(Corrects to “Guinea” from “Burkina Faso” in paragraph 6)
By Thiam Ndiaga and Christian Akorlie
OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) -West Africa’s main regional bloc on Friday suspended Burkina Faso from its governing bodies over this week’s military coup but stopped short of imposing any sanctions, its member states said in a statement.
Burkina Faso’s army overthrew President Roch Kabore on Monday, presenting the latest test to the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has struggled to mount an effective response to a series of coups in the region over the past 18 months.
A delegation of ECOWAS defence chiefs will travel to Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou on Saturday, followed by a ministerial mission a few days later, the statement said.
Heads of ECOWAS member states will reconvene for another summit in Ghana’s capital Accra on Feb. 3 to discuss the findings of the two delegations.
ECOWAS and its international allies have condemned the coup in Burkina Faso, which they fear could further destabilise a country beset by Islamist violence, but find themselves with limited leverage.
The bloc’s decision to not sanction Burkina Faso contrasted with its response to coups in Mali and Guinea, with which ECOWAS member states closed borders and imposed some economic sanctions after military takeovers in May and September.
ECOWAS sanctions on the juntas in Mali and Guinea have done little to sway their behaviour, however, nor did they deter the latest coup.
The bloc could still choose to sanction Burkina Faso when members reconvene next week.
Pro-democracy activists say ECOWAS is suffering from a crisis of credibility, with West Africans losing faith in regional leaders they see as manipulating the democratic process and failing to alleviate poverty or contain Islamist violence.
In opening remarks to the summit, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, the acting ECOWAS chairman, acknowledged the organisation has work to do convincing people of the benefits of democracy.
“The happenings in the region tell us that not everybody has accepted democracy as the preferred mode of governance,” Akufo-Addo said.
He added that the rest of the world was looking to ECOWAS “to be firm in this matter”.
ECOWAS imposed sanctions against Mali and Guinea following military takeovers in August 2020 and September 2021, respectively.
It significantly tightened the sanctions on Mali this month after the transitional government there went back on an earlier commitment to hold elections in February. The new restrictions included closing member states’ borders with Mali and freezing most financial transactions.
But the hard line has arguably backfired by boosting the junta’s support at home. Protests against the sanctions drew tens of thousands into the streets.
As in Mali, Burkina Faso’s coup was in part precipitated by public frustration with insecurity caused by an insurgency by militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.
The violence has killed thousands and displaced millions across the Sahel region in recent years.
The coup leader, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, said on Thursday that Burkina Faso would return to constitutional order “when the conditions are right”.
The European Union has said it would follow ECOWAS in imposing sanctions on Mali. Asked by Reuters on Friday whether it also planned to impose sanctions on Burkina Faso, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell skirted the question.
(Reporting by Thiam Ndiaga; Additional reporting by Ayenat Mersie in Nairobi, Ange Aboa in Abidjan and Cooper Inveen in Accra; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Aaron Ross, Hugh Lawson, Angus MacSwan, William Maclean and Raissa Kasolowsky)