On September 16, 2023, a small political revolution was formalized in the Sahel. Three countries, their destinies linked by security and sovereignty issues, agreed to strengthen their cooperation, this time through a charter. Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali have announced the signing of the Liptako-Gourma Charter, named after the crossroads area between the three countries, known as the "three borders" region. While this charter, creating the "Alliance des Etats du Sahel", is based on a politico-military agreement, its signatories aim to go beyond this and build a dynamic of shared prosperity based on full sovereignty.
Context and key points of the Charter
Led by military regimes, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have been facing a worrying security situation for several years. While Bamako has been troubled by armed and separatist groups since 2011, terrorist violence has spread throughout the Sahel, impacting the territories of Burkina Faso and Niger over the years, despite the presence of Western forces, MINUSMA and in particular the now perceived "cumbersome" presence of France. For over ten years, the terrorist threat could not be definitively resolved, despite cooperation with European and American partners.
This failure was the basis for a gradual divorce between France and Mali, then with Burkina Faso, and now with Niger since the July 26 putsch that toppled Mohamed Bazoum. These three African countries now share a desire to strengthen their sovereignty over their security policy, but also to distance themselves from France, whose military and political presence is now denounced by a large number of Sahelian peoples.
In a way, Mali has been the pioneer of a new political vision, aspiring to diversify its partners in the fight against terrorism and visibly break away from a Western straitjacket. Since Ibrahima Traoré's putsch in Burkina Faso, this Malian vision is visibly shared by Ouagadougou. But the two countries have also strengthened their cooperation in the fight against terrorism, and have positioned themselves in a pan-Africanist logic that now defines their perception of foreign policy.
Their neighbor Niger, faced with the same security and foreign policy challenges, has also taken steps to strengthen its sovereignty. After the putsch, it immediately reinforced its rapprochement with Bamako and Ouagadougou, and subsequently requested the departure of the French ambassador and the 1,500 French troops on Nigerien territory.
The Lipatko-Gourma Charter is therefore a point of political convergence between the three players, based on the quest to strengthen sovereignty and deep cooperation in the face of security challenges.
The challenges facing the Alliance of Sahel States
The Charter is first and foremost about pooling efforts to face up to the terrorist threat, as the signatories have made clear. "Today, together with the Heads of State of Burkina Faso and Niger, I signed the Liptako-Gourma Charter establishing the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), the aim of which is to establish an architecture of collective defense and mutual assistance for the benefit of our populations", said Colonel Assimi Goïta on the day of the signing.
For his part, Captain Ibrahim Traoré spoke of "a decisive step in cooperation" between the three countries. "The creation of the Alliance of Sahel States marks a decisive step in cooperation between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger", he said, also on social media. "For the sovereignty and fulfillment of our peoples, we will lead the fight against terrorism in our common space, until victory," he added.
But the players are also formalizing an alliance with ECOWAS and its partners. Indeed, these three countries, which are exposed to sanctions by the West African organization, have demonstrated their ambition to band together against any outside interference in the affairs of a signatory member. This is directly in line with the threat of military intervention against Niger, which remains on the table of ECOWAS, which would like to restore Mohamed Bazoum and constitutional order.
Article 6 of the Charter stipulates that: "any attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more Contracting Parties shall be considered as an aggression against the other Parties and shall trigger a duty of assistance and relief on the part of all Parties, individually or collectively, including the use of armed force, to restore and ensure security within the area covered by the Alliance".
This Charter is also an alternative to the “G5 Sahel”, which has never really been implemented and whose management has been denounced by Mali, which has withdrawn from it. The major challenge now will be to find the funds and strategic resources needed to ensure the Alliance's long-term survival. The choice of international partners such as Russia already seems to be unanimous, and Moscow has reinforced its credibility by providing Bamako with military resources that Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said he had never received from previous allies such as France.
Whatever partners are involved in the Sahel from now on, the aim for Bamako, Ouagadougou and Ndjamena will be to have the means to exercise sovereign control over their territories and limit the interference of foreign players. The success of this Alliance may lay the foundations for a West African Federation that neo-Panafricanists dream of.