West African Leaders Meet to Address Crisis in Niger
West African leaders gathered on Thursday for a crucial summit meeting to address the crisis in Niger, where the mutinous soldiers who seized power more than two weeks ago have shunned mediation efforts and ignored an ultimatum to relinquish power.
Hopes for an end to the stalemate were already dim before the junta on Thursday replaced the cabinet of the ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum, with a new government, made up of 21 officials led by Ali Lamine Zeine, an economist and former finance minister.
As the military junta strengthened its grip on power, envoys from the Economic Community of West African States, the 15-nation regional bloc known as ECOWAS that had threatened military intervention if Mr. Bazoum was not reinstated, convened in Nigeria, but their options appeared to be limited.
The deadline to return Mr. Bazoum to power passed on Sunday, with few consequences so far, and the prospect of a military intervention to remove the new government appeared to be unlikely, according to most observers.
Powerful Players Grapple with Crisis in Niger
The continuing crisis has been humbling for several powers active in West Africa, including the United States, which has bases and troops in the country but no current ambassador; France, the former colonizer, which has faced growing resentment over its presence in the region; and Nigeria, Niger’s giant neighbor to the south, whose new leader, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, had vowed weeks before the coup that leaders in the region would no longer tolerate unconstitutional power grabs.
Despite widespread condemnation in the West and from most West African countries, many Nigeriens have welcomed the military takeover, which they see as a welcome change after what they say was more than a decade of corruption under Mr. Bazoum and his predecessor, Mahamadou Issoufou.
In the capital, Niamey, hundreds of Nigerien civilians have stood guard at traffic circles at night, vowing to defend the generals in power against a foreign infiltration.
Until mutineers detained him on July 26, Mr. Bazoum had maintained a close security partnership with Western allies like the United States and European countries, while buying drones from Turkey and developing a pipeline project with China’s national oil company.
Whether that fragile security architecture can survive under the rule of the new generals in power, in a region plagued by frequent military takeovers and roaming Islamist insurgencies, including in Niger, is unclear.
International Pressure Mounts on Niger’s Military Junta
The United States and France, two key security partners who have about 2,500 troops combined in Niger, have suspended their military assistance and called for the reinstatement of Mr. Bazoum.
But so far, mediation attempts led by Western countries and West Africa’s bloc have stalled.
Twice, the mutinous leaders have refused to meet envoys from the West African bloc. And Victoria Nuland, the acting U.S. deputy secretary of state, was denied a meeting with the junta’s leader or Mr. Bazoum when she made a surprise trip to Niger on Monday.
On Wednesday, a Nigerian religious figure, Khalifa Muhammad Sanusi, the emir of Kano, became one of the few mediators who has been allowed to meet the junta’s leader, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani. Details of the encounter were not made public.
Mr. Bazoum has remained stranded in his private residence with his wife and one of his sons, who is in his early 20s, for more than two weeks. The family does not have electricity or running water, and the junta has failed to provide food, according to a friend and adviser to the president who requested anonymity to discuss his situation. The friend said the family was living on reserves.
António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, said on Wednesday that he was very concerned about “the deplorable living conditions” for Mr. Bazoum and his family. He called for their immediate release, along with that of several government officials who have been in custody since the mutineers removed the president from power on July 26.
Potential Strategies to Resolving the Crisis
Observers have suggested that one approach the heads of state will consider will be to impose additional financial sanctions on Niger, a landlocked country of 25 million that is one of the world’s poorest and relies heavily on its coastal neighbors for imports. Nigeria, which supplies most of Niger’s electricity, cut off power last week.
The West African leaders are also likely to push for the release of Mr. Bazoum, said Ebenezer Obadare, a senior fellow for Africa studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Many in Niamey have said they do not want Mr. Bazoum back in power. Omar Salifou, a music industry representative, stood guard at a traffic circle there on Wednesday evening, as he had on previous nights.
Amid cars honking and pushing through the crowds on the rain-soaked road, some young people could be heard shouting, in a video he sent to The New York Times, “Down with ECOWAS.”
Farnaz Fassihi contributed reporting from New York.