OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso - Ten days after announcing their withdrawal from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger said Wednesday they intend to leave immediately, despite the bloc's one-year rule.
The three countries announced on 28 January that they were quitting ECOWAS and sent formal notification to the organisation the following day.
Article 91 of the bloc's treaty stipulates that member countries remain bound by their obligations for a period of one year after notifying their withdrawal.
But the three countries, all governed by military regimes that came to power through coups d'etat, do not intend to wait.
"The government of the Republic of Mali is no longer bound [by the] time constraints mentioned in article 91 of the treaty," the foreign affairs ministry in Bamako said in a letter to ECOWAS.
The letter said that the Economic Community of West African States, formed in 1975, had rendered the treaty "inoperative" when it failed to meet its obligations by closing member states' borders with Mali in 2022, denying it access to the sea.
ECOWAS had imposed heavy sanctions on Mali as the bloc tried to push for the early return of civilian government with elections.
"The ministry reiterates the irreversible nature of the government's decision" to withdraw "without delay from ECOWAS due to the organisation's violation of its own texts," the ministerial letter said.
All three regimes have had tense ties with the bloc since coups took place in Niger last July, Burkina Faso in 2022 and Mali in 2020.
The Burkina Faso foreign ministry, in a similar letter to ECOWAS, reiterated "the decision to withdraw without delay" and its "irreversible" nature.
Ouagadougou cited "serious failings" on the part of the organisation and in particular "sanctions" taken with "a clear intention to destroy the economies of countries in transition".
The Niger authorities also confirmed their immediate withdrawal in a letter sent to the organisation last week, and considers article 91 to be null and void, according to a government source contacted by AFP.
ECOWAS is to hold a ministerial-level meeting in Abuja on Thursday to discuss the political and security situation in the region.
The military regimes in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger had already been suspended by ECOWAS after their civilian governments were overthrown.
The regional bloc has tried in vain to impose the return of civilian rule, leading the three capitals to accuse ECOWAS of posing a threat to their sovereignty.
The organisation went so far as to threaten to use force in Niger, where the military overthrew the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum.
But the three states came together and formed the Alliance of Sahel States (AES) under the banner of sovereignty and Pan-Africanism.
The military regimes have also accused former colonial power France of instrumentalising ECOWAS.
They pushed out French ambassadors and forces while turning politically and militarily towards Moscow.
Some observers say the exit of three founding members of ECOWAS could compromise trade and push back the return to civilian rule in those countries as they battle poverty and jihadist violence.
The violence has left tens of thousands of civilians and soldiers dead and millions displaced in the Sahelian countries.