West African leaders gathered in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Sunday to address the deepening crisis in the region. Since 2020, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Niger have experienced coups, and Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau reported attempted coups recently.
The withdrawal of French troops from the Sahel, the region along the Sahara Desert, raised concerns about the spread of conflicts to Gulf of Guinea states such as Ghana, Togo, Benin, and Ivory Coast.
Niger’s July coup prompted ECOWAS to impose sanctions and close trade. Despite calls for the immediate return of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, talks with the regime in Niamey stalled. ECOWAS accused the rulers of holding Bazoum and interfering with aid flow into Niger.
Exiled Niger Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou attended the summit, possibly signaling ECOWAS’s firm stance. Nigeria’s President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the current ECOWAS chair, and US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee discussed supporting Niger’s return to democratic rule and Sahel security.
The summit addressed delayed transitions to civilian rule and elections in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Niger. Tinubu called for engaging with military-ruled countries based on realistic and short-term transition plans.
Nigeria proposed freeing Bazoum to initiate talks on lifting sanctions, but Niger’s military leaders rejected it, seeking Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe as a mediator. Niger’s military leader, General Abdourahamane Tiani, visited Togo to strengthen bilateral ties.
ECOWAS left the option of military intervention in Niger on the table, although it seems increasingly unlikely. The Alliance of Sahel States, formed by military regimes in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso, has raised concerns about diverting attention from the pursuit of democracy.
In Sierra Leone, armed attackers attempted a coup, resulting in 21 deaths. Guinea-Bissau also faced an attempted coup, with clashes between the national guard and presidential guard forces.
Trendy Africa Communications NG by Simha Asuquo