The African Union (AU) has decided to take its time to study the possible impact of a planned military intervention in Niger before actual deployment, signalling the divisions that have punctuated the proposal first mooted by West African bloc Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas).
AU on Tuesday said it had decided to suspend Niger from its membership activities following the coup that deposed President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26. But besides endorsing targeted sanctions on the junta, the AU Peace and Security Council said the proposal by the Ecowas would need to be studied first.
The Council said it “takes note of the Ecowas’ decision to deploy 'standby force' and requests the AU Commission to undertake an assessment of the economic, social and security implications of deploying a Standby Force in Niger and report back to Council.”
The Council, chaired by Burundi, had actually sat on August 14. But sources told The EastAfrican that a back-and-forth around the issue of deploying the military from Ecowas became a sticking issue which some members especially uncomfortable with the potential impact of the deployment on the sovereignty of Niger. The AU’s tradition is to normally take decisions by consensus. Members later agreed to first investigate the impact of the deployment, a diplomat familiar with the discussions told The EastAfrican.
The AU normally suspends members who plunge into coups but has no provisions for expulsion. The Council is AU’s main decision maker on issues of peace and security across the continent and often has powers to authorise such interventions. In the past, it authorised an intervention in the Gambia when then leader Yayha Jammeh refused to concede defeat to the new winner of elections then, Adama Barrow.
Cameroon, Djibouti, Morocco, Namibia, Nigeria, Congo-Brazaville, The Gambia, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe are the other current members of the Council whose membership is rotated every two years among members of the African Union.
The Council’s decision of its 168th meeting, however, showed the continental body was unwilling to work with the junta led by Gen Abdourahamane Tchiani in any way.
It called on all AU members and the international community “including bilateral and multilateral partners, at large to reject this unconstitutional change of government and to refrain from any action likely to grant legitimacy to the illegal regime in Niger.”
The Council did not name names but also rejected any “external interference by any actor or any country outside the Continent in the peace and security affairs in Africa including engagements by private military companies in the continent.”
The meeting had come as Russian private military group Wagner reportedly contacted the junta in Niger. The group has not publicly indicated whether it will enter the country, but it has previously taken advantage of chaos in countries such as Mali and the Central African Republic to cement influence. It is sanctioned by the US for human rights violations.
In the meantime, the AU says it is working with Ecowas to compile and submit the list of members of the military junta as well as their military and civilian supporters of the coup d’état in Niger, “including those involved in the violation of fundamental human rights of President Bazoum and other detainees for targeted sanctions, and the application of individual punitive measures.”
Bazoum, his son and some members of his government are still detained in Niamey and the junta has refused to free them in spite of Ecowas threats to intervene militarily.
Ecowas last month agreed to close borders on Niger, and freeze assets owned by Nigerien authorities in the bloc as well as suspend any financial transactions until they revert to democracy.