With ECOWAS exit, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger leave democratic transition in limbo

The announcement that Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso will withdraw from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) “without delay” has put an abrupt end to fractious talks on organising elections and reinstating civilian rule. With their emphasis on restoring “national sovereignty” and driving out terrorist groups, the three West African countries’ military governments have made it clear that organising elections is not their primary concern.   

Since successive coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been trying to get the countries’ military leaders to commit to holding elections to reinstate civilian governments.  

Despite the heavy sanctions imposed, fractious negotiations between the three West African countries and ECOWAS have failed to produce tangible results. In their joint withdrawal announcement on January 28, the interim leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger criticised the West African regional organisation for its lack of support in the fight against terrorism and for adopting “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane” punitive measures. Their exit marks the end of negotiations regarding each country’s electoral timetable, which the military governments had shown little inclination to put in place. 

In Mali, the first country to be affected by the wave of coups that has spread across West Africa in recent years, talks initiated by ECOWAS on the duration of the transition period have seen many twists and turns. Following the August 2020 coup that toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, ECOWAS imposed an economic embargo, closing its borders with the country while maintaining deliveries of essential goods. The military then installed a civilian government committed to holding elections within two years, scheduled for February 27, 2022. However, a second putsch in May 2021 shattered this promise. 

Speaking to FRANCE 24 months after the second coup, Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Maiga described the February 2022 deadline as unrealistic. “It is better to have a few more weeks, even a few more months” than to have another post-electoral crisis, like the one that led to the fall of President Keïta, he said.   

Since then, the length of the transition period has changed several times. At the end of December 2021, following a “national consultation”, Mali’s interim President Assimi Goïta proposed extending it by five years. This was later reduced to two years under pressure from ECOWAS. Before announcing their withdrawal from the West African regional organisation, the Malian authorities had again postponed the presidential election, scheduled for February 4, 2024, for “technical reasons”, without giving a new date. 

Prioritising fight against terrorism  

The electoral timetable established for Burkina Faso has also been consigned to oblivion. Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who overthrew President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré in January 2022, had pledged to hold elections in July 2024 until he himself was overthrown by the young Captain Ibrahim Traoré in September 2022. Traoré initially said that he wanted to respect this timetable, but then changed his mind. “It’s not a priority, I’ll tell you that clearly, security is the priority,” he said, when asked about holding elections a year later.  

In Niger, which has been less affected by terrorist attacks by groups linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group, coup leaders have also justified their actions by citing the “deteriorating security situation”

Read moreNiger coup brings France’s complicated relationship with its former colonies into the spotlight

Following the July 2023 coup, ECOWAS once again entered into negotiations with a military junta to establish an electoral timetable. It threatened the new leaders with military intervention in order to re-establish constitutional order, but failed to bring them to heel.   

“These military regimes’ approach, which consists of prioritising the fight against terrorism over the question of democracy, effectively puts the return to constitutional order at risk, because no one knows when security will return,” said Abba Seidik, a journalist specialising in the Sahel. “It’s true that the situation in Burkina Faso is particularly difficult, but what about in Mali, where the authorities have regained control of Kidal [a town in northern Mali]? Or Niger, where it was possible to hold a presidential election at the end of 2020? Not all situations are identical. Although elections may not have been the primary reason why the three countries withdrew from ECOWAS, it is worth mentioning that [their exit from the group] removes any possibility of applying pressure in this area.” 

Military populism 

The three countries’ decision to leave ECOWAS is further evidence of the regional organisation’s failure to negotiate a return to civilian rule, said Thierry Vircoulon, a Sub-Saharan Africa expert at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). 

“The commitments by Mali and Burkina Faso’s military governments to hold elections were part of a dialogue with ECOWAS that had already failed,” said Vircoulon. “The elections were already doomed and leaving ECOWAS is just the latest proof of this. These countries practise a form of populist militarism; they have no intention of facing up to election results and are organising popular mobilisations to legitimise themselves.” 

