A good two weeks after the military coup in Niger, the West African community of states Ecowas has further intensified its threats against the new junta in Niger.
Last night, the group ordered the "immediate" deployment of a response force for a possible deployment in Niger, according to the closing statement of a summit meeting of West African leaders in Nigeria's capital, Abuja. However, priority is given to restoring the constitutional order by peaceful means.
Violence "as a last resort"
The group's ambiguous announcement initially raised many questions. Although Ecowas spoke of the use of the task force, but gave no details on the composition of the force or a possible timetable for a deployment. The announcement seemed designed to keep up the pressure on the new military rulers - without immediately creating military facts. In his closing speech at the summit, Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu again called for a peaceful solution to the conflict with the military junta, but did not rule out violence "as a last resort".
On July 26, Niger's Presidential Guard under General Abdourahamane Tiani arrested the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum in his residence because, according to observers, Bazoum wanted to replace Tiani at the head of the elite unit. After initial speculation of an internal power struggle, the other branches of the armed forces also joined the coup, proclaiming "the end of the regime" and dissolving all constitutional institutions. Tiani took power. At a first special summit on July 30, under the chairmanship of Tinubu, Ecowas threatened measures up to and including a military intervention. Meanwhile, a seven-day deadline set by Ecowas expired on Sunday.
In addition to military build-up, the group of states decided to continue the sanctions imposed at the end of July. The economic community had suspended trade and financial transactions, closed the borders of neighboring countries with Niger and ordered central banks to freeze assets of Nigerien state and semi-state companies and the military involved in the coup. Nigeria also stopped supplying electricity to Niger. Ecowas on Thursday again condemned the illegal arrest of President Bazoum.
US government: focus on diplomatic solution
In the evening, the French Foreign Ministry confirmed its "full support" for the decisions of the Ecowas summit. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also emphasized the leading role played by Ecowas in restoring constitutional order in Niger, without, however, directly referring to a possible military intervention. Blinken said in a statement that democracy is the best basis for development, social cohesion and stability in Niger. The US condemns the unlawful detention of President Bazoum, his family and members of the government and calls for their immediate release, it said.
US Defense Department spokesman Pat Ryder said at a briefing in Washington that the US administration's focus remains on a diplomatic solution. Both France and the USA have important bases in Niger, each with more than 1,000 soldiers. The Bundeswehr operates a logistics hub in the country.
According to Cameron Hudson, Africa analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Ecowas decision is initially "strong talk" to keep up the pressure on the junta. Even if the Ecowas was actually going to get serious, it would take weeks or even months to assemble the troupe. "In The Gambia, Ecowas took seven weeks to organize in 2017 and The Gambia didn't put up a fight," Hudson wrote on Twitter.
The last time Ecowas intervened with a military force in one of its member countries was six years ago. At the time, Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh did not want to hand over his power to his challenger Adama Barrow after losing the election. The military governments in Mali and Burkina Faso have signaled support for the Niger junta in an attack by Ecowas.
In Niger, however, aid groups warned of a hunger crisis as a result of the conflict. Food prices have skyrocketed in recent weeks. Regardless, Niger's new rulers continued to consolidate their power and appointed a new government of 21 military and civilians.