ECOWAS summit opens in Abuja with Niger and sanctions at the heart of discussions

ECOWAS Heads of State and Government will meet on Sunday 10 December at the body's summit. Among the topics on the agenda are the ongoing transitions in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea - the three suspended members of the body - but there will also be a lot of talk about Niger. The country is under sanctions and ousted President Mohamed Bazoum remains in detention. An important economic aspect should also be mentioned.

The ECOWAS offices in Abuja, Nigeria, here on February 27, 2023. © MICHELE SPATARI / AFP

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When he arrived in the lobby of an Abuja hotel, Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé walked to the elevator. Behind him was his aide-de-camp with a briefcase in his hand. In this small suitcase, there is in particular the plan for ending the crisis proposed by the military in Niamey: the duration of the transition, the fate reserved for the ousted president Mohamed Bazoum or the sanctions that are hitting Niger hard, reports our special envoy in Abuja, Serge Daniel.

General Abdourahamane Tiani made these proposals through the Togolese Head of State, who received him in Lomé shortly before the Abuja summit.

In the same hotel in the Nigerian capital, a little further on, another well-known figure: that of Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou, prime minister of the ousted Nigerien president. Barring any last-minute changes, it is he, not the representative of the ruling junta, who will sit in the chair and behind the flag of Niger.

The laborious transitions in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea will also be other political topics on the table. In Bamako, the date of the presidential election should be known quickly, which would be a good point, a diplomat said.

In the case of Burkina Faso and Guinea, the heads of state or their representatives will discuss the duration of political transitions and the place given locally in the debate to legally created political formations.

NGOs call for exemption from sanctions for humanitarian aid

With their plan to end the crisis, the military in Niamey wants the sanctions against Niger to be lifted. These sanctions make humanitarian distribution in Niger virtually impossible: several thousand trucks are blocked at the country's borders, while 4.3 million people are in urgent need of assistance, according to the signatories.

In this context, a group of 11 NGOs operating in Niger - including Action Against Hunger and Oxfam - is calling for a humanitarian exemption from the sub-regional organisation's sanctions. This exemption was recalled by the Commission at the end of August to three neighbouring countries (Togo, Benin and Nigeria). However, in the absence of a clear legal framework and the lack of a legal framework for these sanctions, aid is finding it very difficult to reach humanitarians, whose programmes are running at a slower pace.

According to Mohammed Chikhaoui, the representative of international NGOs in Niger, the consequence of the lack of this exemption is that "products necessary for humanitarian assistance - whether medicines, food or nutritional assistance for malnourished children - are considered as any goods and therefore do not benefit from a special pass to be able to enter Niger.


Mohammed Chikhaoui, the representative of international NGOs in Niger, deplores that "so far, only six humanitarian trucks have been able to cross the border, which shows that the only corridor, passing through Burkina Faso, is not viable"

Read alsoNGOs struggle to deliver humanitarian aid to Niger

Inflation, security and the common currency project

On the economic side, West African leaders will have to address the inflation that is hitting most countries in the zone. Several economies are suffering greatly. They could decide on joint measures, discussed at the last Council of Ministers of the West African Economic Community, reports our correspondent in Abuja, Moïse Gomis.

It is impossible for the heads of state to ignore the security situation, with these armed groups hitting the Sahel and Nigeria. But terrorist movements are now spilling over into coastal countries. The leaders will have to read a report written by the intelligence services of the area. More than 10 million people in ECOWAS are now either refugees or internally displaced.

The project for a common eco currency should also be discussed. Last year, an unleaked report was presented to the Conference of Heads of State. This document proposed different scenarios taking into account the economic realities and weight of each Member State. What is at stake on 10 December is whether a timetable will finally be launched for a currency for the 15 West African countries.

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