“Regional partners and the international community continue to press them to hold elections – as does a silent segment of their population, which we should not forget,” said Seidik. “But these people are living in a society where freedom of expression has been considerably curtailed. In Mali, critical positions expose people to online lynching campaigns, and it is even worse in Burkina Faso, where we have seen that people can be arrested for criticising the authorities.” 

In Mali’s capital Bamako, very few people spoke out against the decision to leave ECOWAS. The February 20 Coalition (Appel du 20 février), which includes opposition political parties and civil society movements critical of the transitional authorities, issued a press release, denouncing a decision “taken without any form of democratic debate”.  

Meanwhile, the military leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger – united under the banner of the Alliance of Sahel States, a mutual defence pact established in September 2023 –organised “large mobilisations of support” on February 1 to celebrate a “courageous and historic” decision. 

In an interview with former RFI journalist Alain Foka shortly after the ECOWAS exit, Burkina Faso’s interim leader Traoré declined to commit to an election timetable. “There must be a minimum of security so that, if there is an electoral campaign, people can go anywhere in Burkina Faso to explain their ideas,” he said, before touting the army’s accomplishments. “You have to know how to awaken patriotism in a people, to give them confidence, to know that their homeland is the only thing they have left,” he added. “That’s what we’ve managed to do.”

This article has been translated from the original in French

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‘A real blow for the junta’: Myanmar’s ethnic groups launch unprecedented armed resistance

Fighting in Myanmar between the military junta and an alliance of ethnic armed groups has intensified since late October after an unprecedented offensive in the country’s north exposed the junta’s struggles on the ground. The UN called for all sides to respect international law in a statement on Friday, saying that more than 70 civilians had already been killed and some 200,000 displaced by the upsurge in violence. 

Myanmar’s army, known as the Tatmadaw, has been fighting against simultaneous offensives launched by ethnic armed groups in several regions across the country since late October.

“It’s the biggest challenge that the military junta has had to face since the coup d’état of February 1, 2021,” said Thomas Kean, a specialist on Myanmar at the International Crisis Group, an NGO that monitors global conflicts. 

Fighting erupted over the weekend in Shan, Kachin and Chin states in the country’s north as well as in Rakhine State in the west, where an informal ceasefire had been in place for almost a year until early last week. Armed groups have taken the fight to the Tatmadaw in Kayah State in the country’s east, according to Kean. At least 70 civilians, including children, have been killed since the fighting erupted in earnest on October 27, and more than 90 wounded and more than 200,000 displaced, according to a UN statement released Friday. 

Operation 1027

Dubbed “Operation 1027”, the offensive began on October 27 in northern Shan State on the Chinese border. Three armed groups – the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Arakan Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army – have joined forces under the Three Brotherhood Alliance moniker. 

Myanmar’s borderlands are home to dozens of ethnic armed groups that have fought against the military on and off since the country’s independence in 1948. Since the Tatmadaw toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in a February 2021 coup, some of these groups have been active in training the People’s Defence Forces that emerged to resist the putsch. 

“Helped by resistance groups formed after the coup, hundreds of experienced and fairly well-armed fighters managed to simultaneously attack key junta sites. They seized several towns and villages in the region, took control of military outposts and cut off important trade routes to China,” Kean said, adding that the attack had been “the junta’s biggest setback in the field for a long time”. 

Read moreMyanmar rebels’ offensive: Junta faces biggest threat since 2021 coup

Officially, the aim of the joint offensive was to crack down on the criminal activities that have proliferated in these borderlands, particularly in the Chinese-speaking region of Kokang. Kokang has been dominated since 2009 by a pro-junta militia that has grown wealthy through drug production and other kinds of illegal trafficking, including sex work and online fraud operations. The Chinese government has increasingly been pressuring governments across Southeast Asia to clamp down on the flourishing cyber-scam industry, in which gangs have held thousands of Chinese nationals captive in crowded compounds and forced them to target people across mainland China and beyond with online scams.

