Understanding the Confederation of Sahel States for regional security

Understanding the Confederation of Sahel States for regional security

Analysis of the creation of the Confederation of Sahel States and the new US military base in Côte d’Ivoire, with implications for regional security and international relations.

The Confederation of Sahel States (CES), formed by the juntas of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, marks a break with ECOWAS and aims to strengthen their regional credibility. This confederation coordinates diplomatic, economic and military policies. At the same time, Côte d’Ivoire has approved the construction of a US military base near Odienné, in response to the US withdrawal from Niger. These developments have significant implications for regional security and international relations.

Formation of the Confederation of Sahel States

The military juntas of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have formed the Confederation of Sahel States (CES) to coordinate their diplomatic, economic and military policies. This alliance, which evolved from the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), was formalised with the signing of four documents at a joint conference on 6 July 2023. The leaders of these countries are seeking to strengthen their regional credibility and create a united front against the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The ESC broadens the scope of the ESA from a mutual defence agreement to a body coordinating a range of policies. This confederation aims to establish a unified security force and create a plan for joint military action. For example, in March 2023, the AES announced plans to increase joint counter-insurgency operations, although only a few joint patrols have been carried out to date. The CES also incorporates new supporting institutions such as a rotating presidency and parliament to implement these goals.

Economic objectives of the ETUC

The ETUC aims to increase economic cooperation between its members to reduce their dependence on external partners. Initiatives include facilitating the free movement of people, goods and services within the ESA, as well as pooling resources in strategic sectors such as agriculture, water, energy and transport. For example, the creation of an investment bank and stabilisation fund was recommended by ESA foreign ministers at a summit in November 2023.

Although the ESC has not yet developed a common currency, discussions on this subject have been frequent at previous meetings. The creation of a regional currency could strengthen economic integration and reduce member countries’ dependence on foreign currencies, such as the CFA franc currently used.

Consequences of the break with ECOWAS

Breaking away from ECOWAS has significant consequences for the region. Firstly, it undermines regional economic and security integration by eliminating free trade and visa arrangements between ECOWAS and CES countries. This separation could lead to additional tariff barriers and transaction costs, particularly affecting the importing and landlocked economies of CES countries.

Secondly, the split complicates efforts to combat regional insecurity. The three CES countries, which are at the heart of the Salafist jihadist insurgency in the Sahel, would be excluded from any regional counter-terrorism force, limiting ECOWAS’s ability to contain spillovers. In addition, the loss of existing coordination mechanisms, in particular intelligence sharing, weakens collective security efforts.

International reactions and external support

Since taking power, the CES juntas have coordinated their diplomatic activities by expelling various American, French and UN partner forces in favour of closer cooperation with non-Western partners such as China, Iran, Russia and Turkey. For example, Russia has become the main guarantor of the security of the CES, with around 2,000 soldiers from the Wagner Group and the African Corps deployed in Mali, 200 in Burkina Faso and 100 in Niger. These forces are involved in offensive operations and in training local forces.

China, for its part, has stepped up its economic investment in oil, uranium and solar projects in the CES states. In March 2023, Niger signed an agreement with a Chinese state-owned company to receive an advance of $400 million on future oil sales via a pipeline built by China.

Turkey is a key security partner, providing drones and deploying Syrian mercenaries to protect crucial economic sites. In addition, Iran has shown a growing interest in economic and defence partnerships with the CES, signing several agreements in the energy and mining sectors.

Understanding the Confederation of Sahel States for regional security

Security challenges and regional stability

The deteriorating security situation in the CES countries represents the greatest threat to the legitimacy of the regimes in place. Regional affiliates of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State have strengthened their presence, gradually encircling government-controlled cities and carrying out increasingly sophisticated attacks. This growing insecurity is undermining the credibility of the juntas, which had promised to resolve these problems with new strategies and partners.

Growing discontent among soldiers has led to several coup warnings since September 2023. For example, in June 2024, Malian and Russian soldiers were sent to protect Burkinabe leader Ibrahim Traoré during a coup alert.

US military base in Côte d’Ivoire

At the same time, Côte d’Ivoire has approved the construction of a US military base near Odienné, following the withdrawal of the United States from Niger. This base is intended to replace the $110 million US drone base built in 2019 in northern Niger. The repositioning of US forces in Côte d’Ivoire has practical and strategic implications.

While the new base is well placed to support bilateral and regional coordination efforts, it has range limitations compared to the Niger base. The MQ9 Reaper drones used by US forces have a range of 1,850km, covering much of the Sahelian jihadists’ areas of operation, but requiring additional transit time to reach the epicentres of the insurgency.

Consequences for Côte d’Ivoire

The construction of the US base could provoke a popular anti-Western reaction in Côte d’Ivoire, where anti-French sentiment is already widespread. President Alassane Ouattara, criticised by the opposition for his pro-Western ties, could see his position weakened by the decision.

The opposition boycotted the recent presidential elections, and Ouattara has been accused of illegally extending his mandate by exploiting a legal loophole. Ouattara’s continued support for a fourth term in 2025, at the age of 83, could exacerbate internal political tensions.

The formation of the Confederation of Sahel States and the construction of a US base in Côte d’Ivoire are significant developments with profound implications for regional security and international relations. While the CES is seeking to strengthen its independence and coordinate its policies with non-Western partners, the new US base in Côte d’Ivoire reflects a strategic adaptation by the United States in the face of geopolitical changes in West Africa. While these initiatives hold great potential, they also face significant challenges that will require careful management to ensure stability and regional cooperation.

War Wings Daily is an independant magazine.