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Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso forge new alliance as chances dim on rejoining ECOWAS

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Three West African nations under military rule—Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso—signed a confederation treaty on Saturday, demonstrating their will to forge on together outside of the regional political and economic bloc that has been pressuring them to revert to democratic governance.

The agreement, which occurred during the Alliance of Sahel States’ (AES) inaugural meeting, represents a closer alignment of the neighbours in the central Sahel region, which is riven by insurgency. In the three states between 2020 and 2023, juntas overthrew their governments through a series of coups and broke diplomatic and military ties with Western nations and regional allies.

The AES meeting was referred to be “the culmination of our determined common will to reclaim our national sovereignty” by General Abdourahamane Tiani, the head of Niger’s military.

The formalization of the confederation treaty validates Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso’s rejection of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Its signature coincides with ECOWAS’s summit, which aims to convince the three to rethink their January decision to leave the union.

“Our peoples have irrevocably turned their backs on ECOWAS,” Tiani said in a speech. “It is up to us today to make the AES Confederation an alternative to any artificial regional group by building … a community free from the control of foreign powers.”

As it fights to limit a ten-year war with Islamist rebels and develop economies that are among the world’s poorest, it is unclear how closely the AES will coordinate political, economic, and defence objectives.

The three nations decided to form a combined force in March to address security challenges on their borders. The nations stated in a statement following the summit that they had decided to coordinate diplomatic efforts, establish an AES investment bank and stabilization fund, and combine their resources to launch initiatives in vital industries like mining, energy, and agriculture.

The heads of state “welcomed their irrevocable withdrawal without delay from ECOWAS,” it said.

ECOWAS has endeavoured diplomatically to discourage the trio of nations from abandoning the half-century-old relationship. Decades of regional integration will be reversed by the split, which also poses a risk of a messy detachment from trade and services flows worth around $150 billion annually.

The ECOWAS’s decision to impose harsh sanctions in response to the three coups and its unfulfilled threat to deploy force to restore constitutional government in Niger last year are linked to the falling out.

The regional group is under fire from Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso for allegedly betraying its core principles and providing insufficient backing to counter Islamist insurgencies that have resulted in thousands of fatalities and forced over 3 million more to from their homes.

The three governments are cultivating stronger defence, diplomatic, and commercial connections with Russia at the expense of former colonial power France, regional heavyweight Nigeria, and the United governments. These policy changes are the result of the juntas’ policies in the central Sahel.

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Kenya’s Ruto sacks cabinet amidst protests in major win for protesters

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In response to pressure from widespread protests that have produced the greatest crisis of his two-year government, Kenyan President William Ruto dismissed his entire cabinet on Thursday, with the exception of the foreign minister.

After beginning peacefully, the youth-led demonstrations against the proposed tax increases descended into violence, resulting in at least 39 deaths during altercations with the police last month. A few protestors briefly invaded the parliament before Ruto decided against the new levies.

“I will immediately engage in extensive consultations across different sectors and political formations and other Kenyans, both in public and private, with the aim of setting up a broad-based government,” Ruto said in a televised address to the nation, adding that he would announce additional measures later.

In addition, he fired the attorney general but claimed that this had no bearing on the deputy president’s position.

Kenyans had been requesting significant cabinet changes, seasoned anti-corruption activist John Githongo told Reuters.

“Let us see what happens now if the new ministers deal with big issues around corruption and just the arrogance and excess of his administration and the fact that a lot of Kenyans died during the demonstrations,” he said.

“Hopefully this should temporarily calm things.”

Ruto finds himself torn between a beleaguered populace reeling from the rising expense of living and lenders like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) pressuring him to reduce deficits. He suggested borrowing more money and cutting spending in approximately equal proportions last week to close the nearly $2.7 billion budget deficit left by the removal of the tax rises.

Although the government has no outstanding debt, many claim that Kenya is likely to miss its IMF targets as a result of the tax rollback. For the fiscal year that began on July 1, the estimated budget deficit is currently 4.6% of GDP.

Dismissing so many cabinet members, according to Ojango Omondi, a community organizer from the Social Justice Centers Working Group in Nairobi, was a “move towards justice,” but activists would want to see who Ruto chooses to replace them.

“It’s one thing to dismiss, the second is to ensure that the people that will be chosen in the cabinet are accountable to the constitution and the rule of law,” Omondi said.

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South Sudan’s president dismisses 6th finance minister since 2020

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Four months into the position, South Sudan’s President, Salva Kiir, has fired the finance minister, the sixth person to hold the position since 2020, according to state-run television.

The report stated late on Wednesday that Kiir did not explain the dismissal of Awow Daniel Chuong, who was appointed in mid-March of this year. Economist Marial Deng has been selected to take over as finance minister in Kiir’s place.

Due to intercommunal violence, South Sudan’s economy has been under strain recently. Since the civil war that lasted from 2013 to 2018, revenue from crude oil exports has decreased, and more recently, export disruptions have occurred because of the conflict in neighbouring Sudan.

The governor of the central bank, James Alic Garang, declared in May that the foreign exchange reserves of South Sudan had reached all-time lows.

This year, the International Monetary Fund predicts that consumer price inflation will soar to 54.8%.

After South Sudan separated from Sudan in 2011, Kiir was elected as the country’s first president.

In December, the nation is scheduled to elect a president, members of the legislature, and regional delegates.

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