“Since May, Beijing has been asking the Myanmar military to step up control of its border militia, to no avail,” Kean explained. “So the Three Brotherhood Alliance has taken advantage of this junta inaction to launch its attacks under the guise of fighting crime.” It’s a way, he said, for the alliance to carry out its assault without risking a negative reaction from China.

“It was also a way to strike a diplomatic blow against the junta, a traditional ally of Beijing,” said Kyaw Win, director of the UK-based Burma Human Rights Network. Not long after the attack, Beijing had shown “its strong dissatisfaction”, deploring the Chinese casualties in Kokang. 

“And China is supposed to be building a major rail link through Kokang as part of its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. So it wants stability on its border,” he added. “Now, faced with this offensive, the junta no longer seems able to guarantee it.”

Chain reaction

The Three Brotherhood Alliance’s offensive in the north seems to have set off a chain reaction across the country. “These victories have, in a way, galvanised the country’s armed groups,” Kean said.

On November 6, armed groups announced that they had seized control of Kawlin, a town of 25,000 people in the Sagaing region. The next day, resistance forces said they had taken Khampat, a town in the country’s west. 

“And so the fighting gradually spread, with fronts in several regions,” Win said. “Today, according to figures put forward by the various ethnic groups, the army has lost around a hundred military posts and control of some fifty towns and villages. The ethnic groups have also managed to seize numerous weapons and vehicles.”

The campaign has not gone unanswered. By November 2, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing had promised to launch a counter-attack in the country’s north. “We will take the necessary action to counter acts of terrorism,” he warned, announcing an emergency meeting with his military leaders.

But faced with a war on many fronts, the Tatmadaw seems to be exposing its weaknesses rather than its much-vaunted military might. 

“As has often been the case since the beginning of the civil war, it retaliates with air strikes, but its mobile forces on the ground appear limited and overwhelmed,” Kean said.

The Tatmadaw has been grappling with a shortage of fighters seizing power in February 2021. In an analysis published in May, researcher Ye Myo Hein estimated that “the army currently has around 150,000 personnel, including 70,000 combat soldiers”. According to his estimates, at least 21,000 soldiers have been killed or else deserted or defected.

“What the current situation shows is that the pressure on the Burmese army is stronger than ever,” Win said. “Today, it lacks men and resources. Every day, it loses ground in the countryside and is gradually confined to the big cities like Yangon and Mandalay.”

“The Tatmadaw can now collapse,” he said, calling the international community to action. “The time is now or never to act and restore peace to Burma.” 

A turning point?

Kean was more cautious in his appraisal of the situation.

“It’s true that recent events show that the military is at a critical juncture. Until now, it had never lost so much ground or even entire towns”, he said. “But it has already shown in the past that it is capable of reversing the trend. The question over the next few weeks will be whether or not it will be able to recover the lost territory.”

Before seeing the regime “surrender”, “it is more likely that the army will redouble its efforts to regain the upper hand, and that this will lead to an increase in violence and bombing”, Kean said. “The country risks sinking into an ever more brutal spiral where civilians will pay a heavy price.” 

There is one actor, though, that could turn the tables at any moment: China. 

“Even if Beijing has so far largely let the fighting take its course in Shan State, this may not last,” Kean said. “Beijing has far more influence over events on its border than any other international actor. China can just as easily put pressure on ethnic groups as on the junta to end the fighting and bog down the conflict in a status quo.”

This article has been adapted from the original in French.

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ECOWAS to meet Thursday over Niger crisis

Mali said it and Burkina Faso, both neighbours of Niger run by military juntas, were sending delegations to Niger to show support. Both countries have said they would consider any intervention in Niger as a declaration of war against them.

Leaders of West Africa’s regional bloc said Monday that they would meet later this week to discuss next steps after Niger’s military junta defied a deadline to reinstate the country’s ousted president while its mutinous soldiers closed the country’s airspace and accused foreign powers of preparing an attack.


The meeting was scheduled for Thursday in Abuja, the capital of neighbouring Nigeria, according to a spokesman for the ECOWAS bloc.

In Niger, state television reported the junta’s latest actions Sunday night, hours before the deadline set by ECOWAS, which has warned of using military force if the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum is not returned to power.

A spokesman for the coup leaders, Colonel Major Amadou Abdramane, noted “the threat of intervention being prepared in a neighbouring country,” and said Niger’s airspace will be closed until further notice. Any attempt to fly over the country will be met with “an energetic and immediate response.”

The junta also claimed that two central African countries were preparing for an invasion, but did not name them. It called on Niger’s population to defend the nation.

The United States said on Monday that it is still possible to put an end to the coup through diplomacy.

“It is still possible. We believe that the junta should withdraw and allow President (Mohamed) Bazoum to resume his duties”, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller told reporters.

The use of force is a solution of “last resort” for ECOWAS, said Matthew Miller, adding that the United States was “focused on finding a diplomatic solution.

The coup toppled Bazoum, whose ascendency was Niger’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence from France in 1960. The coup also raised questions about the future of the fight against extremism in Africa’s Sahel region, where Russia and Western countries have vied for influence.

International airlines have begun to divert flights around Niger, which the United States and others had seen as the last major counterterrorism partner in the Sahel, south of the Sahara Desert, where groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group are expanding their influence.

Region divided

Also Monday, Mali said it and Burkina Faso, both neighbours of Niger run by military juntas, were sending delegations to Niger to show support. Both countries have said they would consider any intervention in Niger as a declaration of war against them.

The Associated Press saw several security officers from Burkina Faso at a hotel in Niger’s capital.


Regional tensions have mounted since Niger’s coup nearly two weeks ago, when mutinous soldiers detained Bazoum and installed Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, former head of the presidential guard, as head of state. Analysts believe the coup was triggered by a power struggle between Tchiani and the president, who was about to fire him.

It was not immediately clear what ECOWAS leaders will do now. The region is divided on a course of action. There was no sign of military forces gathering at Niger’s border with Nigeria, the likely entry point by land.

Nigeria’s Senate has pushed back on the plan to invade, urging Nigeria’s president, the bloc’s current chair, to explore options other than the use of force. ECOWAS can still move ahead, as final decisions are made by consensus by member states.

Guinea and neighbouring Algeria, which is not an ECOWAS member, have come out against the use of force. Senegal’s government has said it would participate in a military operation if it went ahead, and Ivory Coast has expressed support for the bloc’s efforts to restore constitutional order.

The junta does not appear interested in negotiation. An ECOWAS delegation sent to Niger last week for hours of talks was not allowed to leave the airport and met only with Tchiani’s representatives.


The junta has also asked for help from the Russian mercenary group Wagner, which operates in a handful of African countries, including Mali, according to Wassim Nasr, a journalist and senior research fellow at the Soufan Center.

US officials say they are still able to communicate with Bazoum and that their most recent contact was Monday.

Two officials said the administration of US President Joe Biden intends to maintain both a diplomatic and military presence in Niger for the foreseeable future.

The administration is still weighing whether the developments amount to a coup, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss private diplomatic discussions. They said there was still time for Niger’s military leaders to reverse course.

If the US determines that a democratically elected government has been toppled by unconstitutional means, federal law requires a cutoff of most American assistance, particularly military aid.


Pro-junta rallies in Niamey

Since the coup, extremists have been ecstatic because they are able to move around more freely without fear of attack, Boubacar Moussa, a former jihadi fighter, told the AP. He had joined a nationwide program that encourages fighters to defect and reintegrate into society. The program’s fate is unclear.

Moussa said he’s received at least 10 phone calls from active jihadis in the Tillaberi region near the Mali border who said there’s been no concern about airstrikes. If there’s a military intervention by ECOWAS, they likely will attack the capital, Niamey, he said.

