Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger sign mutual defence agreement

On Saturday, the military leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger officially inked a mutual defence agreement, as confirmed by ministerial representatives from these three Sahel nations in Mali's capital, Bamako.

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Photo credit:X/ Colonel Assimi GOITA

The accord, known as the Liptako-Gourma Charter, formalizes the creation of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), a pact disclosed by Mali’s junta leader, Assimi Goita, via X, the social media platform formerly referred to as Twitter. Its primary objective is to “establish a framework for collective defence and reciprocal support to benefit our respective populations,” as expressed in his statement.

The Liptako-Gourma region, where the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger converge, has been deeply affected by jihadist violence in recent years. Mali’s Defence Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, affirmed that this alliance would encompass both military and economic efforts among the three nations, with a primary focus on combatting terrorism within their respective territories.

The origins of the jihadist insurgency can be traced back to northern Mali in 2012, subsequently spreading to Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015. All three nations have experienced coups since 2020, with the most recent being in Niger, where the Presidential Guard detained President Mohamed Bazoum in July.

The West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, has indicated its readiness to intervene militarily in Niger in response to the coup. Mali and Burkina Faso have responded by cautioning that such a move would be construed as a “declaration of war” against them.

The charter signed on Saturday binds the signatories to provide mutual assistance, including military support, in the event of an attack on any one of them. It explicitly states that an attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one party will be considered an aggression against all parties, necessitating a collective response, potentially involving the use of armed force to restore and ensure security and commits the three countries to collaborate in preventing or resolving armed rebellions.

Mali, aside from confronting jihadist groups affiliated with Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, has witnessed a resurgence of hostilities from predominantly Tuareg armed factions in recent weeks. This upsurge in violence poses a significant challenge to the already stretched Malian military and raises questions about the junta’s claims of successfully improving the dire security situation.

The Tuareg separatist groups initiated a rebellion in 2012 before ultimately reaching a peace agreement with the government in 2015, which is now largely considered defunct. The resurgence in armed group activity has coincided with a series of lethal attacks, primarily attributed to the Al-Qaeda-linked jihadist coalition, Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM).

Mali’s junta removed France’s anti-jihadist force in 2022 and the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA in 2023. French troops have also withdrawn from Burkina Faso, while leaders of the Nigerien coup have renounced several military cooperation agreements with France.

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