West Africa: Ecowas Force On ‘Standby’ As Junta Names Government

The leaders of a coup in Niger declared a new government, naming 21 ministers. The move came as leaders of the West African bloc ECOWAS held a summit debating a response to the coup, and activated a “standby” force.

Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc met for an emergency summit on the Niger coup Thursday.

In a communique read at the end of the meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, ECOWAS said it had ordered the activation of its “standby force” to “restore constitutional order in Niger.”

The details of any eventual military deployment by ECOWAS members and its impact on Niger were not immediately clear.

ECOWAS set up the force as a regional peacekeeping unit to face the threat of terrorism as well as unconstitutional change of government in West Africa.

Earlier Thursday, the military junta that took control of Niger in a coup late last month declared the members of a new government Cabinet on Thursday.

Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, a civilian economist, will lead the 21-member government, with generals from the new military governing council heading the defense and interior ministries.

ECOWAS says it seeks diplomacy with junta

The bloc’s leaders said earlier Thursday that they will make talks with the Niger junta the “bedrock” of their attempts to defuse the crisis.

“It’s crucial that we prioritize diplomatic negotiations and dialogue as the bedrock of our approach,” said Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, who chaired the emergency ECOWAS summit in Abuja. He called on the bloc’s leaders to act with a “sense of urgency.”

The bloc also said it would enforce sanctions, travel bans and asset freezes on anyone preventing democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum from reutrning to power.

However, Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, chair of ECOWAS, said on Thursday at the close of the summit that no option had been taken off the table, including the use of force as a last resort.

After the coup on July 26, the bloc gave the military leaders a deadline of last Sunday to reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum, or face the potential use of force.

But the coup leaders have so far remained defiant, and the ultimatum passed without action.

“Regrettably, the seven-day ultimatum we issued during the first summit has not yielded the desired outcome,” Tinubu admitted on Thursday. “We must engage all parties involved, including the coup leaders, in earnest discussions to convince them to relinquish power and reinstate President Bazoum.”

Niger’s neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso, both ruled by military governments that seized power in coups, say an armed intervention in Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war on their countries.

The Niger coup leaders on Tuesday rejected a bid to send a joint team of ECOWAS, UN and African Union representatives to the country.

President running out of food

Bazoum, Niger’s democratically elected leader, has been held at the presidential palace in Niamey, with his wife and son since mutinous soldiers moved against him on July 26.

An adviser said the family was living without electricity and was running out of food, with only rice and canned goods left to eat.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres voiced concern about Bazoum and his family after reports about the conditions under which they were being detained.

“The Secretary-General … once again calls for his immediate, unconditional release and his reinstatement as head of state,” a UN spokesperson said on Wednesday.

rmt,rc/wmr,sms (AFP, Reuters)