Analysts say regional countries are facing a crisis of legitimacy as they run out of options and time to restore democratic rule in Niger after the president was ousted by troops last month.

Defense chiefs of the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, are meeting in Ghana on Thursday to discuss Niger’s crisis after a deadline passed to release rebel troops and reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum or face military intervention .

Bazoum was ousted in July and remains under house arrest in the capital, Niamey, along with his wife and son.

This is the first meeting after ECOWAS last week ordered the deployment of an additional force to restore constitutional rule in the country.

It is not clear whether the troops will intervene. Conflict experts say a force likely to include several thousand soldiers from Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Benin could take weeks or months to prepare.

ECOWAS has a poor track record in preventing large-scale coups in the region: there have been two coups within three years in neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali.

Niger’s coup was viewed as one by the international community and ECOWAS, and in addition to threatening military invasion, the bloc has imposed severe economic and travel restrictions.

But as time goes on and with no military action and stalled talks, the junta is consolidating its power, leaving ECOWAS with few options.

ECOWAS has some good options…especially since (the junta) is currently unwilling to bow to external pressure,” said Andrew Lebovich, research fellow at the Clingendael Institute, a think tank.

“Interference could be counterproductive and harm the organization in many ways, while failure to extract major concessions from (the junta) could weaken the organization politically at an already fragile time,” he added.

The African Union’s top security body met on Monday to consider whether it would support military intervention but has yet to make its decision public.

The AU’s Peace and Security Council can reject military intervention if it believes it threatens wider stability on the continent.

If it disapproves of the use of force, there are grounds on which ECOWAS can claim legal justification, Lebovitch said.

In recent years, Western countries have pumped hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Niger, seen as one of the last democratic countries in the Sahel region south of the Sahara desert, with which it is partnering to defeat a growing jihadist insurgency. Could have done Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

France and the United States have about 2,500 military personnel in the country, who train troops and, in the case of France, conduct joint operations.

Since the coup, both countries have suspended military operations, which Sahel experts say is leading to an increase in attacks.

At least 17 Nigerian soldiers were killed and about two dozen wounded in the Tillaberi region on Tuesday in the jihadists’ biggest attack in six months.

Former militants have told the AP that active jihadists are taking advantage of the coup to move around more freely and plan further violence, while Niger’s security forces are bogged down in Niamey and Western aid has stalled.

On the streets of Niamey, locals are preparing for the possibility of fighting while also trying to deal with the impact of ECOWAS sanctions.

Niger depends on neighboring Nigeria for 90 percent of its energy, which has been partially cut off. The streets are lined with generator-powered shops.

Restaurant owners say they can’t keep their fridges cold and have lost customers.

The restrictions are making it difficult for aid groups to obtain food and supplies. Before the coup, more than 4 million people needed humanitarian aid in Niger, a country with a population of about 25 million, a number now expected to rise, says the aid group.

Trucks are stranded on the border between Benin and Nigeria. Routes through countries that ignore sanctions, such as Burkina Faso, are dangerous because of infiltration by extremists.

Due to the closure of land and air borders, it is difficult to bring aid into the country, said Louise Aubin, the UN’s local coordinator in Niger. Supplies like food and vaccines may run out. It is not clear how long the current stock will last, he said.


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