How Niger defies ECOWAS ban and secures essential supplies

Trucks carrying food, humanitarian aid, and industrial equipment wait due to sanctions imposed by Niger's regional and international allies, in the border town of Malanville, Benin August 18, 2023. REUTERS/Coffi Seraphin Zounyekpe

In the midst of a trade blockade triggered by border closures with its West African neighbours, Niger has found a way to defy the Economic Community of West African States ban and secure essential supplies.

Despite the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS on Niger after the recent coup, the Burkinabe government, through its army, has been sending trucks of essential goods into Niger. This article explores how Niger has managed to overcome the difficult situation it finds itself in, highlighting the role of Burkina Faso in providing much-needed support.

Trucks carrying food, humanitarian aid, and industrial equipment wait due to sanctions imposed by Niger’s regional and international allies, in the border town of Malanville, Benin August 18, 2023. REUTERS/Coffi Seraphin Zounyekpe

Following the ousting of President Mohamed Bazoum in a coup on July 26, ECOWAS took action by imposing a series of sanctions on Niger. These sanctions involved closing the borders between Niger and its West African neighbours, and the intention was to isolate Niger and exert pressure on the ruling junta to restore democracy.

Despite the sanctions, Burkina Faso, an ally of Niger, has been defying ECOWAS by supplying essential goods to its neighbour. The Burkinabe government, using its army, has been sending trucks carrying vital supplies into Niger. Within a short period, over 300 trucks filled with much-needed items have been moved across the border.

Notably, both Mali and Burkina Faso, which are also under military juntas, have openly expressed support for the Nigerien junta. Burkina Faso even threatened to quit ECOWAS if the regional body deploys troops to attack the Niger junta. This solidarity between the military-ruled nations has strengthened Niger’s position against ECOWAS.

In collaboration with Burkina Faso’s armed forces, the Nigerien Armed Forces have initiated the transportation of food items to mitigate the adverse effects of the border closure on their citizens. This partnership aims to ensure that essential supplies reach the people who are most affected by the trade blockade. The assistance provided by Burkina Faso’s military plays a crucial role in easing the burden faced by Niger’s population.

Food and aid pile up at Niger’s border as sanctions bite

How Niger defies ECOWAS ban and secures essential supplies
Trucks carrying food, humanitarian aid and industrial equipment wait on the highway due to sanctions imposed by Niger’s regional and international allies, in the border town of Malanville, Benin August 17, 2023. REUTERS/Coffi Seraphin Zounyekpe

Food and aid are piling up at Niger’s border as the Malanville border crossing in northern Benin grapples with the impact of sanctions imposed by the regional bloc, ECOWAS. This border crossing is one of the busiest in West Africa, allowing trucks carrying essential supplies such as food, humanitarian aid, and industrial materials to flow freely into Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries. However, the situation has drastically changed, with a line of thousands of trucks stretching back 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the muddy shores of the Niger River, marking the frontier.

Truck drivers, stranded for weeks, find themselves in an excruciating situation. They hang their clothes between trucks, desperately seeking shelter from the harsh weather conditions. Away from the watchful eyes of border guards, small traders resort to loading goods onto wooden boats to cross the rain-lashed river. The significant backlog of trucks is one of the most evident signs of the impact of the sanctions imposed on Niger after a military coup.

ECOWAS implemented these sanctions as a means to pressure the junta to restore President Bazoum to office. However, the unintended consequence of these sanctions is the severe disruption they have caused. The lean season, when food supplies are typically scarce, has been made even more challenging as the price of food escalates inside Niger. Furthermore, the sanctions have hampered industrial activities and pose a threat to the availability of critical medical supplies.

The plight of those affected by the standoff at the Malanville border crossing is dire. Truckers like Soulemane, a Nigerien driver, have been stuck at the border for over 20 days with his cargo of sugar and oil. They are left without access to food, water, and proper sleeping arrangements. The situation has prompted Soulemane to reflect on whether they have been taken hostage.

Business Stall

How Niger defies ECOWAS ban and secures essential supplies
How Niger defies ECOWAS ban and secures essential supplies.

In recent weeks, businesses in Niger have come to a screeching halt due to a series of challenges and setbacks. The country’s economy, already strained by the ongoing sanctions and a lack of essential supplies, has been further crippled by power cuts and disrupted infrastructure projects. The consequences of these issues are far-reaching and have a significant impact on various sectors of the economy.

One of the most pressing concerns in Niger right now is the availability of food and aid supplies. The sanctions imposed on the country have put a strain on its ability to meet the needs of its population, particularly in terms of food and medical care. With Nigeria cutting off power supplies, hospitals are struggling to provide adequate healthcare, further exacerbating the crisis.

Trucks carrying food, humanitarian aid, and industrial equipment wait due to sanctions imposed by Niger’s regional and international allies, in the border town of Malanville, Benin August 18, 2023. REUTERS/Coffi Seraphin Zounyekpe

The scarcity of essential resources is also affecting the business community. Maxime Kader, an entrepreneur based in Niamey, has had to cease selling poultry incubators due to a lack of plywood and low power. These basic supplies are crucial for his business operations, and without them, he is unable to continue his trade. Kader is just one example of the many entrepreneurs and business owners who are grappling with similar challenges.

The stalled construction of large-scale infrastructure projects is another significant blow to businesses in Niger. The freezing of regional financial flows has halted progress on a Chinese-led dam project, which was expected to boost food security. This project, which had the potential to create jobs and stimulate economic growth, is now at a standstill, leaving many businesses in limbo.

The economic growth forecast for this year, which was projected at 7%, was predicated on the successful completion of an oil pipeline from Niger to Benin. However, the recent coup has cast uncertainty on the progress of this PetroChina-backed project. Without clarity on the status of the pipeline, businesses cannot adequately plan for the future, leading to further stagnation and uncertainty in the business landscape.

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