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Forecast podcast: Tensions in West Africa rise as Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger quit key economic bloc

Editors Jimmy Lovaas and Sophie Perryer discuss Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger withdrawing from a key West African economic bloc, plus more on the end of a ceasefire between the ELN and the Colombian government, elections in Azerbaijan and Pakistan and the U.S. Supreme Court discussing a challenge to Trump’s presidential bid..

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This episode was produced with work from Factal editors Sophie Perryer, Jaime Calle Moreno, David Wyllie, Awais Ahmad and Joe Veyera. Produced and edited by Jimmy Lovaas, with additional writing by Sophie Perryer. Music courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

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Factal Forecast podcast transcript

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.


Welcome to the Factal Forecast, a look at the week’s biggest stories and what they mean from the editors at Factal. I’m Jimmy Lovaas.

Today is February 1st.

In this week’s forecast we’ve got Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger withdrawing from a West African economic bloc, the end of a ceasefire between the Colombian government and a guerrilla group, elections in Azerbaijan and Pakistan and the U.S. Supreme Court discussing a challenge to Trump’s presidential bid. 

You can also read about these stories and more in our weekly newsletter, which you can find a link to in the show notes.

Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger withdraw from ECOWAS

Information compiled by Sophie Perryer

JIMMY: Up first, we’ll look at three West African countries withdrawing from the economic bloc known as ECOWAS. For more on that we’ve got Factal Senior Editor Sophie Perryer.

JIMMY: Hello, Sophie. 

SOPHIE: Hey, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Well, Sophie, it’s always great to have you on here talking about Africa and today you’ve got news about ECOWAS. So, what’s happening? 

SOPHIE: That’s right, I do.  So, three West African nations under the control of military governments have decided to leave the bloc, whose full title is the Economic Community of West African States. Tensions have been running high for months after the organization imposed sanctions on Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in the wake of their respective military coups. The move isn’t entirely unexpected. Back in September, the three countries formed a rival alliance to ECOWAS called the Alliance of Sahel States, which some ECOWAS members saw as a precursor to their departure.

JIMMY: And what’s the latest then?

SOPHIE: Well, in a joint statement on Sunday, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger accused ECOWAS of applying inhumane sanctions in the wake of their military coups. They also claimed ECOWAS is subject to foreign influence and has abandoned the ideals of Pan-Africanism established at its inception about 50 years ago. Finally, the three countries say ECOWAS has failed to address major issues affecting member states, including the violent insurgency in the Sahel region. Now, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger are the state’s most highly affected by this insurgency in the area.

JIMMY: What have the responses to these ECOWAS withdrawals been like?

SOPHIE: Well, ECOWAS says it hasn’t yet received a formal notice from the three countries to leave the bloc. That notice kickstarts the departure process, which takes about a year. Nigeria, the country that chairs ECOWAS, has accused the military leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger of acting in bad faith and not giving their citizens a chance to choose their future. That latter comment refers to these three countries’ failure to organize elections to return to civilian rule, which has been the source of quite a lot of the tensions over the past year. Togo, which is an ECOWAS member, sent a delegation to Niger’s capital Niamey earlier this week, but it’s not clear whether they were there representing the bloc or in an individual diplomatic capacity.

JIMMY: Well, considering all that, Sophie, what do you think folks should be watching for next then?

SOPHIE: So, a few things. ECOWAS has indicated it’s keen to negotiate with the three departing countries and, as I mentioned, the departure process takes quite a while, so it’s likely we’ll see a bit of back and forth while the details are worked out. However, I do think ultimately it’s unlikely ECOWAS will be able to prevent Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger from leaving. The bloc’s been losing influence in the region for quite a while after failing to prevent a spate of military coups. From a longer term perspective, ECOWAS’s future is unclear. The three departing countries represent more than half of the organization’s geographical span and about 15% of its population – so it’s quite a significant chunk. This is the first time any nation has left ECOWAS since its inception and other countries could follow suit if they share the same concerns over so-called foreign, Western influence and militant activity. Effectively, this development formalizes a proxy power struggle, which has been going on in the region for a few years between the West, which has supported existing bodies like ECOWAS, and countries like Russia, who’ve sought to gain influence by supporting military governments and allegedly supplying mercenaries to fight insurgent forces. We’ve now got a situation where we have these two rival economic organizations representing the two sides of this diplomatic conflict, effectively, alongside the practical sort of on-the-ground implications of this departure, like trade and immigration. It’s also worth monitoring how each of those global powers will respond and whether they’ll try to regain or exert any influence in the wake of this development.

JIMMY: Well, Sophie, we’ll stop there for today, but as always, thank you so much for keeping us up to speed on what we need to know. Appreciate it. 

SOPHIE: Thanks, Jimmy. 

