The foreign ministers of Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali, all ruled by military juntas, have proposed a regional partnership to facilitate trade and tackle insecurity in the region. The three West African countries have experienced military takeovers since 2020, reversing democratic gains that had seen the region shed its tag as Africa’s “coup belt.” But despite the recent history of instability and conflict, these foreign ministers are optimistic that their proposed federation could help bring stability and prosperity to the region.
The proposed partnership, which would link the capitals of Bamako, Conakry, and Ouagadougou, is a response to the growing threat of jihadist insurgency in the region. Insurgents linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have spread across West Africa’s Sahel region and beyond in the past decade, killing thousands and displacing millions. The federation would help centralize the fight against insecurity and mobilize resources for a railway network linking the three capitals.
The partnership is also intended to promote economic cooperation, with fuel and electricity exchanges, transport links, cooperation on mineral resource extraction, rural development, and trade. This would be a boon for a region that has long been beset by poverty and underdevelopment, despite its vast natural resources. The federation would also provide a unified voice for the three countries on the international stage, which could help attract investment and development assistance.
Despite the many benefits that the proposed partnership could bring, there are also concerns. Western powers such as France have already expressed concern about the military takeovers in the region, and some have withdrawn their troops. The juntas have also clashed with West Africa’s main economic and regional bloc, ECOWAS, over proposed transition timelines deemed too slow. All three countries were suspended from ECOWAS and the Africa Union, and sanctions have been imposed on Guinea and Mali for dragging their feet on restoring constitutional order.
However, the foreign ministers remain optimistic about the future. They note that the federation could help strengthen democracy in the region by promoting economic growth and security. Burkina Faso’s interim President Ibrahim Traore has already asked his government to enact the plan. The federation could also help to dispel the notion that West Africa is a “coup belt,” and instead position it as a hub of economic growth and cooperation.
The proposal is still in its early stages, and there are many obstacles that will need to be overcome. But the fact that the foreign ministers of these three countries, who have been on opposite sides of many conflicts in the region, are willing to come together and work towards a common goal is a promising sign. The proposed federation could bring much-needed stability, prosperity, and unity to a region that has long been divided and in turmoil.