Tensions are mounting in West Africa as the regional bloc ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) prepares to deploy a standby force to restore democracy in Niger.
The decision comes after the junta failed to meet the deadline to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, resulting in threats from the regime to kill Bazoum if neighboring countries attempt a military intervention.
The planned ECOWAS force’s details remain unclear, but conflict experts believe it would likely comprise around 5,000 troops led by Nigeria and could be operational within weeks.
Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Benin have also pledged support, with Ivory Coast’s president, Alassane Ouattara, stating, “We are determined to install Bazoum in his position. Our objective is peace and stability in the sub-region.”
Quattara said his country would provide between 850-1,100 troops “as soon as possible” to supplement the standby force.
The military coup has led to economic and travel sanctions from ECOWAS, causing great suffering to the citizens of Niger. Before the coup, more than 4 million people in Niger relied on humanitarian assistance, a situation that worsened due to the sanctions.
Louise Aubin, the United Nations resident coordinator in Niger, highlighted the alarming situation by saying, “We’ll see an exponential rise and more people needing more humanitarian assistance.” Aid groups face challenges in delivering help, with restrictions on movement and airspace causing significant disruption.
Local opposition to the intervention is palpable, with hundreds of people in the capital, Niamey, protesting ECOWAS’s involvement and French presence in the country. The African Union has expressed strong support for ECOWAS’s decision and called for an immediate halt to the escalation, while France’s foreign ministry also endorsed the conclusions reached by ECOWAS.
The president of the ECOWAS Commission, Omar Alieu Touray, expressed the regional bloc’s determination to keep all options open for a peaceful resolution but warned of consequences for those hindering the process.
However, countries like Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea have expressed solidarity with Niger’s junta, warning that military intervention could be construed as a declaration of war.
Russia, while supporting ECOWAS’s mediation efforts, issued a cautionary note. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated, “We believe that the military way of resolving the crisis in Niger can lead to a protracted confrontation in this African country, as well as to a sharp destabilization of the situation in the Sahara-Sahel region as a whole.”
Analysts have indicated that immediate military intervention may not be on the horizon, citing the time it takes to assemble ECOWAS troops and the complexity of the situation.
An Abuja-based defense and security analyst, Murtala Abdullahi, highlighted that the communique is about signaling to the junta in Niger that ECOWAS is prepared to take necessary actions, including force, should talks fail.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that the deposed president is being used as a human shield by the junta, and Niger’s substantial army, trained by the United States, has years of counterinsurgency experience.
The regional bloc remains committed to upholding all measures and principles agreed upon at the extraordinary summit held in Niger on July 30th, 2023, which includes strong sanctions against the military junta. However, they maintain that sending in troops would be a last resort, reflecting their preference for a diplomatic solution.