A Committee of Chiefs of Defense Staff of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) held a two-day emergency meeting in Accra, Ghana from Thursday, August 17, to finalize plans on possible deployment of a standby force to Niger to force the military junta to hand over power back to ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.
The Military in Niger on July 26, 2023, detained the country’s constitutionally elected president and subsequently announced a coup on national TV, on July 27. The development has since provoked debates among political and security analysts, as the sub region has already witnessed some four similar military interventions in recent years.
Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Authority earlier on August 10 met in Abuja, Nigeria, to decide on strategies to resolve the political situation in Niger, including a possible military force.
In a press release issued on Wednesday, August 16, ECOWAS reiterated its stance against the coup in Niger.
“ECOWAS calls on the CNSP-military leadership in Niger to restore constitutional order in order to focus on the security of the country that has become increasingly fragile since the attempted coup d’Etat against the democratically elected President, H.E. Mohamed Bazoum”, the statement added.
Meanwhile some political and security analysts have expressed reservations about the West African regional bloc plans to use a standby military force as an option to resolve the ongoing crisis.
Professor Kwesi Aning, a security analyst and Director of the Faculty of Academic Affairs and Research at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) in Accra, has cautioned the ECOWAS leaders on the activation of a standby force to restore constitutional order in Niger, bearing in mind the potential consequences of such action. He advised they rather keep to the path of dialogue in addressing the ongoing political crisis.
Prof Aning cited the case of Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso where mediation processes were employed and resulted in a transitional plan.
“And I think the military option in the ECOWAS framework is always the last option. That is why some of us have always opted for a negotiated solution,” he stated.
According to the security expert, the strategic location and economic role of Niger in the sub region calls for particular caution in addressing the crisis.
Niger’s political crisis has created a looming shortage of some food crops and vegetables that the country exports to other countries within the sub region. Currently tens of articulator trucks loaded with onions for markets in Accra have been stranded in Burkina Faso, following closing of borders to Ghana. The affected traders are counting their losses, and this has the potential of further deepening the current high cost of living.
Military Chiefs Set ‘D-Day’ for Invasion of Niger
At the close of the two-day meeting,ECOWAS says it has chosen an undisclosed “D-Day” for a possible military intervention to restore Niger’s democratically elected president following last month’s military takeover.
Abdel-Fatau Musah, the Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace & Security of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc, said that military forces are “ready to go anytime the order is given” for military intervention in Niger.
“The D-day is also decided, which we are not going to disclose,” Musah told journalists after the two-day meeting of West African defense chiefs in the Ghanaian capital of Accra.
Last week, ECOWAS ordered the “activation” of a regional standby force to prepare itself to enter Niger, which was taken over by a military junta on July 26.
On Friday, Musah reiterated that the bloc’s priority remains “the restoration of the constitutional order in the shortest possible time.”
“We are not going to engage in endless dialogue. It must be fruitful,” the commissioner added.
He also called once again for the release of the country’s “legitimate” leader, the ousted president Mohamed Bazoum, who has been held under house arrest with his wife and son since he was overthrown by the armed junta.
Niger’s junta claimed it had gathered evidence to prosecute him for what it says amount to “high treason.” Leaders ECOWAS responded to the coup by enacting sanctions and issuing an ultimatum to the ruling military junta: stand down within a week or face a potential military intervention.
“That is why we say all options are on the table. If they [the junta] want to take the peaceful pathway to the restoration of constitutional order in the country, then we can stand down the military option because it is not our preferred option,” Musah said.
The commissioner said the bloc had decided that the “coup in Niger is one coup too many,” for the region, adding that there will be no further meetings of ECOWAS defense chiefs on the issue.
“We are putting a stop to it at this time,” Musah said in his concluding remarks.