Soldiers who seized power in three West African nations announced on Sunday that they would pull their countries out of their regional economic bloc.
Military juntas in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso said they were withdrawing from the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, because of sanctions the group imposed in response to the coups that were carried out.
In recent years, a string of coups have erupted across the Sahel, the arid strip south of the Sahara, forming an unbroken strip of military-run countries stretching coast to coast across the continent.
While attempts by the regional bloc to reverse some of these coups have failed, the sanctions it imposed — closing borders and cutting the three landlocked countries off from major trading partners — have endured, causing intense hardship for millions of people.
On Sunday, the three juntas said these sanctions were “inhumane.”
ECOWAS closed land and air borders, imposed a no-fly zone for commercial flights, suspended financial transactions and froze assets the countries held in ECOWAS central banks.
In a statement, the juntas accused the bloc of “betraying its founding principles” and said it had “become a threat to its member states and their people.”
ECOWAS, they said, was acting “under the influence of foreign powers,” though they did not specify which powers. The bloc is perceived as being a tool of France, Britain and the United States by many West Africans, particularly those who spend time on social media.
The ECOWAS Commission said later Sunday that it had yet to receive “any direct formal notification from the three member states about their intention to withdraw from the community.”
In a statement, it said it had been “working assiduously with these countries for the restoration of constitutional order” and called the three nations important members of the community, adding that it was still “committed to finding a negotiated solution to the political impasse.”
The bloc was founded in 1975, soon after many West African countries obtained independence from imperial rulers, with the aim of achieving economic integration among countries whose borders were drawn by colonial powers. Later, ECOWAS took on democracy, security and stability as additional priorities.
Leaving ECOWAS could have major consequences for the three countries’ citizens, who could previously travel visa-free among the 15 member states that made up the bloc — comprising more than 300 million people and over 1,000 languages.
West African commentators said the countries’ departure could affect trade relations and regional stability and cause pain in the other direction too, on the bloc’s remaining 12 member states. The decision should cause ECOWAS and the African Union to “reflect on their utility, purpose and impact,” said Ayisha Osori, a Nigerian lawyer and political activist, in a social media post.
The current spate of coups began with Mali, where military officers arrested the president in 2020 and forced him to resign on state television. Since then, each time a West African government has been overthrown, the bloc has tried to reverse it, sending diplomats to attempt to persuade coup plotters to hand back power or hold new elections. But the efforts have often appeared toothless.
In July, after mutinous generals seized power in Niger and held the elected president hostage, ECOWAS threatened to deploy its forces to reverse the coup. But the junta members said if it did, they would kill the president. ECOWAS, led by President Bola Tinubu of Nigeria, backed down.
Four months later, the ECOWAS court of justice ordered Niger to reinstate its imprisoned president, Mohamed Bazoum.
But nothing happened. Mr. Bazoum is still being held hostage.