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Ecowas moves closer to military intervention but Niger’s neighbors remain hopeful on dialogue

The Economic Community of West African States has set a D-Day for its armed action but has not disclosed the date

Mohamed Bazoum Niger
The deposed president of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, during his speech at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, on September 22.MIKE SEGAR (REUTERS)

Army chiefs of staff from the countries that form the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) have set the exact day of a possible military intervention to restore constitutional order in Niger, although they have decided not to reveal the date. Despite this, a diplomatic solution remains on the table, as stated Friday by the regional organization’s Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace, and Security Abdel-Fatau Musah. The statement came after a two-day meeting of the chiefs of staff held in Accra, Ghana, in which they defined the operational plan and the troops each country would contribute.

“We have decided on a D-Day, but we are not going to reveal it,” Musah said after the meeting. “We are prepared to enter Niger the moment the order is given [...] we are not going to maintain an endless dialogue and we are drawing a line in the sand. The coup in Niger is the straw that broke the camel’s back”, added the Commissioner for Political Affairs, who also affirmed that “the objective is the restoration of constitutional order as quickly as possible.” However, Ecowas is keeping the door open to a possible negotiated exit. “There is still a chance for dialogue,” Musah said.

The military intervention plan and its deadlines must now be validated by the Ecowas heads of state at a new summit, but there will be no new meetings of the chiefs of staff. “We have discussed potential humanitarian problems,” Abdel-Fatau Musah added, “but what is happening in Niger is part of a series of coups in the region that we want to end. Terrorist actions are threatening to erupt in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. The military option is not our preferred option, but we are being forced by the intransigence of the Niger junta. Any intervention will be of short duration and will aim to restore constitutional order,” he added.

The chiefs of staff of the Ecowas countries have held two days of talks to advance an operational plan for military intervention in Niger in the event that attempts to negotiate with the military junta fail. Ten of the 15 countries in this regional bloc have shown their willingness to contribute troops, as reported by Abdel-Fatau Musah on Thursday, although there is no consensus within the African Union, and several countries on the continent, such as Algeria and Chad, have rejected this option. The military junta in Niger has deployed troops on the border with Benin and Nigeria, according to sources close to Niger’s Army.

The President of Nigeria and of Ecowas itself, Bola Tinubu, informed the President of the European Council Charles Michel in a telephone conversation on Thursday on the worsening conditions being faced by the ousted President of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, who has been detained by the military junta since the coup d’état on July 26. He also warned that “any further deterioration in his condition will have serious consequences,” a spokeswoman for the EU reported on Friday. The military junta threatened to try Bazoum for high treason and even to execute him in the event of the military intervention that Ecowas has already outlined.

President Bazoum is being held with his wife, Hadja Hadiza, and their 22-year-old son Salem, in a few rooms in the presidential palace. Since August 2, they have had no electricity and only eat pasta and rice, the president’s daughter Zazia (who was traveling in France when the coup occurred) told The Guardian newspaper. Her brother Salem suffers from heart disease, according to what the president himself told Human Rights Watch, but despite the difficult conditions in which he finds himself, the deposed president has been able to maintain communication with certain very specific people abroad, including his own daughter.

The health and safety of President Bazoum and his family have become a red line for the Ecowas heads of state, according to an African diplomatic source. “If something were to happen to him, let no one doubt that it [Ecowas] would act with the utmost forcefulness against the coup plotters. We cannot allow such a serious precedent to be set in the region,” he said.

The President of Nigeria and Ecowas, Bola Tinubu, during his inauguration ceremony in Abuja, on May 29.
The President of Nigeria and Ecowas, Bola Tinubu, during his inauguration ceremony in Abuja, on May 29.TEMILADE ADELAJA (REUTERS)

For its part, the European Union has maintained its “total support” for Ecowas and its decisions regarding the coup in Niger. This much was assured by Michel to President Tinubu during a telephone conversation in which the European leader discussed the decision to send an Ecowas negotiation mission to Niamey, the capital of Niger, this weekend. If it comes to fruition, the European Council president noted that it will be an “important first step [...] towards a de-escalation and the restoration of democratic order” in Niger. Michel reiterated “his strong condemnation of the unacceptable coup in Niger,” an EU spokeswoman said on Friday. President Bazoum, the Belgian recalled, “was democratically elected and remains the legitimate head of state in Niger”, and the EU does not recognize “and will not recognize the authorities that emerged from the coup,” said the spokeswoman.

On the other hand, the deposed president’s Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS), has reported through a statement that, last Thursday night, people close to the military coup carried out numerous illegal searches and robberies in the homes of leaders and members of the party, which was described as a “totalitarian drift” that aims to intimidate citizens. In addition to Bazoum, the military junta has also detained Foumakoye Gado, president of the PNDS, and several ministers and parliamentary deputies.

After more than two weeks of silence, Mahamadou Issoufou, former president of Niger, has broken his silence in an interview with the magazine Jeune Afrique in which he demands the immediate release of Bazoum and his return to power. The alleged proximity between Issoufou and General Tchiani, the leader of the coup, had sparked an intense debate in Niger, but the former president has denied his involvement in the uprising. Likewise, he has confirmed that he has played a role in mediation and that he still believes that it is possible to find a negotiated solution.

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