An emergency meeting between Western African nations to address the recent coup in Niger has been indefinitely postponed due to concerns over the health of President Mohammed Bazoum, who is currently detained.
The meeting, which was scheduled to take place in the Ghanaian capital Accra, was organised by the Economic Cooperation of West African Nations to discuss strategies for dealing with the crisis in Niger. ECOWAS had previously approved the deployment of a standby force to restore constitutional order in the country.
The indefinite suspension of the meeting is said to be due to “technical reasons,” but sources have indicated that it was initially intended to inform ECOWAS leaders about the best options for activating and deploying a military force.
Niger’s Foreign Minister, Hassoumi Massaoudou, clarified that the military option being considered by ECOWAS is not intended to be a war against Niger and its people. Instead, it is viewed as a police operation targeting hostage-takers and their associates.
The coup leaders have since named a 21-person cabinet, which met for the first time on Friday.
‘Inhuman and degrading’
The detention conditions of ousted Niger President Bazoum have raised concerns and criticisms from international bodies, including the United Nations and the European Union. The president’s health, as well as the health of his son, has become a major point of contention, as they have been denied access to medical treatment.
According to Carine Kaneza Nantulya, deputy director in the Africa division at Human Rights Watch, the detainees have had no electricity since August 2 and no contact with the outside world since August 4. This lack of basic amenities is worrying, particularly in the case of the president’s son who has a serious heart condition and urgently needs medical attention.
The EU and the AU are among the organisations voicing their concerns over the treatment of Bazoum and his family. UN rights chief Volker Turk has declared that the reported detention conditions could potentially amount to “inhuman and degrading treatment” and therefore violate international human rights law.
The German Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock, has issued a warning to the coup plotters, stating that they must face severe consequences should anything happen to Bazoum or his family. Similarly, top US diplomat Antony Blinken expressed his dismay over the military’s refusal to release Bazoum’s family, emphasising the importance of demonstrating goodwill.
‘Down with ECOWAS’
In recent weeks, a wave of protests has swept through the streets of Niamey, the capital of Niger, with demonstrators loudly voicing their opposition to both France and ECOWAS. Angered by what they perceive as foreign interference and a lack of independence, these protesters are demanding change and calling for the dismantling of ECOWAS.
At the heart of the protests lies a deep-rooted frustration with the presence of the former colonial power, France, in Niger. With a long history of ties to the country, France has maintained a significant military presence, with 1,000 to 1,500 soldiers stationed in Niger to combat an ongoing rebellion that has plagued the nation for eight years.
The recent coup in Niger, which saw General Abdourahamane Tchiani rise to power, has only intensified the calls for change. In response to the coup, the new leadership revoked five military cooperation agreements with France and suspended the broadcast of French international news outlets such as France 24 and RFI.
Protesters gathered near a French military base on the outskirts of Niamey, expressing their discontent with both France and ECOWAS. Many waved flags bearing the colours of Niger and Russia, signalling their support for the new strongman in power.
One of the main grievances voiced by the protesters is the perceived lack of independence of ECOWAS. They argue that the regional bloc is being manipulated by France and does not truly represent the interests and aspirations of the people of West Africa.
“We are going to make the French leave! ECOWAS isn’t independent, it’s being manipulated by France,” declared Aziz Rabeh Ali, one of the passionate demonstrators present at the protest.
The calls for the dismantling of ECOWAS reflect a wider sentiment of disillusionment with regional bodies and blocs in Africa. Critics argue that these institutions often fall short of delivering on their promises and fail to address the real challenges faced by the continent.
While ECOWAS was established with the noble goal of fostering regional cooperation and integration, it is clear that more needs to be done to ensure the organisation remains responsive to the needs and aspirations of its member states.
To address the growing discontent, ECOWAS must engage in meaningful introspection and undertake necessary reforms. It needs to prioritise the interests of its member states and demonstrate a commitment to independence and sovereignty.
Additionally, it is imperative that ECOWAS seeks to engage the citizens it represents, ensuring that their voices are heard and their concerns are addressed. Only through genuine dialogue and inclusivity can the organisation regain the trust and support of the people it aims to serve.