Analysts skeptical about if West African bloc will use force in Niger

Analysts skeptical about if West African bloc will use force in Niger

ECOWAS warned use of force would be authorized if coup leaders did not reinstate president within 1 week

By Hassan Isilow and Aurore Bonny

JOHANNESBURG / DOUALA, Cameroon (AA) - Experts are skeptical Wednesday about whether a West African regional bloc will use force if soldiers who seized power fail to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum in Niger.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a 15-country bloc, issued a one-week ultimatum to coup leaders to reinstate Bazoum or they will authorize force.

ECOWAS has already imposed sanctions on Niger, but experts are skeptical about an invasion should coup leaders fail to heed the warning.

“It’s highly unlikely that ECOWAS will use force, but will instead call for calm and the return to civilian rule by liaising with the military leaders of the coup in Niger,” Ahmed Jazbhay, a professor of politics at the University of South Africa, told Anadolu.

He said force would put the civilian population in danger and unlikely to occur. The military regimes in Burkina Faso and Mali, which took power through coups, have backed their counterparts in Niger, and said they would consider any force a declaration of war.

ECOWAS sent a delegation Wednesday to Niger to negotiate with coup leaders as regional military chiefs began a two-day meeting in neighboring Nigeria. The delegation is headed by former Nigerian military leader Abdulsalami Abubakar.

“The use of force, as announced by ECOWAS, is a legitimate response which, in accordance with the charter of good governance ratified by all ECOWAS member countries, condemns putsch whatever its form,” Ibrahima Ba, a Senegalese consultant specializing in political science, diplomacy and international relations, told Anadolu.

ECOWAS member states are obliged to repress the overthrow of democratically-elected civilian governments through its charter, he said. Ba cited when ECOWAS leaders sent troops to Gambia in 2016 when Yaya Jammeh attempted to cling to power after he was defeated by current President Adama Barrow.

Geopolitical analyst and political communication specialist Regis Hounkpe said although ECOWAS needs to show its stance and credibility in defending democratic and constitutional regimes, it finds itself faced with a cruel dilemma: choosing whether to use force.

“The hypothesis of an armed ECOWAS coalition cannot be totally ruled out, even if I feel that it would entail risks for the Niger populations, who would be directly affected, and for the stability of the sub-region,” Hounkpe told Anadolu.

Regarding threats of retaliation from the Malian and Burkinabe juntas, he said it is “akin to a Sahelian putschists' syndicate, protecting each other at a time when their countries have been facing the jihadist peril for years.”

Jazhbhay believes sanctions will affect the junta in Niger, a country highly dependent on foreign aid. He also believes paramilitary groups might soon crop up to put pressure on coup leaders to relinquish power to a civilian government.

On July 26, shortly after detaining Bazoum, a group of soldiers calling themselves the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country (CNSP) announced that they had seized power due to the "deteriorating security situation and bad governance."

Bazoum was elected in 2021 in Niger’s first democratic power transition since it gained independence from French colonial rule in 1960.​​​​​​​

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