West African Summit backs diplomacy in Niger coup crisis

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ECOWAS Chair and Nigeria’s President, Bola Tinubu, during second summit on Niger coup held in Abuja on Thursday, August 10, 2023

West African leaders on Thursday said they firmly supported diplomacy in the search to end the crisis in Niger, stepping back from a threat to intervene militarily in the coup-stricken country. “We prioritise diplomatic negotiations and dialogue as the bedrock of our approach,” said Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, chairing an emergency summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in Abuja.

The 15-nation bloc is struggling to stem military takeovers that have now swept through four of its members in three years. Their summit came four days after the expiry of an ultimatum to Niger’s coup leaders to reinstate the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, who was detained by guards on July 26. But the regime ignored the deadline.

“Regrettably, the seven-day ultimatum we issued during the first summit has not yielded the desired outcome,” Tinubu acknowledged. “We must engage all parties involved, including the coup leaders, in earnest discussions to convince them to relinquish power and reinstate President Bazoum,” he said. “It is our duty to exhaust all avenues of engagement to ensure a swift return to constitutional governance in Niger.”

The coup leaders on Thursday signaled further defiance by appointing a new government. The 21-member cabinet will be headed by Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, a civilian, with generals from the new military governing council at the defence and interior ministries. The possibility of military intervention in Niger, a fragile nation that ranks among the world’s poorest, sparked debate within ECOWAS and warnings from neighbouring Algeria as well as Russia.

Niger’s neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso, both ruled by military governments that seized power in coups, also declared an intervention would be a “declaration of war” on their countries.

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