West Africa: Ecowas Tries Negotiations With Niger's Coup Leaders but Analysts Skeptical

Abuja, Nigeria — The West African bloc ECOWAS is seeking to hold talks with Niger's military government and chart a course forward following the country's July coup that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. The bloc is pushing for Bazoum's release and a shorter path back to democratic rule, but analysts worry they may not succeed.

Niger is one of several African countries that have experienced coups or attempted coups in recent years.

At a recent summit in Abuja, Nigeria, West African leaders from regional bloc ECOWAS agreed to negotiate with Niger for a "short transition" period to democratic rule - promising to progressively ease economic and political bans upon successful dialogue.

Niger's military has proposed a three-year transition period. ECOWAS wants a shorter transition and has set up a three-person committee, composed of the presidents of Togo, Sierra Leone and Benin, to negotiate with Niger's military government.

During this week's summit, the fourth in six months, West African leaders also demanded the immediate and unconditional release of ousted Nigerien President Mohammed Bazoum.

Kop'ep Dabugat, the general secretary of the West African Civil Society Forum, questions ECOWAS' approach.

"When you're having a negotiation, the difficult issues are the ones that come in last," Dabugat said. "The insistence on the release of the ousted president first, we think it is not very prudent. We're calling on ECOWAS to first of all ease economic sanctions as an act of faith which will perhaps convince the junta to come back to the table."

This week's summit marked the first time the regional bloc has recognized the coup administration in Niger - dashing hopes of an immediate reinstatement of Bazoum.

Senior military men in Niger in July overthrew Bazoum and have detained him for alleged treason. In response, ECOWAS imposed heavy sanctions on Niger. ECOWAS ordered border closures, freezing of assets, trade restrictions and threatened a military invasion of Niger.

ECOWAS said it would ease sanctions against Niger if the junta agreed to the bloc's demands.

West and Central Africa have recorded eight coups d'etat since 2020.

Political analyst Chukwudi Odoeme said bad governance is the reason coups are receiving popular support in the region.

"From the steps the military administration in Niger has taken, I don't see them backing down," Odoeme said. "Then again, ECOWAS has lost its beauty in the sense that the heads of state that populate them have questionable hold onto power. Where the issue of legitimacy is lacking in the people who compose an organization, it becomes a difficult thing to hold onto any resolution that they have made, so I don't see change coming from whatever ECOWAS is doing."

This week, Niger's transitional leader, Abdourahamane Tiani, said his government is forging a security and economic bloc known as the Alliance of the Sahel States, with Mali and Burkina Faso - countries also ruled by their respective militaries.

Dabugat said ECOWAS was too slow to begin dialogue and that the new alliance would make negotiations more difficult.

"Sometimes when you do not negotiate within the window available, things move further down the line and it continues to get difficult," Dabugat said.

Odoeme said if this alliance of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso becomes successful, it could encourage more coups in the region.

"If you have a good relationship with your immediate neighbor, you can survive any sanctions," Odoeme said. "I am seeing a situation where other countries will toe the line of Niger."

It's not clear when the ECOWAS team will meet with Niger's junta.

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