JIMMY: Take care

Ceasefire between Colombian guerilla group and government expires

Information compiled by Jaime Calle Moreno

JIMMY: A ceasefire between the Colombian government and the leftist guerilla group the National Liberation Army, or ELN, is due to expire on Monday.

The original deal, which came into force this past August, was due to expire January 29th, but it was extended by a week to allow for more talks on a longer ceasefire set to last another six months.

The talks are part of an ongoing effort by the Colombian government to demobilize the ELN, which has been behind numerous attacks on police and military targets since its founding in the 1960s.

Both sides appear to be invested in continuing the negotiations, with the ELN agreeing to hold off on extortion-based kidnappings for the time being.

Finally, while Colombia’s security situation remains volatile, with other armed groups like former FARC dissidents and the Clan del Golfo cartel still staging attacks, if a lasting agreement with the ELN can be reached, that gives the government one less source of insecurity to be concerned with.

Azerbaijan elections

Information compiled by David Wyllie

JIMMY: Azerbaijan’s authoritarian President will seek to affirm his leadership in a snap presidential poll on Wednesday.

Back in December, Aliyev called snap elections, bringing forward a presidential vote that was due to take place in 2025.

The polls are being dubbed the “Victory Election” after Azerbaijan claimed full control over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region after expelling Armenian forces.

Peace negotiations over the region are ongoing. 

Now, there’s speculation the vote was brought forward to capitalize on a spike in Aliyev’s popularity and ensure a continuation of his family’s decades-long rule of Azerbaijan.

Aliyev himself has been president since 2003.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is sending a team of observers to monitor the electoral process; they will issue a preliminary report after the poll.

Previous elections have been marred by allegations of fraud and vote-rigging.

Pakistan elections

Information compiled by Awais Ahmad

JIMMY: Pakistan will hold general elections on Thursday. They’ll come against a backdrop of increased militant attacks and allegations of army involvement and vote-rigging.

Nawaz Sharif, the three-time prime minister and leader of his own faction of the Pakistan Muslim League, has emerged as a leading candidate after his return from self-exile in London

Sharif was not able to run in the 2018 polls as he was in prison for corruption, but he was cleared of all charges in time for this year’s vote.

His main opponent will be Bilawal Bhutto, chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan is not allowed to run due to numerous ongoing court cases against him. He’s also currently in jail on corruption charges. 

Pakistan’s powerful military has long played an outsized role in the country’s politics, and there are concerns Khan’s fallout with top generals means his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party has not had a fair chance to campaign.

Dozens of workers have been arrested and the party’s ballot logo has been banned.

There will also be a significant military presence on polling day after the government approved an army deployment, ostensibly because of the security situation – Pakistan is currently grappling with an uptick in militant activity in the western provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan.

US Supreme Court oral arguments in 14th Amendment case

Information compiled by Joe Veyera

JIMMY: The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Thursday on whether former President Donald Trump should be barred from seeking a return to office for violating the “insurrection clause” of the 14th amendment.

The Colorado Supreme Court removed Trump from the state’s Republican primary ballot in December, citing his role in inciting the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. 

Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows also ruled that Trump did not meet ballot qualifications in that state under the same rationale, but that decision has been paused by a judge pending the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. 

In a brief challenging the Colorado decision, Trump’s legal team warned that excluding him from the ballot would “promise to unleash chaos and bedlam.” 

Now, with a third of the court’s justices picked by Trump, and another third appointed during other Republican administrations, it seems unlikely that the conservative majority will rule against the former president. 

Some observers believe the court will look to make a narrow ruling, one that allows Trump to remain on the ballot without addressing the insurrection claims.

Note: Transcripts include links

Jimmy: One final note for you, like many podcasts we include a transcript each episode. What you might not know, is that every transcript includes links to dozens of news articles and other sources. We pack an awful lot of news into these 10 minutes and want to make it as easy as possible for you to get additional information.

JIMMY: As always, thank you for listening to the Factal Forecast. We publish our forward-looking podcast and newsletter each Thursday to help you get a jump-start on the week ahead. Please subscribe and review wherever you find your podcasts. We’d love it if you’d consider telling a friend about us.  

Today’s episode was produced with work from Factal editors Jaime Calle Moreno, David Wyllie, Awais Ahmad and Joe Veyera. Our interview featured editor Sophie Perryer and our podcast is produced and edited by me – Jimmy Lovaas, with additional writing by Sophie Perryer. Our music comes courtesy of Andrew Gospe.

Until next time, if you have any feedback, suggestions or events we’ve missed, drop us a note by emailing

This transcript may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability not guaranteed. 

Copyright © 2024 Factal. All rights reserved.

Music: ‘Factal Theme’ courtesy of Andrew Gospe

Top photo: UN, ECOWAS partners kick-off Western Accord 2016 (U.S. Army Southern European Task Force CC BY 2.0 DEED)

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