West African bloc meet in last-ditch diplomatic effort to find peaceful solution to Niger crisis

Niger residents say they are preparing to fight back against an ECOWAS military intervention

A delegation from regional nations arrived in Niger on Saturday in a last-ditch diplomatic effort to reach a peaceful solution with mutinous soldiers who ousted the country’s president last month.

The representatives from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), arrived in the capital, Niamey, and joined efforts by United Nations special representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Leonardo Santos Simao, who arrived on Friday, in trying to find a resolution to the ongoing crisis.

On Friday UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Mr Simao would meet the junta and other parties.

“What we want to see is a return to the constitutional order. We want to see the liberation of the president and his family, and restoration of his legitimate authority,” he said.


On August 10th ECOWAS ordered the deployment of a “standby force” to restore constitutional rule.

The soldiers who overthrew Niger’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, in July, have quickly entrenched themselves in power, rebuffed most dialogue efforts and kept Mr Bazoum, his wife and son under house arrest in the capital.

On Friday the ECOWAS commissioner for peace and security, Abdel-Fatau Musah, said 11 of its 15 member states agreed to commit troops to a military deployment, saying they were “ready to go” whenever the order was given.

The 11 member states do not include Niger itself and the bloc’s three other countries under military rule following coups: Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso.

The latter two have warned they would consider any intervention in Niger an act of war.

On Friday, Niger’s state television said that Mali and Burkina Faso had dispatched warplanes in a show of solidarity.

Friday’s announcement is the latest in a series of empty threats by ECOWAS to forcefully restore democratic rule in Niger, say conflict analysts.

Immediately after the coup, the bloc gave the junta seven days to release and restore Mr Bazoum, a deadline that came and went with no action.

ECOWAS used force to restore order in 2017 in Gambia when long-time president Yahya Jammeh refused to step down after he lost the presidential election.

But even in that case, the move had involved diplomatic efforts led by the then-presidents of Mauritania and Guinea, while Mr Jammeh appeared to be acting on his own after the Gambian army pledged allegiance to the winner of the election, Adama Barrow.

Also on Saturday, the new US ambassador to Niger, Kathleen Fitzgibbon, arrived in the capital, said Matthew Miller, spokesman for the state department.

The US has not had an ambassador in the country for nearly two years.

Ms Fitzgibbon will focus on advocating for a diplomatic solution that preserves constitutional order in Niger and for the immediate release of Mr Bazoum, his family, and all those unlawfully detained, Mr Miller said.

On the streets of the capital Saturday, many residents said they are preparing to fight back against an ECOWAS military intervention.

Thousands of people in Niamey lined up outside the main stadium to register as volunteers, fighters and to help with other needs in case the junta requires support.

″I am here for the recruitment to become a good soldier. We are all here for that,” said Ismail Hassan, a resident waiting in line to register. “If God wills, we will all go.” – Associated Press