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Niger junta digs in as ECOWAS ponders next step

August 8, 2023

ECOWAS convenes urgently this Thursday to address the Niger coup aftermath, as junta leaders dismiss calls to restore President Mohammed Bazoum. Experts believe say diplomacy remains a viable option.

 A supporter holds a picture of Niger General Abdourahamane Tiani, the chief of the powerful presidential guard at a rally in support of Niger's junta.
The junta held a rally on Sunday to gather support from NigeriensImage: AFP/Getty Images

The Economic Community of West African States, a regional bloc known asECOWAS, plans to meet in Nigeria's capital Abuja on Thursday to discuss how to deal with the coup in Niger.

This comes after Niger closed its airspace and ignored a seven-day deadline by the 15 member bloc to reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum.

"Given the threat of intervention from a neighboring country, Niger's airspace is closed to all aircraft until further notice. Any attempt to violate national airspace will be met with a vigorous and instant response," Amadou Abdramana, a member of Niger's new military junta, said on state TV on Sunday.

Landlocked Niger is more than twice the size of France, and many flights across Africa would typically pass through its airspace.

Air France has suspended flights to and from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso and Bamako in Mali, which border Niger, until August 11. The French national carrier warned that some flight times would increase.

What are the real motives of Niger’s coup leaders

Military strike unfavorable

According to Ulf Laessing, who heads the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Mali, the conditions for a military strike are unfavorable.

"I do not believe it will come to war. ECOWAS has too few capabilities and also no task force," Laessing told German news agency DPA.

He added that any element of surprise is now over, saying it was more likely that an agreement would be reached with the coup plotters to hold new elections soon.

"To do an operation like that would be very risky, and the chance of it going wrong is high and the question is what comes after," Laessing added. 

Algeria, which shares a long land border with Niger, has also cautioned against a military solution. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune warned that such action would be "a direct threat" to his country.

International partners are also encouraging ECOWAS to stick to diplomacy.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said in an interview published on Monday that ECOWAS should extend its deadline for the reinstatement of Bazoum. "The only way is the diplomatic one," Tajani told La Stampa newspaper.

"It is right that he [President Bazoum] should be freed, but we cannot do it. The United States is very cautious about this. It is unthinkable that they would start a military intervention in Niger," Tajani added.

The US has not hinted at taking any military action. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told French radio station RFI that diplomacy is the best solution. Blinken, however, declined to comment on a possible withdrawal of US soldiers from Niger.

Security analyst: Nigeria's President Tinubu acted hastily on Niger

Emmanuel Bensah, a peace and security analyst based in Accra, told DW that Nigeria's President Yola Tinubu — the current ECOWAS head — rushed in some of his decision-making.

"I think some of us felt that he rushed basically into the space where he felt that he was trying to be relevant by bringing an end to a spate of coups. But you cannot do that single-handedly," Bensah said.

Nigeria, which holds the rotating chair of ECOWAS, finds itself under increasing pressure to act. So far, ECOWAS has imposed sanctions on Niger. Nigeria also cut off the electricity supply to Niger. However, lawmakers have rejected Tinubu's request to deploy the country's troops, many urging diplomacy.

Niger food prices soar after ECOWAS imposes sanctions

Bensah noted that ECOWAS is not in the best shape at the moment, "even though it is still one of the organizations that is well respected."

"Let us do things slowly and pursue diplomacy," he cautioned.

Mali and Burkina Faso vow to support Niger

Meanwhile, Mali and Burkina Faso's ruling juntas sent delegations to Niamey on Monday to show unity with Niger's military leadership.

Mali government spokesperson Abdoulaye Maiga reiterated his support for the Nigerien junta.

"To the brotherly people of Niger, these are difficult times. Mali and Burkina Faso have been through similar ordeals. We would like to reassure them most firmly of our support and solidarity. Let us remain resilient and stoic, to quote His Excellency Colonel Assimi Goita: All that is substantial and positive cannot be achieved easily. Simple as that, we will win."

Last week, Mali and Burkina Faso warned against an ECOWAS military intervention in Niger, saying it would amount to a "declaration of war."

The two Sahel nations were suspended from ECOWAS after the military staged coups and forced French troops out of their countries.

Mali, Burkina Faso demonstrate solidarity with Niger junta

Edited by: Chrispin Mwakideu