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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Alamy Stock Photo Supporters of Niger's ruling junta gather at the start of a protest last week.

West African summit steps up threat of force against Niger coup leaders

The bloc had already set a deadline of last Sunday for the military leaders to reinstate Niger’s president Mohamed Bazoum or face military intervention.

WEST AFRICAN LEADERS today increased their threat of imminent military action against Niger after the country’s coup’s leaders moved to consolidate their control two weeks after seizing power.

At an emergency summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), members decided “to order the deployment of the ECOWAS standby force to restore constitutional order in Niger”, its Commission President Omar Touray said.

The bloc had already set a deadline of last Sunday for the military leaders to reinstate Niger’s president Mohamed Bazoum – detained since 26 July – or face military intervention.

But the regime ignored the deadline.

nigers-president-mohamed-bazoum-attends-a-london-based-summit-to-raise-funds-for-the-global-partnership-for-education-gpe-picture-date-thursday-july-29-2021 Alamy Stock Photo File image of Mohamed Bazoum. Alamy Stock Photo

The details of any eventual military deployment by ECOWAS states and its impact on Niger were not immediately clear.

“All is not lost yet” for a “peaceful solution, as a roadmap to restore democracy and stability”, said Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, who chaired the crisis meeting.

But he added: “No option is taken off the table, including the use of force as a last resort.

“If we don’t do it, no one else will do it for us.”

Before the closed-door talks, Tinubu had insisted that “we prioritise diplomatic negotiations and dialogue as the bedrock of our approach”.

Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara noted that the West African bloc “has intervened in the past, in Liberia, in Sierra Leone, in Gambia and Guinea-Bissau” when constitutional order in the countries was threatened.

“Today we have a similar situation in Niger, and I like to say that ECOWAS cannot accept this,” he said.

‘We must engage’

The 15-nation bloc is struggling to stem military takeovers that have now swept through four of its members in three years, potentially heralding fresh instability in a region struggling for years against jihadist insurgences.

Before the meeting, Tinubu acknowledged that “the seven-day ultimatum we issued during the first summit has not yielded the desired outcome”.

An attempt this week to send a joint team of ECOWAS, UN and African Union representatives to Niger’s capital Niamey was rejected by the coup leaders.

“We must engage all parties involved, including the coup leaders, in earnest discussions to convince them to relinquish power and reinstate President Bazoum,” he said.

But the coup leaders today signalled further defiance by appointing a new government.

abuja-nigeria-10th-aug-2023-ecowas-leaders-attend-an-extraordinary-summit-in-abuja-nigeria-on-aug-10-2023-the-15-member-economic-community-of-west-african-states-ecowas-on-thursday-said-it Alamy Stock Photo ECOWAS leaders attend an extraordinary summit today in Abuja, Nigeria. Alamy Stock Photo

A 21-member cabinet will be headed by Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, a civilian, with generals from the new military governing council leading the defence and interior ministries.

The possibility of military intervention in Niger, a fragile nation that ranks among the world’s poorest, sparked debate within ECOWAS and warnings from neighbouring Algeria as well as Russia.

Niger’s neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso, both ruled by military governments that seized power in coups, also warned an intervention would be a “declaration of war” on their countries.

Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, also hit by a recent coup, have been suspended from ECOWAS and like Niger were not represented at the Abuja summit.

Hopes for ‘real discussions’

In a twist yesterday, a former emir of the Nigerian city of Kano said he had met with the coup leaders to help mediate the crisis.

Sanusi Lamido Sanusi told Nigerian state television he had spoken to coup leader General Abdourahamane Tiani and would deliver a “message” to Tinubu, though he was not an official government emissary.

“We came hoping that our arrival will pave the way for real discussions between the leaders of Niger and those of Nigeria,” said Sanusi, who is known to be a close friend of Tinubu.

Current ECOWAS chair Nigeria had taken a hard line against last month’s coup, the fifth in Niger since independence from France in 1960.

Speaking before flying to Abuja yesterday, Guinea-Bissau’s President Umaro Sissoco Embalo said the future of ECOWAS was at stake following the recent coups among its members.

UN secretary general Antonio Guterres joined a chorus of concern about 63-year-old Bazoum, saying that he and his family were reportedly living in “deplorable living conditions”.

CNN reported yesterday that Bazoum was being kept in isolation and given meals of only plain rice and pasta.

Unstable Sahel

Countries in the Sahel are battling a jihadist insurgency that erupted in northern Mali in 2012, spread to Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015, and is now causing jitters in states on the Gulf of Guinea.

The bloody campaign has been devastating for those three countries, which have turbulent histories and rank among the poorest nations in the world.

Niger has the misfortune of facing a double jihadist insurgency, both in its southwest and also from militants crossing into the southeast.

Bazoum’s election in 2021 had helped Niger cement close ties with France and the United States, which have major bases and troop deployments in the country.

France last year withdrew its forces from Mali and Burkina Faso after falling out with their military leaders, refocussing its anti-jihadist strategy on Niger.

© AFP 2023 

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