© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Members of a military council that staged a coup in Niger attend a rally at a stadium in Niamey, Niger, August 6, 2023. REUTERS/Mahamadou Hamidou/File Photo
NIAMEY (Reuters) – West African countries and global powers are hoping that there is still a window of opportunity for mediation with Niger’s coup leaders before a Thursday summit that could agree on a military intervention to restore democracy.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has scheduled the summit to discuss its standoff with the Niger junta, which seized power on July 26 and ignored an Aug. 6 deadline to stand down.
The coup leaders have vowed to resist all external pressure to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, after regional bloc ECOWAS imposed sanctions and Western allies suspended aid.
The crisis – the seventh power grab in West and Central Africa in three years – has attracted global attention, partly due to Niger’s pivotal role in a war with Islamist militants in the Sahel region and its uranium and oil reserves that give it economic and strategic importance for the United States, Europe, China and Russia.
In a sign of the United States’ interest in restoring the former status quo, U.S. acting deputy secretary of state Victoria Nuland flew to Niamey on Monday. She held “frank and difficult” talks with senior junta officials but said they did not take up U.S. suggestions for restoring democratic order.
MILITARY ACTION PLAN
The 15-nation ECOWAS bloc has taken a harder stance on the Niger coup than it did on previous ones, and its credibility is at stake because it had said it would tolerate no further such overthrows.
ECOWAS defence chiefs agreed last Friday on a possible military action plan if detained Bazoum was not released and reinstated, although they said operational decisions would be taken by heads of state.
Any use of force by ECOWAS would risk further destabilising one of the world’s poorest regions, making such an intervention unlikely, according to risk intelligence company Verisk (NASDAQ:) 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.”