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11 Dec, 2023 15:48

West African bloc to negotiate transition with Niger coup leaders

The regional authority has threatened to impose harsher sanctions on Niamey if diplomatic efforts fail
West African bloc to negotiate transition with Niger coup leaders

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) announced on Sunday a decision to resume talks with Niger's new military government, after threats to use force to restore democratic rule had failed.

The resolution was reached on Sunday at a summit of the 15-member West African regional bloc in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. The leaders’ meeting focused on the political situation in Niger, where soldiers ousted President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, becoming the latest country in the region to undergo a coup.

Niger's coup leaders moved to establish a transitional government (CNSP), defying ECOWAS orders to release the detained Bazoum and restore his rule. General Abdourahamane Tchiani, Niamey's new ruler, proposed a three-year timeline in August to return the country to civilian governance. ECOWAS rejected the plan, calling it a provocation.

On Sunday, the regional authority announced the formation of a three-member commission to work with Nigerien military authorities on “a short transition roadmap” towards “the speedy restoration of constitutional order.

The committee is made up of leaders from Togo, Sierra Leone, and Benin – which the coup leadership has accused of supporting an imminent France-backed invasion of Niamey.

Economic sanctions imposed on Niger by the regional bloc in response to the July coup will be lifted if negotiations between the two parties go well, ECOWAS Commission President Omar Alieu Touray said in a summit communique.

The authority will progressively ease the sanctions imposed on Niger. Failure by the CNSP to comply with the outcomes of engagement with the committee, ECOWAS shall maintain all sanctions, including the use of force,” Touray said.

Niger's military government has repeatedly condemned regional sanctions, accusing ECOWAS of acting on the orders of former colonial ruler France, which has backed the bloc's efforts to undo the coup. The military leaders in Niger claim the sanctions are causing severe hardship for citizens, including a shortage in food and medicine supplies.

Last week, the ECOWAS Court of Justice rejected a request by Niger to suspend the sanctions, ruling that the military government lacked the authority to make such a request.

Earlier this month, Nigeria, which holds the ECOWAS presidency, demanded that Niamey's military rulers release Bazoum and allow him to travel “to a third country” before “discussing the lifting of sanctions.” The coup leaders have ruled out transferring the deposed president to another country, insisting that he is safe in Niger.

Burkina Faso and Mali, both military-ruled countries, have also condemned the sanctions imposed on Niamey, as well as any military action against the coup leaders.

The two countries have joined forces with Niger to form the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), pledging to defend each other against internal or external aggression. The move effectively dissolved the Paris-backed G5 Sahel alliance, which was formed in 2014 with the three former French colonies, as well as Mauritania and Chad as members.

ECOWAS Chairman and Nigerian President Bola Tinubu has described the military pact between the three Sahel states as a ploy to divert attention from the bloc's commitment to restoring democratic governance in their respective countries.