As part of its resolution to bring back democracy and restore constitutional order in the Niger Republic, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said it had ordered the deployment of a “Standby Force.”
At its second extraordinary summit held in Abuja, the state capital of Nigeria, on Thursday, the heads of state agreed to drive home their demands to the military government, which ousted President Mohamed Bazoum out of power in Niger Republic. A possible regional military intervention under the “ECOWAS Standby Force” may suffice as a solution of last resort.
Reacting to the decision of the regional economic bloc to intervene militarily if diplomacy doesn’t succeed generated a counterreaction from the populist-backed military junta in Niger. A junta that has already appointed unconstitutionally a civilian to handle the administration of the state while deposed President Bazoum remains under house arrest in the presidential villa.
The military had sworn that if ECOWAS attacks the country under the guise of the Standby Force, it will eliminate the president. A decision that may lead the country into a bloody civil war, especially after President Bazoum’s ethnic cline in the north of the country has sworn to retaliate if he is killed.
An action that diplomatic watchers have said will also have dire diplomatic and economic implications for ECOWAS states.
Following the meeting held in Abuja, Anthony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State, had on Thursday promised to stand by the regional bloc, urging them, however, to exhaust all peaceful options to restore democracy and constitutional order in the Uranuim’s rich country.
What is ECOWAS Standby Force?
According to Paul Williams, a security policy expert, “the ECOWAS Standby Force is a part of the larger African Standby Force (ASF) structure, which comprises five regional forces (North, Eastern, Western/ECOWAS, Central, and Southern).”
As the name implies, “Standby Force” means the use of force as a last resort if diplomacy fails, Tinubu said at the ECOWAS meeting.
However, what that force will entail still remains unclear, as there has not been an official communication from the regional economic bloc about how the force is to be constituted or what the modus operandi will be.
In December 2022, ECOWAS reached an agreement after a summit to establish a regional peacekeeping force aimed at countering terrorism and reinstating democratic governance following military coups.
The Standby Force is to be headed by the chiefs of defence staff from member countries.
The military unit of ECOWAS aims to tackle terrorism and coup threats within the organisation.
Additionally, the force will contribute to restoring democratic processes in nations affected by coups; such countries, until political events in Niger Republic happened, included Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso.
Speaking to VOA, Rotimi Olawale, a political analyst based in Abuja, welcomed the move, noting that ECOWAS has prior experience in creating peacekeeping forces, such as ECOMOG in the 1990s, which played a role in restoring peace in various countries, including Liberia.
Olawale highlighted that while the peacekeeping initiative is positive, it will need to address the twin challenges of countering violent extremism and responding effectively to coup attempts.
The motivation behind the establishment, the ECOWAS leaders said, was to stop the reversal of democratic development that coups bring when they take over power.
In addition to fighting military coups and violent extremism, ECOWAS said that it wants to use this Standby Force to help discourage extremist, jihadist, and successionist groups from hoisting flags or taking over any territory on West African territory.
Apparently, this is not the first time a military force of such magnitude has been formulated. In 1990, the regional economic bloc formed the ECOMOG peacekeeping force to help restore peace and remove violent dictators in Sierra Leone and Liberia and has since intervened in several countries on the African continent.
According to Al Jazeera, in 1990, ECOMOG had a 3,000-man strong force drawn from Nigeria, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, with additional soldiers contributed by Mali, to help restore peace after the break of the civil war in Liberia.
The ECOWAS Standby Force, which is perhaps designed after the ECOMOG peacekeeping force, isn’t new to the continent of Africa, as the other five regional blocs on the continent possess similar military outfits with varying objectives and are part of the larger African Union (AU) peacekeeping force.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has South Africa, Lesotho, Angola, and 13 other countries on the southern hemisphere of the continent, has its own. This is called the SADC Brigade.
Read also: ECOWAS vows to push out Niger military junta
The other blocs include the North African Regional Capability (NARC), a regional organisation concerned with promoting peace, security, and stability on the continent according to the Protocol establishing the African Union’s Peace and Security Council (PSC), and in particular Article 13 related to the African Standby Force.
Other blocs with theirs include the EAC, EASF, and ECCAS, all regional economic blocs in Africa.
In the western part of Africa, where ECOWAS supersedes, the group has had relative successes in installing democratic governance in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Gambia and may have similar success if Niger Republic refuses to heed the call to restore President Bazoum or constitutional government back to the country.