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Leadership Crisis: Tensions rise as West African countries, others prepare troops for Niger

Head of Niger Junta

*Niger’s junta have threatened they will kill ousted President Bazoum, if neighbouring countries, including Nigeria, attempt to employ any military intervention to restore his rule in the North African country

Alexander Davis | ConsumerConnect

As neighbouring countries and international partners variously consider options for intervention in the political logjam in Niger, a North African country.

The international stakeholders yet are grappling with a possible military intervention, but the safety of ousted Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum’s safety remains a key concern in this regard.

ConsumerConnect reports the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) bloc Thursday, August 10, 2023 it had directed a “standby force” to restore constitutional order in Niger while the African Union (AU) also expressed strong support for ECOWAS’ decision.

Over the past week, tensions are escalating between Niger’s new military regime and the West African regional bloc that has ordered the deployment of troops to restore Niger’s fledgling democratic administration.

The ECOWAS bloc Thursday also announced that it directed a “standby force” to restore constitutional order in Niger after the initial deadline to reinstate ousted President Bazoum expired Sunday.

Shortly after the development, two Western officials told The Associated Press that Niger’s junta had told a top US diplomat they would kill Bazoum, if neighbouring countries attempted to employ any military intervention to restore his rule in the country.

However, it is unclear to keen observers when or where the standby force will deploy, and which countries from the 15-member bloc would contribute to it when it is ready.

Conflict experts say it would likely comprise some 5,000 troops, led by Nigeria and could be ready within weeks, report said.

After the ECOWAS meeting, neighbouring Ivory Coast’s President, Alassane Ouattara, reportedly said his country would take part in the imminent military operation, along with Nigeria and Benin Republic.

Ouattara said on state television, that: “Ivory Coast will provide a battalion and has made all the financial arrangements ….

“We are determined to install Bazoum in his position. Our objective is peace and stability in the sub-region.”

Representatives of the junta told US Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland of the threat to Bazoum’s life during her visit to the country this week, a Western military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Nigeriens in the capital, Niamey Friday, August 11 said ECOWAS is not in touch with the reality on the ground and shouldn’t intervene.

Achirou Harouna Albassi, a resident, said, “it is our business, not theirs. They don’t even know the reason why the coup happened in Niger.”

Bazoum was not abiding by the will of the people, he said.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch Friday disclosed that it had spoken to Bazoum, who said that his 20-year-old son was sick with a serious heart condition, and has been refused access to a doctor.

The ousted President resident further complained that he has not had electricity for nearly 10 days neither is he allowed to see family, friends or bring supplies into the house.

It remains unclear if the threat on Bazoum’s life would change ECOWAS’ decision to intervene, report stated.

This might give them pause, or push the parties closer to dialogue, but the situation has entered uncharted territory, analysts say.

Nate Allen, an Associate Professor at the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, said: “An ECOWAS invasion to restore constitutional order into a country of Niger’s size and population would be unprecedented.”

Niger has a fairly large and well-trained army that, if it actively resisted an invasion, could pose significant problems for ECOWAS.

This would be a very large and significant undertaking, Allen said.

Nigeriens’ lives at stake amid sanctions

While the region oscillates between mediation and preparing for war, Nigeriens are suffering the impact of harsh economic and travel sanctions imposed by ECOWAS.

Report indicates that before the coup, over four million Nigeriens were reliant on humanitarian assistance and the situation could become more dire, said Louise Aubin, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Niger.

Aubin remarked that “the situation is alarming…. We’ll see an exponential rise and more people needing more humanitarian assistance.”  The closure of land and air borders makes it hard to bring aid into the country, just as it’s unclear how long the current stock will last.

Aid groups are battling restrictions on multiple fronts.

ECOWAS sanctions have banned the movement of goods between member countries, making it hard to bring in materials.

The World Food Program has some 30 trucks stuck at the Benin border unable to cross.

Humanitarians are also trying to navigate restrictions within the country as the junta has closed the airspace, making it hard to get clearance to fly the humanitarian planes that transport goods and personnel to hard-hit areas.

Flights are cleared on a case-by-case basis and there’s irregular access to fuel, which disrupts aid operations, Aubin said.

The UN has asked ECOWAS to make exceptions to the sanctions, and is speaking to Niger’s Foreign Ministry about doing the same within the country, according to report.

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