West African leaders convened for a crucial summit on Thursday to address the crisis in Niger. The country has been plagued by a power struggle since mutinous soldiers seized control over two weeks ago and ignored calls for mediation and to relinquish power. The situation appeared even more bleak as the military junta replaced the cabinet of the ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum, with a new government led by Ali Lamine Zeine, an economist and former finance minister. Despite the threat of military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), options for resolution seemed limited.
This ongoing crisis has been humbling for various powers involved in West Africa. The United States, which maintains bases and troops in Niger but lacks a current ambassador, and France, the former colonizer of the region, have faced growing resentment over their presence. Nigeria, Niger’s neighboring giant to the south, has also been humbled, as its new leader, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, had previously vowed that unconstitutional power grabs would no longer be tolerated. However, many Nigeriens have welcomed the military takeover as a welcome change from what they see as more than a decade of corruption under the ousted leaders.
The United States and France, key security partners with troops in Niger, have suspended their military assistance and called for the reinstatement of President Bazoum. However, attempts at mediation led by Western countries and ECOWAS have stalled, with the mutinous leaders refusing to meet envoys. A Nigerian religious figure, Khalifa Muhammad Sanusi, the emir of Kano, has been one of the few mediators allowed to meet with the junta’s leader, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani. President Bazoum and his family have remained stranded in their residence, lacking basic necessities such as electricity, running water, and food.
António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, expressed concern for the deplorable living conditions of President Bazoum and his family and called for their immediate release, along with several government officials who have been in custody since the coup. Observers have suggested that one approach the heads of state may consider is imposing additional financial sanctions on Niger, a country heavily reliant on its coastal neighbors for imports. Nigeria, which supplies most of Niger’s electricity, has already cut off power.
During the summit, West African leaders are likely to push for the release of President Bazoum. However, many in Niamey, the capital of Niger, do not want him back in power. The situation on the ground remains tense, with some young people expressing their discontent with ECOWAS. As the crisis continues, it remains unclear whether the fragile security architecture and regional stability can be maintained in a region plagued by military takeovers and Islamist insurgencies.