The West African regional bloc ECOWAS has given Niger’s coup leaders one week to return the country to normal or face possible military intervention. The deadline comes after Niger’s democratically elected president was toppled by members of his presidential guard last week. There are no easy options and the few that are available come with their own regional consequences.
Meeting Sunday in an emergency session, members of ECOWAS led by Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu gave Niger’s junta leaders a week to release and reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum.
The group says all measures including the use of force are on the table to restore constitutional order.
Michael Shurkin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and also the director of global programs at 14 North strategies, an Africa-focused business advisory group. He says he applauds ECOWAS’ determination but wonders how effective a regional military intervention will be.
“That kind of thing makes me cringe because even if it’s possible, it’s easy to imagine really bad things happening as a result and it’s hard to know how that would be a valuable thing,” Shurkin said.
ECOWAS also imposed sanctions, including the suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between Niger and other ECOWAS member states.
Shurkin says sanctions in this case might not be effective, especially for a country as poor as Niger.
“There were ECOWAS sanctions against Mali, which proved to be completely useless. In fact, they were counter-productive,” Shurkin said. "The Malian junta was able to use the so-called international campaign against Malian sovereignty to its advantage to try to rally people behind it and it helped a very illegitimate regime create for itself more legitimacy. And if anything, all the sanctions did was just hurt poor people.”
Last week, Bazoum’s supporters protested in the capital, Niamey, calling for his release.
On Sunday, pro-coup residents attacked the French embassy as they held their own demonstration.
Dr. Edgar Githua, an international relations and diplomacy expert teaching at the U.S. International University in Nairobi, told VOA that ECOWAS -- in conjunction with the United States, France and the European Union – has a strategic imperative for restoring Bazoum to power.
“For the simple reason that geopolitically speaking, the U.S. doesn’t want Russia to come to that region,” Githua said. "If Bazoum is kicked out of power, the military junta that takes over will open wide arms. The Wagner group, don’t forget, is still in Chad, is still in Libya, // they are around there; they will sweep in so fast. The U.S. knows if there’s a power vacuum, Russia will move in to fill that power vacuum.”
France, the United States and other countries have troops in Niger and while some of these countries have the ability to do some targeted intervention, Shurkin doesn’t think any of these governments would have an appetite in doing so because...
“It looks terrible. It seems to re-enforce everything that many people fear and say about the French’s role in the Sahel because here is France being a neo-colonial power, picking and choosing leaders and not letting Nigeriens sort things out; same thing if the U.S. did it. It’s very problematic,” Shurkin said. "
Niger has been a key ally of the West in the fight against militant groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaida in the Sahel region, which has seen a number of coups in the past few years, including in neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali.