Johannesburg — Leaders of the West African Community met Thursday at an emergency summit to decide on the bloc’s next step as it grapples with how to deal with the recent military coup in one of its member states. ECOWAS leaders have threatened military force, but have made it clear they prefer diplomacy.
said Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, the current chair of the Economic Community of West African States, in opening remarks to the meeting Thursday.
“All parties concerned, including the coup leaders, must be engaged in serious discussions to convince them to relinquish power and reinstate President (Mohamed) Bazoum,” the Reuters news agency quoted Tinubu as saying.
The leaders of the Economic Community of West African States met two weeks after the shock of the July 26 coup in Niger in the region.
In a televised speech early Thursday morning, the generals who seized power in the country and locked its elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, in his home announced a new group of leaders. The military council said its newly appointed cabinet includes 21 ministers and is led by interim Prime Minister Lamine Zein Ali Mohamane, who will also serve as minister of economy and finance.
The defiant announcement to form a new government came a day after Niger’s military rulers accused France of violating the country’s airspace, attacking an army camp and freeing “terrorists”. The French foreign ministry, the former colonial power in Niger, later denied the accusations.
Bazoum accused the military council of detaining him and his “cruel” and “inhuman” family in his official residence in the capital, Niamey. Officials close to him told CBS News that he, his wife, and his son had no running water, no electricity, and no access to doctors.
Some of the former ministers were held in another building near the presidential residence, while others remained hidden in Niamey. A close Bazoum aide who remains in hiding told CBS News Thursday that despite the circumstances, “the president’s spirits are very high.”
The aide said the ousted leadership in Niger believed that ECOWAS would likely try another round of mediation before launching any military intervention.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern on Wednesday about the “deplorable living conditions” of Bazoum and his family, calling for the “immediate and unconditional release of the leader and his reinstatement as head of state,” according to a statement from the spokesperson.
Meanwhile, the former minister, Risa Ag Bola, announced the formation of a new anti-coup group aimed at bringing Bazoum back. He said the Council of Resistance for the Republic supported resolving the crisis through diplomacy but would use “any means necessary” to stop the military takeover of Niger.
Thursday’s meeting of the Economic Community of West African States in the neighboring Nigerian capital, Abuja, came after the junta met with two prominent traditional leaders from Nigeria, Lamido Mohamed Sanusi and Abdulsalam Abu Parker, the day before. Al-Senussi, who met the coup leader, General Abd al-Rahman Chiani, later told reporters that he and Abu Barker “will continue to do our best to bring the two parties together to improve understanding. This is the right time for public diplomacy.”
The US Acting Deputy Secretary of State and Undersecretary for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, traveled to Niger earlier in the week and met with the junta’s Minister of Defense, General Moussa Salou Barmo. He is a well-known figure to Washington as he has spent the past decade at the helm of Special Forces in Niger, which has become an important US military partner in the volatile region of North Africa known as the Sahel.
She described the talks to reporters as “very frank and at times very difficult, because, again, we were pushing for a negotiated solution.”
She said the junta is “quite firm in their view of how they want to proceed, and that is not in line with Niger’s constitution”.
Parmo was trained by US forces, and worked closely with US military command at two bases in Niger jointly run by the Americans.
Nuland was not allowed to meet with the coup leader, Chiane, or President Bazoum.
“Unapologetic tv specialist. Hardcore zombie trailblazer. Infuriatingly humble problem solver.”