ECOWAS Management of Political Transitions in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso: Achieving Stability, Sustainable Democracy and Development

2021 saw more coups than the preceding five years combined, including successful instances in Mali, Guinea, as well as failed coup attempts and mutinies in Niger. The trend has continued into 2022, with two coups in Burkina Faso in January and September 2022, while an attempted, but unsuccessful, military putsch took place in Sao Tome on 25 November 2022. This democratic reversal portends political instability, and its attendant economic consequences for the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are concerning considering the developmental agenda of the region. Following these coups, the junta follows the same playbook – proceeding to set-up transitional arrangements in which they profess their desire to organise elections for a return of civilians to power. But in some countries, notably Mali where a counter coup took place in May 2021, respecting the initial schedule has been a problem. Analysts have advanced various reasons to explain the duration and non-respect for the transition agenda after coups in Africa. An argument points to “the political ambition of the military in power and to the complex political and security context of the states concerned …(that) once in power after the coup, the putschists used various means to make the transition as long as possible’.


Following the military takeovers, the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of States and Government and the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council suspended the memberships of Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso and called, separately, for a restoration of constitutional order within the shortest possible transition period. In addition, while ECOWAS imposed strict sanctions on Mali, including closing land and air borders, the regional body lifted the sanctions after the Malian military authorities agreed on a new election timetable in June 2022 with elections to be held in February 2024. However, experience has shown that the use of sanctions, unless hinged on a political and security strategies that address the underlying conditions and drivers of coups, stand little chance of leading to sustainable democracy and durable development.


This paper looks at the political transition in West Africa and reviews external responses to unconstitutional political transitions in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso. It also looks at the management of democratic transitions, especially in combining defence, development and peacebuilding before proffering thoughts on future prospects.

We use cookies to improve your experience. By continuing to visit this page, you accept our use of cookies.