West Africa’s bloc ECOWAS on Friday told Niger’s coup leaders it was “not too late” to reconsider their position as they wrangle over a return to civilian rule with the option of military force still “very much on the table”.
Generals who ousted President Mohamed Bazoum in a July 26 rebellion have called for a three-year transition period while the Economic Community of West African States demands the immediate return to constitutional order.
With delegations shuttling into Niamey, ECOWAS says negotiations remain its priority while defence chiefs prepare a standby mission for a possible “legitimate use of force” to restore democracy if needed.
The Niger coup has heightened tensions in the Sahel region, where three other governments have fallen to military rebellions since 2020, and jihadists control swathes of territory.
ECOWAS leaders say they cannot accept another coup in their region and have already applied sanctions on Niger to pressure the new regime.
“Even now, it is not too late for the military to reconsider its action and listen to the voice of reason as the regional leaders will not condone a coup d’etat,” ECOWAS commission president Omar Alieu Touray told reporters in Abuja.
“The real issue is the determination of the community to halt the spiral of coup d’etats in the region.”
ECOWAS leaders are already negotiating with military administrations in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea who are all working towards transitions to democracy after their own coups.
After initially baulking, Niger’s new rulers have said they remain open to negotiations, but they have sent mixed messages, including a threat to charge Bazoum with treason.
Bazoum remained in detention with his family at the official residence since the coup.
Niger’s military leaders have also warned against any intervention, accusing ECOWAS of preparing an occupying force in league with an unnamed foreign country.
Niger on Thursday agreed with the regimes in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso to let their troops into its territory in case of aggression.
But Touray dismissed plans for ECOWAS “declaring war” or an “invasion” of Niger, insisting the standby mission would be a legitimate force allowed under ECOWAS statures agreed by members.
“The instruments include the use of force. So it is very much on the table, as are other measures we are working on,” he said.
“If peaceful means fail, ECOWAS cannot just fold its hands.”
ECOWAS has intervened militarily in past crises, including in civil wars. Few details of the new standby force have emerged.
But preparations for any possible use of military force in Niger are risky and already face political resistance in northern Nigeria, a key player in ECOWAS and the region.
Niger’s northern neighbour Algeria also has warned of disastrous consequences for the region from an intervention.
Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf this week toured West African countries to try to find a solution to a crisis in which Algiers firmly opposes any military option.
“There is a time for everything and we are currently in the time of finding peaceful solutions,” he said on a visit to Benin.
“Let’s put all our imagination into giving every chance to a political solution.”