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Politics - August 11, 2023

ECOWAS Directs Swift Activation of Standby Force in Niger

In a resolute move, West African leaders at ECOWAS have escalated their stance against the coup leaders in Niger. They have ordered the deployment of a regional standby force to reinstate constitutional order in the country, which has been struck by a coup.

Convening in Abuja, Nigeria, subsequent to the expiration of the one-week ultimatum granted to Niger’s military junta, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders have called for a deployment “to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger.” These words were delivered by Omar Alieu Touray, President of the ECOWAS Commission.

The specifics of the order remain unclear. The statement, however, underscores the “determination to keep all options on the table for the peaceful resolution of the crisis.

Since the close of the previous month, Niger has been embroiled in political turmoil following the ousting of President Mohamed Bazoum in a coup d’etat executed by the presidential guard. In response, ECOWAS imposed sanctions and presented an ultimatum to the military junta in power: step down within a week or face the possibility of military intervention.

However, the deadline came and went on Sunday, August 6, with no changes in the political landscape. While ECOWAS leaders have expressed a preference for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, they have kept the option of troop deployment as a last resort.

The regional collective has vowed to “uphold all measures and principles agreed upon during the extraordinary summit held on Niger on 30th July 2023.” This summit witnessed the endorsement of stringent sanctions against Niger’s military junta.

Touray has also cautioned that there will be consequences for “member states who, by their actions, directly or indirectly hinder the peaceful resolution of the crisis.”

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, in a separate televised interview, disclosed that all ECOWAS heads, representing the coalition of 15 countries, had engaged in dialogue with the junta. They were, however, informed that they intended to retain the president “as a hostage.”

Ouattara asserted, “We cannot allow this to persist; we must take action.”

He emphasised that the military junta should combat militants “instead of attempting to abduct a democratically elected president.” He added that he had instructed his country to ready its troops in anticipation of the forthcoming ECOWAS operation.

Mali and Burkina Faso, both under the leadership of military factions, have exhibited solidarity with Niger’s junta. They have cautioned that any external military intervention would be interpreted as a declaration of war. Guinea has also expressed support for Niger.

Niger’s armed forces seem to be preparing for potential military intervention this week. A military source reported that a convoy of around 40 pickup trucks arrived in the capital at nightfall on Sunday evening, ferrying troops from various regions of the country.

However, several analysts told CNN that a military intervention in Niger is unlikely to be immediate, as it takes time to assemble the ECOWAS troops.

Abuja-based defence and security analyst Murtala Abdullahi explained that the communique signifies the mobilisation of necessary resources in case an intervention becomes necessary. It also serves as a message to Niger’s junta that ECOWAS is prepared to take essential actions, including the use of force if negotiations falter.

Despite ECOWAS not setting specific timelines, Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, the current chair, reiterates that the use of force remains a last resort. Nevertheless, security analyst Abdourahamane Alkassoum observed that this news might be received with greater urgency in Niger. He highlighted that local support for the Nigerien military has grown as ECOWAS maintains a firm stance.

An additional expert pointed out that it took 7 weeks for ECOWAS to deploy forces to Gambia in 2017, a mission that was less complex than the potential intervention in Niger.

Cameron Hudson, a senior associate at the Center for the Strategic and International Studies, explained, “The mission to Gambia was much more straightforward.” He added that Niger’s situation is not merely an intervention but rather a hostage rescue operation involving a president held under house arrest and used as a human shield by the junta.

Furthermore, the significant US-trained army of Niger, with years of experience in counterinsurgency, further adds to the intricacies of the situation.

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