West African leaders are gearing up for a possible military intervention in Niger, as the junta that seized power last week shows no sign of backing down. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has given the coup leaders until Friday, August 6, to restore the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum, who is being held hostage by the military. If the deadline is not met, ECOWAS has threatened to use “all measures necessary” to restore constitutional order, including force.
The regional bloc has already imposed sanctions on the coup leaders, cutting off electricity supplies from Nigeria, closing borders, and suspending Niger’s participation in ECOWAS institutions. A delegation of ECOWAS mediators visited Niger’s capital Niamey on Thursday but returned empty-handed after failing to persuade the junta to release Bazoum and other political detainees. The junta, led by Colonel Mamane Abou Tarka, has accused Bazoum of electoral fraud and corruption and has announced plans to form a transitional government and hold new elections.
The coup has been widely condemned by the international community, including France, the United States, and the United Nations. France, Niger’s former colonial power and a key ally in the fight against Islamist militants in the Sahel region, has expressed its full support for ECOWAS’s efforts to end the coup. The French foreign ministry said in a statement that “the future of Niger and the stability of the entire region are at stake”. France has about 1,500 troops stationed in Niger as part of its Operation Barkhane counter-terrorism mission.
However, the junta has shown defiance and hostility towards both the West and ECOWAS. It has announced that it is cutting diplomatic ties with Nigeria, Togo, the US and France and that it is canceling the military agreements with France that allow its troops to operate in Niger3. It has also warned that any foreign intervention would be met with “an immediate and unannounced response” by Niger’s defense and security forces.
The standoff between ECOWAS and the junta poses a serious challenge for West Africa’s stability and democracy. Niger is seen as a rare example of a peaceful and democratic transition in a region plagued by coups, conflicts, and Islamist insurgencies. Bazoum was elected in February in a historic vote that marked the first transfer of power from one democratically elected leader to another since Niger’s independence in 1960. He succeeded Mahamadou Issoufou, who stepped down after two terms in office.
The coup also threatens to undermine the security situation in the Sahel, where Niger plays a crucial role in combating jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Niger shares borders with seven countries, including Mali and Burkina Faso, which have also experienced coups and violence in recent years. The instability in Niger could create a vacuum for militants to exploit and spread their influence across the region.
ECOWAS leaders are expected to meet soon to decide on their next course of action. They have said that military intervention is a last resort, but they are also determined to prevent Niger from sliding back into authoritarianism. The fate of Niger’s democracy and its people hangs in the balance as the deadline approaches.