At a rally on Sunday, thousands cheered junta leaders who said their loyalty would be repaid.

“We are with you against them. We will give you the Niger that you are owed,” Brig. Gen. Mohamed Toumba said. After his speech, rallygoers beheaded a chicken decorated in the colours of former colonizer France.

The junta is exploiting anti-French sentiments to shore up its support base and has severed security ties with France, which still has 1,500 military personnel in Niger for counterterrorism efforts.

On Monday, France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs formally discouraged any travel to Niger, Burkina Faso or Mali, and called on French nationals to be extremely vigilant. France has suspended almost 500 million euros ($550 million) in aid to Burkina Faso.

It’s not clear what will happen to the French military presence, or to the 1,100 US military personnel also in Niger.

Many people, largely youth, have rallied around the junta, taking to the streets at night to patrol after being urged to guard against foreign intervention.

“While they (jihadists) kill our brothers and sisters … ECOWAS didn’t intervene. Is it now that they will intervene?” said Amadou Boukari, a coup supporter at Sunday’s rally. “Shame on ECOWAS.”

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Safety of French nationals is ‘only priority’ in Niger, says foreign minister

France’s foreign minister on Monday denied accusations from Niger’s junta that Paris is plotting military action to support ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. The deposed leader has been held by Niger’s military since Wednesday, while the head of the presidential guard, Abdourahamane Tiani, has declared himself the country’s new leader. Follow our blog to see how the day’s events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

This live blog is no longer being updated. 

8:12pm: Foreign minister denies accusations that French military plans to intervene in Niger

France’s foreign minister on Monday denied accusations from Niger’s new junta that Paris is plotting to intervene militarily in Niger.

The putschists in Niamey had earlier in the day said that France planned to take military action, with the authorisation of members of deposed President Mohamed Bazoum’s government.

In an address on state television, Colonel Amadou Abdramane, one of the coup plotters, said the ousted government had authorised France to carry out strikes on the presidential palace through a statement signed by Bazoum’s foreign minister, Hassoumi Massoudou, acting as prime minister.



Abdramane did not specify what kind of strikes and did not give any evidence to back up his assertion.

FRANCE 24 spoke to French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna who denied the claims. “France’s only priority is the safety of our nationals.”

“This situation is worrying. It has been for the past three days, with the ongoing coup attempt and the violent, organized and planned demonstrations against the embassy. We are monitoring the situation very closely. All security measures have been reinforced in order to be ready for any eventuality”

4:35pm: France says no lethal means used in response to attack on Niger embassy

French security forces did not use lethal means to respond when supporters of Niger’s military junta attacked the French embassy in Niamey on Sunday, France’s foreign ministry said on Monday.

2:46pm: Niger junta arresting ministers, says president’s party

Four ministers in Niger, a former minister and the head of ousted president Mohamed Bazoum’s party have been arrested by the junta which seized power on July 26, the party said on Monday.

“After the president was detained last week, the putschists went on the attack again and carried out more arrests,” the overthrown Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) said in a statement to AFP.

On Monday morning, Oil Minister Mahamane Sani Mahamadou – the son of influential former president Mahamadou Issoufou – and Mining Minister Ousseini Hadizatou were arrested, it said.

The head of the PNDS’s national executive committee, Fourmakoye Gado, was also arrested, it said.

The junta had previously arrested Interior Minister Hama Amadou Souley, Transport Minister Oumarou Malam Alma and Kalla Moutari, an MP and former defence minister the party said.

The arrests coincided with a statement by the junta requiring “all former ministers and heads of institutions” to hand back their office cars by noon.



2:42pm: Niger’s planned $51mn bond issuance cancelled due to sanctions

A planned 30 billion CFA francs ($51 million) bond issuance by Niger scheduled for Monday in the West African regional debt market has been cancelled by the regional central bank following sanctions after the coup, market sources said.

