Emerging from a key summit in Nigeria Thursday, West African leaders left the door open for a robust dialogue while talking tough about a possible solution to the situation in the Republic of Niger, where the latest coup in the sub-region was recently recorded.
At least eight West African heads of state were present while three others were represented when the second extraordinary summit of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on the socio-political impasse in Niger was held in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.
Amid a delicate balance of diplomacy and condemnation, the West African nations are united in their rejection of the socio-political crisis in landlocked Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world.
“This is a critical problem we have to solve. As you are aware, ECOWAS has taken many decisions in the past about coup d’etat and the community has always condemned the coups that had happened in many countries in the sub-region … Now we have a similar situation in Niger. I would like to say that ECOWAS cannot accept this,” Alassane Ouattara, president of Cote d’Ivoire, told reporters on the sideline of the summit in Abuja.
The regional bloc resolved to activate its standby force in response to the adamant military junta in Niger while underscoring its continued commitment to restoring constitutional order in the country through peaceful means, according to a statement issued at the end of the summit. It also upheld all measures and principles agreed upon by the urgent ECOWAS summit held on July 30.
Ouattara described the situation in Niger as a “terrorist act,” saying it was made worse by the unlawful detention of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, members of his family, and the government since late July. The junta had defied an Aug. 6 deadline set by ECOWAS to cede power to Bazoum but rather closed Niger’s airspace and swore to defend the country against any foreign attack.
“The decision that we have made, and I hope it would be implemented immediately, is a decision of ECOWAS. All the heads of state think that we have tried dialogue with the putschists,” the Ivorian president said, noting the economic and political bloc had already sent a delegation of respectable personalities to talk to the “uncooperative” junta.
Talks are underway to explore avenues for a peaceful resolution, with mediators working to encourage the Niger coup leaders to step down and restore civilian governance. This delicate dance between dialogue and disapproval reflects the region’s commitment to stability and the avoidance of bloodshed.
The military in Niger detained Bazoum on July 26 and chose Abdourahamane Tchiani, former leader of the country’s presidential guard, to lead the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, a governing body established by the soldiers after the coup, which has been since exercising legislative and executive authority.
The coup has drawn condemnation from many African countries, which view the unconstitutional change of power as a threat to stability and development on the continent. The international community fears instability in the Sahel region would breed extremism.
In a separate interview in Abuja, Macky Sall, president of Senegal, said ECOWAS had decided it is “no longer business as usual” for military juntas within the region.
“If we had made mistakes in the past, we should try to correct them now. There is always a time to get started. I think it was a mistake not to have taken action previously, but now that we are together on this, we should take action to make sure that it does not continue,” Sall said. “I support the action that has been proposed by ECOWAS that we do not accept this coup to stand and that we make every effort to make sure that constitutional order returns to Niger.”
Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who is also the chairman of the authority of heads of state and government of ECOWAS, said no option is taken off the table yet for a peaceful resolution of the crisis. This, however, also includes “the use of force as a last resort.”
This move by the West African bloc to mobilize the regional standby force came following the refusal of Niger’s military junta to cede power. The primary objective of the regional standby force is to restore stability and order while facilitating the return to constitutional governance in Niger, Omar Alieu Touray, president of the ECOWAS Commission, told reporters during a briefing in Abuja Thursday.
As tensions rise and the situation remains fluid, the coming days will be crucial in determining the fate of Niger.
The regional leaders “direct the (ECOWAS) committee of the Chiefs of Defense Staff to activate its standby force with all its elements immediately,” and be ready for the deployment of the ECOWAS standby force to restore the constitutional order in Niger, said the bloc’s statement Thursday.
The bloc also said it would enforce all sanction measures, in particular border closures and strict travel bans, on all individuals or groups whose actions hinder peaceful efforts to restore constitutional order in Niger.
The ECOWAS comprises Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.