ECOWAS launches a “standby force to restore constitutional order” over Niger coup


West African military chiefs met in Ghana on Thursday to discuss a possible armed intervention to reverse a coup in Niger, as Germany called for EU sanctions against the rebel leaders.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has decided to mobilize a “standby force to restore constitutional order” in Niger after becoming alarmed by a string of military coups in the area.

Following his overthrow on July 26, President Mohamed Bazoum is being demanded to be released by the coup leaders in Niger. If discussions are unsuccessful, the bloc has threatened to send in soldiers.

“Democracy is what we stand for and it’s what we encourage,” Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Gwabin Musa, told the meeting in Accra.

“The focus of our gathering is not simply to react to events, but to proactively chart a course that results in peace and promotes stability,” he said.

ECOWAS troops have intervened in other emergencies since 1990, including in wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. Ivory Coast, Benin and Nigeria are expected to contribute troops, but little detail has emerged over a potential Niger operation.

Abdel-Fatau Musah, an ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs, peace and security, said the Accra meeting would “fine tune” details in case the bloc “were to resort to the ultimate means of force”.

The two-day meeting will conclude on Friday when the defence chiefs are expected to announce any next steps.

“The military junta in Niger is playing a cat-and-mouse game with ECOWAS,” Musah said. “They have flouted their own constitution and ECOWAS protocols. The military authorities in Niger appear to remain defiant.”

The generals who jailed Bazoum attributed the coup to the nation’s worsening security. They have threatened to accuse him of treason, but they also claim to be amenable to compromise.

The United States and Russia have pushed for a diplomatic resolution to the problem.

France, Germany, and the US have discontinued aid programs while ECOWAS has already imposed trade and financial restrictions.

Germany’s foreign ministry stated on social media on Thursday that it wants the EU to impose sanctions on the coup leaders after Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock spoke with her French and US counterparts.

“Germany supports the regional efforts to resolve the crisis in Niger. Our goal is to restore the constitutional order,” the ministry said.

In response to recent bloodshed in Niger, where Islamists are alleged to have killed at least 17 troops in an ambush, top army officers met in Accra on Thursday and Friday.

Since the July 26 coup, when the presidential guard deposed Bazoum and imprisoned him and his family, twenty additional soldiers were wounded, six of them were critically wounded.

The Sahel area of Africa has been plagued by jihadist insurgencies for more than ten years. They first appeared in northern Mali in 2012 before extending to nearby Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.

Many millions of people have been forced to evacuate their homes as a result of the instability that has gripped the region, which has claimed hundreds of lives among soldiers, police personnel, and civilians.

Since 2020, military coups in Mali and Burkina Faso have also been fueled by rage at the carnage.

Analysts say any ECOWAS intervention against Niger’s coup leaders would be militarily and politically risky, and the bloc has said it prefers a diplomatic outcome.

Talks have taken place this week in Addis Ababa among ECOWAS and Niger representatives under the aegis of the African Union.

The United States said Wednesday that a new ambassador would soon head to Niger to help lead diplomacy aimed at reversing the coup.

UN Food Warning

Bazoum’s election in 2021 was a landmark in Niger’s history, ushering in its first peaceful transfer of power since independence from France in 1960.

He survived two attempted coups before being toppled in the country’s fifth military takeover.

Niger remains one of the poorest countries in the world, regularly ranking at the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index.

The United Nations warned Wednesday that the crisis could significantly worsen food insecurity in the impoverished country, urging humanitarian exemptions to sanctions and border closures to avert catastrophe.

Niger is also facing a jihadist insurgency in its southeast from militants crossing from Nigeria — the cradle of a campaign initiated by Boko Haram in 2010.

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