ECOWAS’ Warning of Military Action Against Niger’s Junta Leaves Nigeria in a Quandary

Armed forces have executed swift coups in Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali, Sudan, and now Niger Republic since 2020, demonstrating a pattern of destabilizing democratic governments. While previous coups in the mentioned countries didn’t have severe consequences, the recent takeover in Niger has sparked concerns about regional stability and democratic principles in West Africa. This marks the sixth unconstitutional regime on the continent.

Five of these countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali, and Niger Republic – are within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a group of 15 sovereign states formed in 1975.

Niger, a significant uranium producer and a crucial Western ally against Islamist militants in the Sahel region, witnessed a coup on July 26, 2023. The democratically elected President Mohammed Bazoum was detained by military officers led by Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani.

This event is the fifth successful coup in Niger since its independence from France in 1960, with unsuccessful attempts in between. Supporters of the coup rallied behind pro-Russian slogans. A peaceful solidarity walk occurred in Niger’s capital, Niamey, in support of the coup.

In a televised announcement, 10 officers, led by Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane, explained that the National Council of the State Guard of Niger Republic decided to overthrow the existing regime due to security concerns and economic mismanagement.

The international community, including the United Nations, the African Union, and ECOWAS, condemned the coup. On July 30, ECOWAS Chair President Bola Tinubu imposed sanctions on the junta and gave them a week to restore President Bazoum to power, warning of potential military action. ECOWAS also closed borders, suspended transactions, and financial activities with the junta.

A 2023 Nigeria Security Report by Beacon Consulting highlighted the issue of maladministration and its consequences triggered by the coup. The report also triggered discussions about non-interference in sovereign countries’ internal matters and defense of democracy.

The report emphasized that the coup strained tensions in the broader West African region, potentially leading to armed conflict and a humanitarian crisis that could impact neighboring countries.

ECOWAS sent a delegation to Niger on August 3, but the coup leaders dismissed their demands. Meanwhile, Nigeria urged international support for ECOWAS’ efforts to restore democracy, emphasizing the risk of damaging ECOWAS’ reputation if Niger joins countries led by unconstitutional leaders.

President Tinubu sought support for sanctions and military action against the junta. Bazoum appealed to end the coup, fearing the expansion of military rule in the Sahel region.

Germany called for mediation, while the US suspended some aid programs for Niger. The junta denied access to US officials and prevented a UN, AU, and ECOWAS delegation from visiting.

Further sanctions were imposed by Nigeria, but the junta closed the country’s airspace, fearing military intervention. ECOWAS approved possible military intervention to remove the junta.

ECOWAS previously deployed military forces to restore democracy in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mali, Burkina Faso, and The Gambia. Diplomatic efforts finally led to talks with the junta in Niger on August 12.

The junta agreed to talks, expressing willingness to engage with ECOWAS. The newly appointed Prime Minister confirmed this, hoping for the sanctions to be lifted.

ECOWAS Parliament split on addressing the crisis, with some advocating for dialogue and others for stronger action against military governments.

ECOWAS condemned charges of high treason against Bazoum and suspended Niger from AU activities after the junta failed to hand over power.

ECOWAS troops pledged readiness for a standby force, prompting Burkina Faso and Mali to deploy warplanes in Niger. ECOWAS continued negotiations with the junta, who offered a three-year power transition.

The AU suspended Niger and stakeholders urged caution in ECOWAS’ actions. Concerns were raised about the impact of sanctions on Niger’s population and regional stability.

As ECOWAS considers more stringent measures, concerns grow about the potential humanitarian and security consequences. Diplomatic efforts continue amid divided opinions within ECOWAS and across West Africa.

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