ECOWAS pins hopes on Niger mediation effort ahead of summit

West African nations and international powers are optimistic about the potential for mediation with Niger’s coup leaders before an upcoming Thursday summit as it could potentially decide on the course of military intervention to reinstate democracy.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has organized the summit to address the impasse with the Niger junta, which took control on July 26 and disregarded the August 6 deadline to relinquish power.

The leaders of the coup have pledged to withstand external pressure for the reinstatement of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, despite ECOWAS sanctions and the suspension of aid by Western allies.

The seventh instance of power seizure in West and Central Africa within three years has drawn international focus, notably due to Niger’s critical involvement in the conflict against Islamist militants, as well as its substantial uranium and oil resources, which confer economic and strategic significance for the United States, Europe, China, and Russia.

“There’s no doubt that diplomacy is the best way to resolve this situation,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken conveyed during an interview with French radio station RFI on Tuesday.

He mentioned that the United States supports the regional bloc’s endeavors to reinstate constitutional order, without elaborating on the fate of approximately 1,100 U.S. troops stationed in Niger.

Demonstrating the United States’ engagement with the situation, U.S. acting deputy secretary of state Victoria Nuland traveled to Niamey on Monday. During her visit, she engaged in “frank and difficult” discussions with high-ranking junta members. However, she mentioned that the junta did not adopt U.S. recommendations aimed at reinstating democratic governance.

Military Intervention

The ECOWAS bloc, consisting of 15 nations, has adopted a more assertive position regarding the coup in Niger compared to its response to previous instances of government takeovers. This firmer stance is significant as the bloc had previously declared that it would no longer accept coups, thereby placing its credibility on the line.

On Friday, the defense chiefs of ECOWAS reached an agreement on a potential military action plan in case Bazoum wasn’t released and reinstated. However, they emphasized that final operational decisions would be made by the heads of state.

The utilization of force by ECOWAS would pose a potential risk of exacerbating instability in one of the world’s most impoverished regions, rendering such intervention improbable, as indicated by risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft.

“The bloc understands that a military intervention would be very costly, with no guarantee of success over the long term, and with a significant risk of escalation into a regional war,” its Africa analyst, Ben Hunter, said in a note.

“It is fundamentally not in the interests of regional states.”

The bloc dispatched a delegation to Niger the previous week in an attempt to engage in negotiations with the junta, but an insider within the delegation reported that their endeavors were met with resistance.

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