ECOWAS soldiers arrive at the Chiefs of Staff meeting at the Ghana Armed Forces headquarters in Accra, on August 17. FRANCIS KOKOROKO (REUTERS)
The chiefs of staff of the armies of the West African countries define this Thursday and Friday in Accra (Ghana) the profiles of a military intervention that restores the constitutional order in Niger, governed by the military after the coup d’état of last 26 of July. However, this armed action is causing a deep continental divide. While the heavyweights of the region, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Senegal, are betting on armed action, the military regimes of Guinea-Conakry, Mali, Burkina Faso, as well as Cape Verde, reject it. At the same time, the African Union is unable to reach consensus. In the international arena, France is more belligerent than the United States, which still believes in a diplomatic solution.
The threat of military action continues if diplomatic efforts fail. This is the message that the Economic Community of West African States (Cedeao) wanted to convey this Thursday, whose Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Abdel-Fatau Musah, assured that 10 of the 15 countries of the bloc were willing to contribute troops, according to Reuters. “Democracy is what we stand for and it is what we encourage,” Nigerian Chief of Defense Staff General Christopher Gwabin Musa said at the start of the two-day meeting. “The approach is not simply to react to events, but to proactively chart a course that results in peace and promotes stability,” he added.
Musah also accused the Nigerian military junta of “playing cat and mouse” with ECOWAS by refusing to receive its negotiators, but making excuses to keep that door open, and criticized the coup leaders’ decision to prosecute ousted President Mohamed. Bazoum for high treason. “The irony is that someone who is kidnapped has been accused of high treason,” he added.
Nigeria, a regional power that shares some 1,500 kilometers of border with Niger, now closed, is the main promoter of the military intervention. Next to him, the president of the Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara, has shown himself to be the most belligerent, calling for armed action “in the shortest possible time” and promising a battalion of 850 soldiers. The other governments that had announced their availability to send troops, without specifying their number, are those of Senegal, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Benin.
However, a growing wave of rejection of this initiative has emerged within these nations. The firm opposition expressed by the Nigerian Senate has been joined in recent days by numerous political actors and citizens. Several religious and traditional leaders from the northern states of Nigeria, who fear destabilization in the event of a conflict, have led mediation missions. In Senegal, 170 prominent intellectuals and politicians such as Felwine Sarr, Boubacar Boris Diop or Aminata Touré have signed a forum warning of the “catastrophe” the region is headed for in the event of military intervention. In Benin and the Ivory Coast, members of the opposition have called on their governments to reconsider and reject the idea.
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Other ECOWAS countries have expressed their rejection. The president of Cape Verde, José María Neves, assured that “any military intervention at this time would aggravate the situation and transform the region into an explosive space.” Similarly, Faure Gnassingbé, president of Togo, had expressed his opposition to the use of his country’s airspace. Finally, the three military regimes in the region, Guinea-Conakry, Burkina Faso and Mali, whose participation in the regional body is suspended, are totally against the initiative. The last two have assured that they would even come to support the Nigerien coup leaders in the event of an armed action.
Worse still is Cedeao beyond its borders. After the tense meeting last Monday, the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU) has not been able, three days later, to make its position public. Diplomatic sources say that countries in southern and eastern Africa, as well as in the Maghreb, were openly against the ECOWAS decision to launch a military intervention. Algeria and Chad, African military powers, are an example. The Algerian government has prohibited ECOWAS from using its airspace and the Chadian president, Mahamat Idris Déby, wants to privilege dialogue over weapons.
Beyond Africa, the world powers are also showing signs of division over the resolution of this crisis. France, which has some 1,500 soldiers on Nigerian soil after its expulsion from Mali and Burkina Faso by the military regimes, has shown its total agreement with the decisions adopted by ECOWAS and its willingness to support military intervention. The United States, which has 1,100 military personnel in the country and a major drone base, has expressed its support for ECOWAS. Despite this support, at the same time, Washington still trusts the diplomatic channel. For its part, Germany is committed to sanctions against the perpetrators of the coup.
Meanwhile, in Niger, where economic sanctions can already be seen in rising food prices and constant power cuts, the authorities have begun recruiting volunteers to reinforce their army in the event of an eventual disaster. attack from your neighbors. “There are young people who spend vigil nights in the main roundabouts of Niamey, ready to go into combat,” a Nigerian citizen said by phone from the country’s capital.
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