How will Niger benefit from lifted ECOWAS sanctions?

World Wednesday 28/February/2024 15:18 PM
By: DW
How will Niger benefit from lifted ECOWAS sanctions?

Niamey: "When we learned that the sanctions against our country, Niger, had been lifted, we were all happy, and all the people of Niger are delighted to hear this good news," said Intinicar Alhassane, a former adviser to deposed President Mohamed Bazoum.

The ousting of democratically elected Bazoum by a military junta in July 2023 led to West African regional bloc ECOWAS imposing stringent sanctions against Niger in an effort to have Bazoum reinstated.

The dismantling of all major sanctions includes the reopening of land and air borders between Niger and ECOWAS member states, as well as the lifting of the no-fly zone for commercial flights to and from Niger.

Electricity from Nigeria, which provided some 70% of Niger's power before sanctions were imposed, is expected to flow again, as are financial transactions between ECOWAS members. The freezing of assets and travel bans on government officials have also been rescinded.

Souley Oumarou, the head of the advocacy group Forum for Responsible Citizenship in Niger, applauded the West African bloc's decision to ease sanctions and "give priority to alleviating people's suffering."

One of the world's poorest countries, Niger has been hard hit by the sanctions. They are among the strictest ever imposed by the Economic Community of West African States.

The vast Sahel nation is suffering drastic food shortages. The climate shocks of intense drought and deadly flooding, coupled with armed conflict, had exacerbated Niger's food insecurity even before sanctions closed the borders to its main trading partners, Nigeria and Benin. Landlocked Niger normally imports the majority of its food, as well as many other products, from these two ECOWAS member states.

"We have spent seven months without electricity or pharmaceutical products," former presidential adviser Alhassane told DW. "And with the closure of borders, I can truly tell you that it is the people who have suffered, not the military who hold power."

The "immediate" lifting of the sanctions is "on purely humanitarian grounds," ECOWAS Commission President Omar Alieu Touray told reporters on Saturday after an extraordinary summit held in the Nigerian capital, Abuja. "There are targeted [individual] sanctions as well as political sanctions that remain in force."

ECOWAS also lifted a ban on the recruitment of Malians in professional positions within ECOWAS and resumed financial and economic sanctions on Guinea, also led by a military junta.

The West African bloc made no reference to military-ruled Burkina Faso, which also has sanctions against it.

Calls for ECOWAS to lift the stringent sanctions on Niger had become louder in recent months. Concerned ECOWAS parliamentarians even appealed for them to be eased in November, along with the opening of the border between Niger and Nigeria.

But it was presumably the announcement by Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso on January 27 that they would leave ECOWAS that cemented the regional bloc's decision to amend its position on sanctions.

Oluwole Ojewale, a Dakar-based West and Central Africa analyst for the Institute for Security Studies, said some may perceive ECOWAS as "fractured or weakened" for removing the sanctions without having a timeline for democratic transition or achieving its goal of the release of Bazoum, who has been detained in the presidential residence since the coup.

"But in the long run, this is the best position that can be recommended, at least for the plight of the people … affected by such sanctions," he told DW.

"It is very unlikely that those military authoritarians were going to shift ground because they were not directly affected [by the sanctions], and they were looking for opportunities to further undermine ECOWAS and fracture it going forward, which is not in the interest of the regional body."

By dropping the sanctions, ECOWAS is obviously hoping that the juntas in the three Sahel nations will rethink their exit, he added.

On top of the sanctions, ECOWAS made the "very poor decision" to threaten military intervention in Niger back in August, noted Ovigwe Eguegu, an Abuja-based policy analyst at the Development Reimagined think tank.

By walking back sanctions, he said, ECOWAS is extending "an olive branch" and showing its commitment to diplomacy. He believes there is a chance Niger, as well as Mali and Burkina Faso, will respond to these attempts to de-escalate the situation and engage in dialogue.

But, he warned, "walking back" the military intervention and sanctions "while their counterpart is not making any tangible commensurate action to meet halfway weakens ECOWAS' ability to pressure any other future junta to return to democracy."