As the deadline for the restoration of Niger’s democratic government passes, the initially strong reaction from ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) leaders to the coup d’état now seems divided.
All eyes are now on the next move by West African leaders who had vowed to take military action against the coup leaders if they failed to release the detained president and return to a democratically elected government. However, by late evening on Sunday, there was no sign of a military intervention in Niger.
While some observers suggest that the bloc’s aggressive stance was influenced by Western allies, particularly the United States and France, ECOWAS’s actions actually reflect the approach of its new chairman, Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu. This situation underscores the fear among member-state leaders of their militaries entertaining the idea of similar coups.
Political analyst Afolabi Adekaiyaoja emphasizes that coups are rarely isolated events, and the exchange of intelligence among regional militaries raises concerns among democratic administrations about potential copycat actions.
Nonetheless, ECOWAS’s response to Niger’s coup also reveals unusual divisions within the alliance of its 15 member states. The threat of a regional war has caused countries to align themselves with either the wealthier coastal economies or the landlocked, military-led nations.
Niger’s western neighbors have rallied to support the military government led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani, which has resisted peace talks and defied ECOWAS’s pressure. Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea have sided with the coup leaders and form part of a military-led belt spanning from Guinea in the west to Sudan in the east. These countries, along with Niger, are currently suspended from ECOWAS.
On the other hand, richer, coastal states, led by Nigeria, are uniting to protect their stability in the face of rising insecurity emanating from their northern neighbors. Armed groups in the Sahel region have seen a surge in violence over the past decade, with almost 10,000 deaths from attacks recorded, mainly in Mali and Burkina Faso.
The Gulf of Guinea countries, previously spared from the violence, are now experiencing attacks near their borders with Mali and Burkina Faso. This escalating insecurity has prompted countries like Togo, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, and Ghana to take preemptive measures through the Accra Alliance initiative to prevent a violent spillover.
Coups in Mali and Burkina Faso have coincided with increases in violence, leading to the expulsion of French and UN troops and the presence of the Wagner Group, a Russian paramilitary force, accused of human rights abuses.
ECOWAS leaders see the rise of military regimes as a contributing factor to the escalating violence by armed groups in the region. The crisis in Niger is a major challenge for ECOWAS, with hard regional divisions at play. President Tinubu of Nigeria, the ECOWAS chief, has personal ambitions to strengthen Nigeria’s regional influence, and France has expressed support for the bloc’s threat.
A potential military invasion remains a last resort, but tensions continue to escalate, and analysts are divided over ECOWAS’s future effectiveness. Some question the bloc’s continued relevance, while others believe it will weather this crisis, as it has faced challenges throughout its 50-year history. Regardless, this situation is undoubtedly a serious test of ECOWAS’s ability to respond effectively.