

But the measure, considered the most stringent meted out on any member state, hit Niger hard. The extreme poverty rate in Niger has surpassed 40 percent, according to the World Bank.

The regional body said Saturday its decision to suspend sanctions was based on humanitarian considerations and to enable further dialogue with Niger’s military junta.

ECOWAS has been struggling to stop a wave of military takeovers and political crisis rocking West Africa.

Last month Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, all governed by juntas, announced withdrawal from ECOWAS, criticizing the bloc’s sanctions on military governments.

Political analyst Ahmed Buhari said it is unlikely that lifting sanctions will change those countries’ position.

“I think the real question is does Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali even care about the lifting of the sanctions? The thing is those guys have moved on, those guys have put their acts together, they have a direction. Our approach on foreign affairs relationships with those countries especially as headed by ECOWAS was flawed right from the beginning,” he said.

In September, Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso created a bloc known as the Alliance of Sahel States.

Last week, the alliance announced it was creating a confederation and could launch a joint currency soon.

Buhari said if that happens, it will have “serious consequences for regional integration and development.”

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