West African leaders on Sunday maintained sanctions imposed on Niger after the July military coup and said they would need to see progress toward a transition to civilian rule before easing the measures.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) leaders gathered for a summit with the region in crisis after the coups in Mali, Burkina FasoGuinea and Niger since 2020 and two coup attempts elsewhere in recent weeks.
The President of the ECOWAS Commission, Omar Touray, said that a commission of Benign, Go And Sierra Leone would engage with the leaders of the CNSP of the Niger regime to decide on progress towards a short transition and other conditions for the lifting of sanctions.
“Based on the results of the engagement of the committee of heads of state with the CNSP, the authority will gradually ease the sanctions imposed on Niger,” Touray said at the conclusion of the summit.
“In the event of non-compliance by the CNSP with the results of the engagement with the committee, ECOWAS will maintain all sanctions.”
Under military rule, Niger – a key Western partner in the fight against Sahel militants – has demanded the departure of French troops based there, while the United States still has military personnel in the country.
But recent negotiations with the Niamey regime have stalled. ECOWAS has called for Bazoum’s immediate return to power, but Niger’s leaders have kept the ousted president in detention and are demanding up to three years for a transition to civilian rule.
Touray said ECOWAS recognized the “dire humanitarian” situation in Niger, but accused Niamey’s leaders of interfering with the flow of aid allowed into the country.
He did not specify what would be considered a short acceptable transition for Niger’s return to civilian rule.
Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu is the current President of ECOWAS and US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee was also present at the meeting to discuss how to support Niger’s return to democratic rule and the security of the Sahel.
The summit also discussed delayed or uncertain transitions to civilian rule and elections in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.
ECOWAS said it would lift travel restrictions on presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers of countries in transition to facilitate progress in negotiations.
At the summit, Tinubu called for “reengagement with countries under military rule on the basis of realistic and short transition plans.”
Earlier this month, Nigeria said it was asking the Nigerien regime to release Bazoum and allow him to travel to a third country, with the aim of opening negotiations on lifting sanctions.
But Niger’s military leaders rejected this option and asked the Togolese president Faure Gnassingbé to act as a mediator.
Ahead of Sunday’s ECOWAS meeting, Niger’s military leader, General Abdourahamane Tiani and some of its ministers visited Togo on Friday to strengthen bilateral relations.
“Tiani is willing to discuss the duration of the transition and the situation with Bazoum,” said a Togolese diplomatic source.
ECOWAS has also left on the table the last option of military intervention in Niger, although analysts say this appears increasingly unlikely.
Since French troops began leaving the region, the military regimes of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso – grappling with jihadist violence – have hardened their positions and joined forces within an “Alliance of Sahel States “.
“This shadow alliance seems designed to distract from our mutual quest for democracy and good governance,” Tinubu said at the summit.
Last month, armed attackers stormed military posts, prisons and police stations in another ECOWAS member country, Sierra Leone, in what the government called an attempted coup. which killed 21 people.
A week later, Guinea-Bissau also denounced an attempted coup, with fighting between the national guard and the special forces of the presidential guard.