West African leaders on Sunday imposed sanctions on Niger, including stopping all finance market transactions and a national assets freeze, to try to force the junta to restore constitutional order.

Niger, which is one of the world’s poorest countries and largely depends on external aid and financing, was expected to issue two other bonds in the regional market on August 7 and August 17, according to an issuance calendar of a regional debt management agency.

12:48pm: Only legitimate authority in Niger is Bazoum’s, says French foreign ministry

The only authority France recognises as legitimate in Niger is President Mohamed Bazoum’s,the French foreign ministry said on Monday when asked if it had obtained authorisation from Niger to carry out strikes to free the ousted leader.

The Niger military junta that seized power last week said on Monday the toppled government had authorised France to carry out strikes at the presidency to try to free Bazoum.

“Our priority is the security of our citizens and our facilities, which cannot be targeted by violence, according to international law,” the French foreign ministry added in a statement given to Reuters.

It did not confirm or deny being authorised to strike in Niger.

12:40pm: Germany suspends financial aid, development cooperation with Niger

Germany said Monday it had suspended financial aid to Niger as well as development cooperation with the jihadist-hit nation following last week’s coup, and warned it could take further measures.

Berlin has “suspended all direct support payments to the central government of Niger until further notice,” a foreign ministry spokesman told a press briefing.

“Depending on developments in the coming days, we may take further measures,” the spokesman added, without giving further details.

The development ministry had also decided to “suspend bilateral development cooperation,” a spokeswoman told the briefing.

The European Union and former colonial power France had already suspended financial aid to Niger and security cooperation at the weekend.

Talks on Niger


12:05pm: Kremlin calls for ‘restraint from all parties’ in Niger

The Kremlin on Monday asked all sides to exercise restraint in Niger, where a junta seized power last week in a coup and detained President Mohamed Bazoum.

“We call for the rapid restoration of the rule of law in the country and for restraint from all parties so that this doesn’t result in human casualties,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

9:58am: Niger putschists accuse France of wanting to ‘intervene militarily’

Niger’s new junta on Monday accused former colonial ruler France of wanting to “intervene militarily” to reinstate deposed President Mohamed Bazoum.

“In its search for ways and means to intervene militarily in Niger, France with the complicity of some Nigeriens, held a meeting with the chief of staff of the Nigerien national guard to obtain the necessary political and military authorisation needed,” said a statement read out on national television.

In another statement, the putschists accused the security services of an unnamed Western embassy of firing teargas Sunday on pro-coup demonstrators in the capital Niamey.

It said six people had been hospitalised after the incident.

French President Emmanuel Macron had Sunday vowed “immediate” action if French citizens or interests were attacked in Niger, after thousands of Nigeriens rallied outside the French embassy.

Key events in Niger so far

Niger’s elected president Mohamed Bazoum, has been held by the military since July 26, in the third coup in as many years to fell a leader in the Sahel.

The head of Niger’s powerful presidential guard, General Abdourahamane Tiani, has declared himself the country’s new leader.

Tiani said the putsch was a response to “the degradation of the security situation” linked to jihadist bloodshed, as well as corruption and economic woes.

Former colonial ruler France and the European Union have suspended security cooperation and financial aid to Niger following the coup, while the United States warned that its aid could also be at stake.

Read more‘Last bastion of democracy in the Sahel’: Uncertainty in Niger prompts concern among allies

At an emergency summit on Sunday the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) gave Tiani one week to reinstate the country’s democratically elected president and have threatened to use force if the demands aren’t met.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS and AP)

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African, international news outlets appeal for press freedom in Mali and Burkina Faso

FRANCE 24 and its sister radio RFI have joined a group of 30 African and international news organisations and monitors in an appeal for press freedom in Mali and Burkina Faso. The news outlets and rights groups call on the authorities of these two countries and the international community to put an end to the pressure and threats against national and foreign journalists. They urge the transitional governments in Mali and Burkina Faso to respect their countries’ international commitments to uphold freedom of expression, in particular the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The open letter, whose signatories include Jeune Afrique, Mali’s Joliba TV News and Burkina Faso’s L’Observateur Paalga, coincides with World Press Freedom Day on May 3. It is addressed to the Malian and Burkinabe authorities, as well as the wider international community.

