West Africa’s main economic club should focus on economic integration and the fight against poverty and terrorism and steer clear of interfering in the internal politics of member states, Benin’s foreign minister has said, Report informs referring to the Financial Times.

Shegun Adjadi Bakari told the Financial Times that the Economic Community of West African States should be reformed and that reaching agreement on how to respond to political crises was paramount.

“Nobody can say we can keep Ecowas as it is,” said Bakari, a former Société Générale executive who was appointed foreign minister last year. The bloc’s members should “sit down together to find a new consensus when it comes to internal politics”, although Benin believed it “should not interfere”.

Bakari was speaking as Ecowas, founded 49 years ago to foster economic development in the region, is still struggling to respond to a spate of military coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Niger since 2020.

Ecowas has responded haphazardly to the takeovers, which began when soldiers ousted elected Malian leader Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in August 2020. The country experienced a second coup nine months later. Guinea’s putsch came in September 2021, while Burkina Faso experienced two coups in 2022.

In those cases, Ecowas imposed minimal sanctions and worked with junta leaders to set timelines for a democratic transition. But following international criticism that it had been too lenient, the bloc imposed sweeping sanctions on Niger after the head of the country’s presidential guard deposed and detained President Mohamed Bazoum last July, threatening to invade if he was not released.

The threat was not realized and the ruling junta remains in power, while Bazoum is still in detention — although Bakari said “work” was ongoing to secure his freedom. Sanctions were lifted in February. The minister argued Ecowas needed to change its approach given its lack of success in restoring democracy in the coup-hit countries. The junta in Burkina Faso recently extended its term by another five years.

“In Mali, we set a transition timetable. Four years later, is there a solution? No. In Guinea and Burkina Faso, we did the same thing, and no solution,” Bakari said. With Niger, “we decided to put sanctions in place . . . We received a very big backlash and there’s no result. We have to ask ourselves at some point if our methodology is the right one.”