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Faith Nyasuguta

Senegal’s Bassirou Diomaye Faye, Africa’s youngest president at 44, now confronts a significant challenge: reuniting a weakened regional bloc that predates him. On Sunday, Faye was tasked with reintegrating military-ruled Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso into ECOWAS during the organization’s summit in Abuja, Nigeria. 

These countries left ECOWAS and formed their alliance following military takeovers that strained relations with their West African neighbors.

Supported by Togolese President Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe, Faye is considered the ideal leader to bring these nations back into the fold of regional cooperation. Afolabi Adekaiyaoja, a research analyst at the Center for Democracy and Development, highlights that Faye’s mission also presents an opportunity to advocate for reforms towards a more self-reliant and sustainable ECOWAS.

Faye represents a stark contrast to the military leaders of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, who seized power through coups. His election, certified as credible, stands in opposition to the rigged polls across the region. Faye’s presidency also comes at a time when Senegal, despite being a key ally of the West, is reexamining old ties and renegotiating contracts with foreign operators to reduce dependency in public policies, a stance that aligns with the desires of the junta leaders.

West Africa’s military leaders /X/

Since taking over, the military regimes in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger have cut ties with traditional Western partners like the United States and France, allowing Russia to increase its influence in the region. Faye’s approach to sovereignty and breaking with the old order resonates with the junta’s sentiments. Despite his youth, Faye is older than three of the four current military leaders in the region.

During the ECOWAS summit in Abuja, Faye, one of the youngest attendees, was seen as a fresh voice. Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, at 80, is only four years younger than Faye’s father. Faye’s youth is viewed as an asset that could facilitate dialogue with his neighbors, although his task is complex. The military-ruled countries have broader concerns about ECOWAS, accusing it of foreign interference, particularly from France, their former colonizer.

The question of Faye and Togolese President Gnassingbe’s autonomy in their envoy roles under ECOWAS, led by re-elected Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, remains. Their success will hinge on the coordination and agreement among different leaders on key issues.

West Africa’s fractured regional bloc urged Faye on Sunday to engage with the three military-led member states to restore regional stability. At the summit, ECOWAS appointed Faye as its envoy to Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. The dialogue’s terms were not immediately specified, but Faye’s qualifications as a facilitator were emphasized by Omar Alieu Touray, president of the ECOWAS Commission.

Despite the military-ruled countries declaring their irreversible departure from ECOWAS, analysts see Faye’s mission as crucial amidst an unprecedented regional crisis. However, success is not expected soon due to lingering tensions. Touray described the current period as the worst ECOWAS has faced in years, warning of potential disintegration risks if the countries remain outside the agreement.

ECOWAS’s suspension of economic projects and loss of free trade and movement concessions in these countries could have broader implications. The departure of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso might also affect their neighbors, given shared borders and ongoing security crises. The European Union seeks partnerships to address these crises. Additionally, the coups could embolden other armies in the region, where citizens feel deprived of their natural resource wealth.

Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who was asked to continue as the bloc’s president, called for new and stronger partnerships to address the region’s challenges. “Together, we can pave the way for a prosperous future for all of West Africa,” Tinubu said, emphasizing the need for collaboration to overcome the region’s significant obstacles.

The appointment of Faye as an envoy reflects the bloc’s confidence in his ability to mediate and resolve conflicts. Faye’s diplomatic acumen will be tested as he navigates the delicate political landscape of the Sahel region. His ability to engage with military rulers and restore confidence in ECOWAS will be critical for regional stability.


The roots of the crisis can be traced back to the military coups that disrupted democratic governance in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Faye’s challenge will be to bridge these divides and present a vision of regional unity that resonates with all parties involved.

As Faye embarks on this mission, he will need to leverage his youth and fresh perspective to build bridges with the younger generation in these countries. Engaging with civil society, youth movements, and local leaders could be crucial for fostering a sense of shared purpose and common destiny. 

Faye’s leadership will be pivotal in steering ECOWAS through this period of transformation. By advocating for inclusive policies and transparent governance, he can help restore trust in regional institutions and pave the way for a more resilient and prosperous West Africa.


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Faith Nyasuguta

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