Updated: Aug 21
Several weeks after a military coup toppled democratically-elected president Mohamed Bazoum, the West African country of Niger may soon lay host to further conflict as a coalition of neighboring countries recently committed to militarily intervene in the sub-Saharan nation if it’s deemed necessary.
In a public statement on Friday, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commissioner for Peace and Security Abdel-Fatau Musah announced that a regional bloc of eleven countries had decided upon a “D-Day” for military intervention in Niger, and that the countries’ militaries “are ready to go, any time the order is given.” While no exact date or timeline had been announced by Musah, the Commissioner’s words reflect a concerted effort from the wider West African region.
Of the 15 member nations of ECOWAS, four are currently in a “suspended” status as a result of military coups within the respective countries, including Niger. The remaining eleven member nations comprise the regional bloc whose troops, Musah would go on to say, “are ready to respond to the call of duty of the region.” Of the three other militarily-ruled ECOWAS states - Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso - Al Jazeera reports that “the latter two have warned they would consider any intervention in Niger an act of war.” Indeed, Niger state television reported Mali and Burkina Faso dispatching warplanes as an act of solidarity.
As the threat of military conflict seemingly heightens, ECOWAS has nonetheless kept diplomatic talks within its playbook. Yesterday, a regional delegation led by former Nigerian military leader Abdulsalami Abubakar and current ECOWAS Commission President Omar Touray individually met with both ousted president Bazoum and junta leader General Abdoulrahmane Tchiani. While Bazoum continues to be held by the Nigerien army in the presidential palace, Tchiani recently contended that military rule “should last no longer than three years” in the sub-Saharan country. In the meantime, the general argues that neither he nor “the Nigerien people want war and remain open to dialogue.”
In total, the choice between diplomatic and militaristic approaches may boil down to ECOWAS’s competence, or lack thereof, in successfully intervening. Reuters correspondent Ulf Laessang explains to Al Jazeera that, “ECOWAS has no experience with military action in hostile territory” and, worse yet, “would have no local support if it tried to intervene.” Boureima Balima and Abdel-Kadar Mazou report for Reuters that, “thousands of mostly young men had massed outside a stadium in the capital Niamey,” “willing to volunteer for non-military roles in defence against a possible intervention by West African powers.”
In light of all this, the international community has pressed ECOWAS to resort to diplomatic means to assuage the ongoing crisis. Algerian Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf comments that, “you can start a military intervention, but you will never know how it will end.” Meanwhile, State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel stated at a Thursday briefing that, “We support what ECOWAS is doing, and this is the moment to continue to focus intensively on diplomacy… and that any kind of military intervention is a last resort.” As military readiness seemingly grows between the two sides, however, it remains to be seen whether or not this last resort is slowly becoming an impending reality.