The signatories voice their concern about threats to freedom of expression and the press amid increasing pressure and death threats targeting national and foreign journalists in both countries. “Measures taken by the authorities in Burkina Faso, especially in recent months, are liable to undermine the public’s fundamental right to be informed,” they write in the collective text. “Freedom begins where ignorance ends,” they add, recalling the recent arrests and imprisonment of journalists and opinion leaders in Mali.

>> Read more: Armed groups, juntas create dangers for journalists in Sahel

“In both Burkina Faso and Mali, these attacks are increasingly amplified on social media by ‘influencers’ who support the military regimes in these two countries, who play the role of dispensers of justice and issue death threats against journalists and opinion leaders they regard as overly independent,” reads the letter, signed by several press freedom watchdogs – such as the International Francophone Press Union (UPF) and the Union of West African Journalists (UJAO) – and rights advocacy groups including Human Rights Watch.

The “establishment of a regime of terror”, to quote L’Observateur Paalga, “is accompanied by a wave of fake news flooding social media with falsehoods”, the signatories add, noting that “the victims of these ‘influencers’ are the people of Mali and Burkina Faso, who are deprived of a democratic debate.”


Acknowledging the “complexity of the political, geopolitical and military context” in both counties, as well as their “crucial duty to inform the public”, the 30 signatories add: “The fight against terrorism must not in any way serve as a pretext for imposing a new reporting standard and restricting the fundamental rights of the Malian and Burkinabe public to seek and access news and information through professional and independent media.”

The open letter was drafted under the coordination of the Sub-Saharan Africa bureau of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Open letter on protecting journalists and defending freedom of expression and press freedom in Mali and Burkina Faso

For the attention of:

● The President of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union

● The President of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS

● The President of the Conference of Heads of State and Government of WAEMU

● The Chair of the African Union Commission

● The President of the ECOWAS Commission

● The President of the WAEMU Commission

● The President of the Pan-African Parliament

● The UN Secretary-General

● The President of the UN Human Rights Council

● The Director-General of UNESCO

● The Secretary-General of the OIF

● The heads of the media regulatory bodies of the 15 ECOWAS countries

● The President of the Francophone Network of Media Regulators

● The President of the Platform of Broadcasting Regulators of WAEMU member countries and Guinea

● The Ministers of Communication of the 15 ECOWAS member countries

● The Chair of the African Broadcasting Union

What with calls for journalists and opinion leaders to be murdered, threats and intimidation against the national press, grotesquely fabricated accusations against journalists, the suspension of local broadcasting by French international news outlets RFI and FRANCE 24, and the expulsion of reporters with the French newspapers Libération and Le Monde – the threats to freedom of expression and press freedom are very worrying in Burkina Faso. Measures taken by this country’s authorities, especially in recent months, are liable to undermine the public’s fundamental right to be informed. Freedom begins where ignorance ends.

Journalists and opinion leaders are increasingly subjected to harassment and intimidation in Mali as well. In November-December 2022, television network Joliba TV was suspended by the High Authority for Communication (HAC) after it broadcast an editorial deemed critical of the authorities. This year, the Maison de la Presse in Bamako was ransacked on February 20, while Mohamed Youssouf Bathily, a radio columnist better known by the pseudonym Ras Bath, was charged and imprisoned on March 13 for denouncing former Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubèye Maïga’s “assassination”. Rokia Doumbia, the influencer also known as “Rose vie chère”, was arrested on March 15 for referring to inflation and the transitional government’s “failure”. The journalist Aliou Touré was abducted by masked gunmen on April 6 and was not found until four days later.

Here too, the international press is far from being spared. In February 2022, a Jeune Afrique reporter was deported from Bamako. A month later, RFI and FRANCE 24 were silenced throughout Mali.

