Burkina Faso, Mali, And Niger Form Alliance Of Sahel States To Advance Collective Defense

In an advancement towards mutual cooperation, the governments of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger have formed the Alliance of Sahel States (AES). The move was finalized with the signing of the Liptako-Gourma Charter, named after the tri-border region shared by the three countries, in Mali’s capital Bamako on September 16.

The formation of the AES comes at a critical time in the Sahel region of West Africa. Mali has witnessed a resurgence of attacks by ethnic Tuareg rebels in its northern region, alongside violence by other armed groups. An armed insurgency by Tuareg rebels over a decade ago led to France’s military intervention in Mali in 2013 under Operation Serval.

Over the next few years, the attacks spread to other parts of the Sahel, including Niger and Burkina Faso, with armed groups controlling an estimated 40 percent of the latter’s territory. Meanwhile, France expanded its military operations in the region with Operation Barkhane in 2014.

As violence continued to grow even after almost a decade of intervention, France failed to achieve its stated counter-insurgency objectives and generated civilian casualties as a result of its airstrikes. This fueled protests against the presence of French troops in Mali. Against this backdrop of popular anger, the country witnessed two coups, in 2020 and 2021, finally bringing to power its current leadership headed by Colonel Assimi Goïta.

Burkina Faso would soon follow with a coup in January 2022 conducted in the wake of anti-French demonstrations. The same year, France announced the withdrawal of troops from Mali after Bamako ended its defense accords with Paris.

In January 2023, Burkina Faso ordered the expulsion of French troops from its soil. Both countries were suspended and sanctioned by the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Confronted by a precarious security situation and punitive measures by their regional neighbors, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea (which had also undergone a military coup in 2021) began taking comprehensive measures to boost cooperation on a range of matters, especially defense.