Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger have officially entered into a mutual defense pact, solidifying their commitment to aiding each other in the face of potential threats such as armed uprisings or external aggression. The Sahel States Alliance (SSA) was formally signed on Saturday and obliges the signatory nations to provide assistance, including military support, in the event of an attack on any one of them.
The charter explicitly states that “any attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more contracted parties will be considered an aggression against the other parties.” Furthermore, it binds the three countries to collaborate in preventing and resolving armed rebellions within their territories.
Assimi Goita, the leader of Mali’s military junta, announced the establishment of this alliance via his social media account, noting that its primary goal is to “establish an architecture of collective defense and mutual assistance for the benefit of our populations.”
The region where Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger share borders, known as Liptako-Gourma, has been plagued by jihadist activity in recent years. Mali’s Defense Minister, Abdoulaye Diop, emphasized that this alliance will encompass both military and economic efforts, with the foremost priority being the joint fight against terrorism across the three nations.
The genesis of this alliance can be traced back to the jihadist insurgency that originated in northern Mali in 2012 and subsequently spread to Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015. All three countries have experienced coup d’états since 2020, with Niger being the most recent case in July when soldiers ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. The West African regional bloc ECOWAS had even threatened military intervention in Niger in response to the coup, leading Mali and Burkina Faso to warn that such action would be considered a “declaration of war” against them.
These formalized commitments have further strained relations between France and the three Sahel states. France had previously supported the G5 Sahel alliance joint force, which also included Chad and Mauritania, aimed at combatting extremist groups in the region. However, Mali’s departure from the organization following a military coup and President Bazoum’s declaration of the force’s demise have altered the dynamics.
As the situation evolves, France has withdrawn its troops from Mali and Burkina Faso and is currently in a tense standoff with the military authorities in Niger, who seized power. Mali has additionally requested the United Nations peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, to leave the country. Niger’s military leaders have called on France to withdraw its troops and its ambassador, an appeal that has not been recognized by France.
In the midst of these geopolitical shifts, Mali has witnessed a resurgence of hostilities involving primarily Tuareg armed groups, posing a threat to the fragile peace agreement of 2015.