It is no longer news that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has met to take measures to restore democracy in Niger Republic after the recent overthrow of its government by the military.
ECOWAS, which is headed by Nigerian President, Bola Tinubu, met on Sunday in Abuja and placed sanctions on the West African nation and gave a 7-day ultimatum for the restoration of the civilian government led by President Bazoum.
The ECOWAS statement listed the sanctions to include: closure of land and air borders between ECOWAS countries and Niger, institution of ECOWAS no-fly zone on all commercial flights to and from Niger, freezing of all service transactions including utility services.
The sanctions which on paper appear severe but might only affect the most vulnerable in the landlocked country which depends on trade with its neighboring countries to prop its economy.
For example, the freezing of utility services would imply power which is produced from other countries would not be sent into Niger. That could have a deep effect on the economy and populace but would hardly have any effect on the junta which seized power.
Border closure, travel bans and asset freeze for members of the junta and their families are definitely not going to have any effect on them. It is common knowledge that African leaders hardly have substantial assets in Africa. They keep their stolen loot and properties in Europe, North America and Dubai.
Also recall that similar sanctions have failed to have any effect against the junta that seized power in Mali.
The regional body has also agreed to take military action against the junta after the expiration of the one-week ultimatum. This is one step where a lot of caution needs to be exercised.
Recall that there is a big Russian presence in the form of mercenary fighters from the Wagner Group. These are well armed and battle tested fighters who seem to enjoy the support of the junta. Going into the country with a military response by ECOWAS without considering the risks of an escalation would be unwise.
The Foreign Angle Of The Crisis
There have been demonstrations by large crowds in support of the junta, and against the interests of France in Niger. The crowds are also showing support for Russia. This is clearly a new development and might signal some foreign support for the move.
The United States which has a large number of troops in the country, has expressed support for the moves by ECOWAS to restore the civilian government.
ECOWAS would need to be very tactful in this matter. It must ensure that sub-regional interests are purely its motivations for seeking to intervene in the country. It risks getting in a proxy conflict situation between the world powers. The questions that should be asked bother around why the countries with troops already on ground refusing to intervene but rather prodding ECOWAS to take the initiative?
Nigeria, which is holds the chairmanship of ECOWAS is facing serious economic headwinds and is not in a position to shoulder the intervention costs, both human and financial. The country is facing a litany of issues bothering around the removal of fuel subsidy, internal security and critical issues from the hotly disputed presidential elections in February 2023.
There is a school of thought that insists that more focus should be placed on local issues and their resolutions, before any attempt is made to look outwards. However, another view is that Niger is a next-door neighbor. Any fallout from there would definitely impact Nigeria in the form of refugees and inflow of illicit arms.
ECOWAS Leaders really have a situation on the hands with the Niger debacle.