Niger: West African bloc mulls Niamey meeting after intervention threat

The military junta that has controlled the country since July 26 is not backing down after threat of regional intervention to restore democratic government

Niger's junta supporters take part in a demonstration in front of a French army base in Niamey. Reuters
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The Economic Community of West African States will attempt to re-engage the new military regime in Niger, the bloc said on Sunday, three weeks after a coup d’etat ousted democratically elected president Mohamed Bazoum.

Ecowas said a parliamentary delegation was ready to visit Niamey, the country’s capital, for talks with the military junta.

The bloc had previously warned Niger that it would launch military intervention if Mr Bazoum, who has been under arrest since July 26, was not immediately released and reinstated. So far, however, only the Ivory Coast has confirmed plans to join a potential intervention force, which is expected to include contingents from Nigeria, Benin and Senegal.

Nigeria, which holds the Ecowas presidency and has one of the largest militaries in West Africa, is currently bogged down in a years-long campaign against Al Qaeda and ISIS-linked groups in its north.

Meanwhile, Niger’s new regime, led by Abdourahamane Tchiani who commanded the presidential guard, has doubled down on holding power, appointing a cabinet in the country of 25 million. His forces have threatened to kill Mr Bazoum in the event of an Ecowas intervention, a deployment that France said it would fully support.

At stake is not just the fate of Niger — a major uranium producer and Western ally in the fight against militant extremist groups — but also the influence of rival global powers with strategic interests in West and Central Africa, where there have been seven coups in three years.

US, French, German and Italian troops are stationed in Niger, in a region where local affiliates of Al Qaeda and ISIS have killed thousands and displaced millions.

Russian influence has been growing as insecurity increases, democracy erodes, and leaders seek new partners to restore order.

The Ecowas parliament met on Saturday to discuss further action in Niger. No decision was made, but the parliament set up a committee that plans to meet Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who holds the bloc's revolving chairmanship, to get his permission to go to Niger, the spokesperson said.

In Niger's capital Niamey on Friday, thousands demonstrated in favour of the coup outside a French military base.

"Long live Russia," one protester's sign read. "Down with France ... Down with Ecowas." Another said: "Wagner will protect our children from terrorism,” read another, referring to the controversial, state-linked Russian paramilitary group that has been designated a terrorist organisation by the US.

Regional army chiefs were set to meet in the coming days.

If they chose to intervene, it was not clear how long the Ecowas force would take to assemble, how big it would be and if it would actually invade. Security analysts said it could take weeks to set up.

Some countries, including Liberia and Cape Verde, have said they would prefer diplomacy. Russia has warned against military action.

Meanwhile, the African Union, the European Union, the United States and the United Nations all said they were worried about Mr Bazoum's detention. UN Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Turk on Friday said conditions were "rapidly deteriorating" for his family, who are being held with limited access to food and electricity, which could amount to a violation of international human rights law.

Updated: September 05, 2023, 1:36 PM