June 24, 2024

West African leaders meet as region struggles with coups

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West African leaders met in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Sunday for talks on their region’s deepening crisis after four countries fell under military rule and with risks growing from Sahel jihadist conflicts.

A French military withdrawal from the Sahel—the region along the Sahara desert across Africa—has heightened concerns over conflicts spreading southward to Gulf of Guinea states Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Ivory Coast.

After coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Niger since 2020, the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, saw member states Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau report attempted coups in recent weeks.

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International attention has focused on the most recent coup in Niger in July after troops ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, prompting ECOWAS to impose tough sanctions and close trade.

Niger, a key Western partner in the fight against Sahel militants, has demanded French troops based there leave, while the US still has military personnel in the country.

But recent talks with the regime in Niamey stalled. ECOWAS called for Bazoum’s immediate return to power, but Niger’s rulers have kept the ousted president in detention and want up to three years for a transition back to civilian rule.

“The military authorities have unfortunately shown little remorse as they hold on to their untenable positions, holding not only President Bazoum, his family, and members of his government hostage, but also the people of Niger,” ECOWAS commission president Omar Touray told the summit opening.

Touray said ECOWAS recognized the “dire humanitarian” situation in Niger but accused the rulers in Niamey of interfering with the flow of aid that was allowed into the country.

In a possible signal that ECOWAS is maintaining its hardline on Niamey, exiled Niger Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou attended the Abuja summit.

Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the current chair of ECOWAS and the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Molly Phee was also at the meeting to discuss how to support Niger’s return to democratic rule and Sahel security.

Tinubu called for “re-engaging with the countries under military rule on the basis of realistic and short transition plans.”.

In conclusion, the ordinary summit will also discuss delayed or uncertain transitions back to civilian rule and elections for Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Niger.

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written by @enock katamba

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