In both Burkina Faso and Mali, these attacks are increasingly amplified on social media by “influencers” who support the military regimes in these two countries, who play the role of dispensers of justice and issue death threats against journalists and opinion leaders they regard as overly independent. Lies are now being added to the violence. The “establishment of a regime of terror”, as Burkinabe daily L’Observateur Paalga wrote, is accompanied by a wave of fake news flooding social media with falsehoods. The victims of these “influencers” are the people of Mali and Burkina Faso, who are deprived of a democratic debate.

Amid what is a serious security crisis in both countries, journalists are all aware of their crucial duty to inform the public. They also understand the complexity of the political, geopolitical and military context. They also live and suffer the serious consequences of this security crisis. Like all citizens, they want a quick return to peace. However, the fight against terrorism must not in any way serve as a pretext for imposing a new reporting standard and restricting the fundamental rights of the Malian and Burkinabe public to seek and access news and information through professional and independent media.

In Burkina Faso, the situation of journalists has become so critical that even the entity in charge of regulation is alarmed. In a press release published on March 29, the Superior Council for Communication (CSC) said it “notes with regret the recurrence of threats against media outlets and media actors” and asked the authorities to “take appropriate measures to ensure the safety of the media and journalists in the course of their work.”

On April 6, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said he was “deeply troubled” by the restrictions on the media in Burkina Faso. “In this period of transition, protection of independent voices is more necessary than ever,” he added.

On February 20, Alioune Tine, the UN independent expert on the situation of human rights in Mali, said he was “extremely concerned about the restriction of civic space and freedom of expression and association” in Mali.

In the light of all these facts, we, the signatories of this open letter,

● Urge the authorities of Mali and Burkina Faso to put an end to all measures that undermine press freedom.

● Note a lack of protection by the security forces and silence from the judiciary in response to the intimidation campaigns and death threats against journalists in these two countries. While respecting the independence of justice, we call on prosecutors and police officers to respond more to such acts, which are punishable under criminal law.

● Call on the authorities of these two countries to guarantee the protection and safety of all media professionals who are the victims of threats, intimidation, harassment and physical attacks.

● Call on the authorities to carry out impartial, effective and independent investigations to shed light on abuses committed against journalists, and to identify and prosecute those responsible.

● Call on both governments to respect the international obligations signed and ratified by their countries regarding freedom of expression and press freedom, in particular the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

● Call on the national authorities and pan-African and international bodies to whom this open letter is addressed to support this initiative at the highest level. Access to news and information is a fundamental right of peoples. On World Press Freedom Day, it is essential to defend and protect it.



1. AfrikaJom Center

2. Burkina Faso Journalists Association (AJB)

3. Association of Online Press Publishers and Professionals (APPEL Senegal)

4. Norbert Zongo Cell for Investigative Journalism (CENOZO)

5. Norbert Zongo National Press Centre (CNP-NZ Burkina Faso)

6. Courrier confidentiel (Burkina Faso)

7. Federation of African Journalists (FAJ)

8. International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)

9. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

10. France 24 (France)

11. Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)

12. Human Rights Watch (HRW)

13. International Press Institute (IPI)

14. Jeune Afrique (France)

15. Joliba TV News (Mali)

16. Le Pays (Burkina Faso)

17. Le Monde (Burkina Faso)

18. Lefaso.net (Burkina Faso)

19. Le Reporter (Burkina Faso)

20. L’Événement (Burkina Faso)

21. Libération (France)

22. L’Observateur Paalga (Burkina Faso)

23. Radio France Internationale (RFI)

24. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

25. Burkina Faso Society of Privately-owned Press Publishers (SEP)

26. Omega Médias (Burkina Faso)

27. International Francophone Press Union (UPF)

28. Union of West African Journalists (UJAO)

29. 24heures.bf (Burkina Faso)

30. Wakat Sera (Burkina Faso)

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