West African bloc scraps crisis meeting on Niger coup

As ECOWAS leaders fail to meet, concerns over the deteriorating health of deposed President Bazoum mount.

Niger's military government supporters take part in a demonstration in front of a French army base in Niamey, Niger, August 11, 2023
Niger's military-government supporters take part in a demonstration in front of a French army base in the capital Niamey [File: Mahamadou Hamidou/Reuters]

An emergency meeting of West African nations on the coup in Niger has been postponed indefinitely as concerns over the health of detained President Mohammed Bazoum increase.

Members of the Economic Cooperation of West African Nations (ECOWAS) were due to meet in the Ghanaian capital, Accra, on Saturday to discuss how to tackle the Niger crisis after they approved the deployment of a stand-by force to restore constitutional order.

But the meeting was indefinitely suspended for “technical reasons”. Sources said the meeting was initially set to inform the organisation’s leaders about “the best options” for activating and deploying a military force.

“The military option seriously envisaged by ECOWAS is not a war against Niger and its people but a police operation against hostage-takers and their accomplices,” Niger’s Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou said.

ECOWAS is determined to stop the sixth military takeover in the region in just three years and has severed financial transactions and electricity supplies and closed borders with landlocked Niger, blocking much-needed imports to one of the world’s poorest countries.

At a previous summit last week, ECOWAS warned it could intervene militarily and set August 6 as a deadline for the military to restore democracy and free Bazoum. However, no military action followed when the deadline lapsed.

The coup leaders have since named a 21-member cabinet, which met for the first time on Friday.

‘Inhuman and degrading’

Meanwhile, concerns over the health of the overthrown president are mounting. Carine Kaneza Nantulya, deputy director in the Africa division at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the group spoke with Bazoum and his family on August 9 and 10.

“We know he has been able to see the doctor today, but the situation remains concerning,” Nantulya told Al Jazeera, adding the detainees had no electricity since August 2 and no contact with the outside world since August 4.

“Family members and friends were also told that without electricity they had been reduced to eat dry food.”

One of the most concerning aspects is the president’s son has a medical issue and needs to see a physician, Nantulya said.

“My son is sick, has a serious heart condition, and needs to see a doctor. They’ve refused to let him get medical treatment,” Bazoum told HRW.

The European Union and the African Union joined others in sounding the alarm for Bazoum on Friday.

UN rights chief Volker Turk said Bazoum’s reported detention conditions “could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of international human rights law”.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock warned the “coup plotters must face harsh consequences should anything happen” to Bazoum or his family.

Top US diplomat Antony Blinken said he was “dismayed” by the military’s refusal to release Bazoum’s family as a “demonstration of goodwill”.

A source close to Bazoum said: “He’s OK but the conditions are very difficult.” The coup leaders had threatened to assault him in the event of military intervention.

‘Down with ECOWAS’

Protesters opposing the West African bloc gathered near a French military base on the outskirts of the capital Niamey shouting, “Down with France, down with ECOWAS”.

Many protesters brandished Russian and Niger flags and shouted their support for the country’s new strongman, General Abdourahamane Tchiani.

France is the former colonial power of, and has maintained strong ties with, Niger with between 1,000 and 1,500 French soldiers stationed in the country as part of a force battling an eight-year rebellion.

But the coup leaders have revoked five military cooperation agreements and suspended broadcasts of French international news outlets France 24 and RFI.

“We are going to make the French leave! ECOWAS isn’t independent, it’s being manipulated by France,” said demonstrator Aziz Rabeh Ali.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies