The leadership of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) received support from the United States on Monday in defending the Nigerian constitution. In a third attempt to overthrow a Sahelian leader in as many years, the Niger military has been detaining Mohamed Bazoum, the elected president, since Wednesday.
“The United States welcomes and commends the strong leadership of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Heads of State and Government to defend constitutional order in Niger, actions that respect the will of the Nigerien people and align with enshrined ECOWAS and African Union principles of zero tolerance for unconstitutional change,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a US State Department statement.
The US further called for the immediate release of President Mohamed Bazoum and his family and the restoration of all state functions to the legitimate, democratically-elected government.
“The United States further welcomes the dispatch of the special representative of the ECOWAS Chair to Niger and urges all parties to work with ECOWAS for a peaceful and expeditious resolution of the current situation,” the state department stated.
The statement added that the US will remain actively engaged with ECOWAS and West African leaders on the next steps to preserve Niger’s hard-earned democracy.
If the junta continued to hold power, the group vowed to “take all necessary measures to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger,” including using force. The ECOWAS also announced a number of harsh sanctions, such as the closing of the land and air borders with Niger. The group, which views Bazoum as a hostage, declared that it will reject any pretended resignation from him.
Before gaining its independence in 1860, Niger spent more than 50 years as a French colony. Strong diplomatic relations existed between the two nations prior to Thursday’s coup, but many Nigeriens believe France has continued to treat Niger like an imperial state, depriving it of its natural riches and imposing its leaders’ economic policies. One of the poorest nations in the world, Niger receives aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.