The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said on Thursday that it had ordered the deployment of a “standby force” to Niger to restore constitutional order. What that force will entail, though, is still unclear. No timeline or other specifics were given. The announcement came after the bloc convened an emergency meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, to discuss the crisis in Niger and its previous threat of militarily intervening if the coup’s leaders did not reinstate Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum by last Sunday.
ECOWAS Orders ‘Standby Force’ to Niger
Africa’s strongest regional bloc risks looking weak in the face of rising junta support.
Sending troops into a member nation would be an significant move for the bloc, one that Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who chairs ECOWAS and supports intervention, has called a last resort. Niger’s junta has warned that it will kill Bazoum if any attempt is made to restore him to power via military intervention. But drastic action is looking more and more likely, especially after United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called for the immediate release of Bazoum and his family, who are being held in the presidential palace with limited food and no electricity.
On Wednesday, Nigeria’s former central bank governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, met with coup leaders in Niamey to begin talks. But the junta appeared unwilling to budge without first receiving major concessions, including easing sanctions on the military regime to allow medicine and food to enter the country as well as forcing Nigeria to restore electricity to Niger.
But catering to junta demands and looking wishy-washy over its threat of military intervention is not a great look for the regional bloc. ECOWAS has long been considered “the strongest, the toughest, the most organized of all of these regional bodies” in Africa, said Cameron Hudson, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Yet its history as a prevention-oriented body instead of a crisis-response one is affecting its ability to respond to the Niger situation. ECOWAS is “not NATO,” Hudson said. “It’s not built on 80 years of experience in a host of countries that all have a similar level of the rule of law. ECOWAS is as strong or as weak as the person who is chairing ECOWAS.”
Meanwhile, Niger’s coup leaders announced their new cabinet on Monday. Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, a civilian economist, will lead the junta as prime minister. Twenty-one ministers will serve under him, including three military generals as the ministers of defense, interior, and sports. No Nigerien representative, nor the leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea—who all sided with Niger’s junta—attended Thursday’s ECOWAS meeting.
Lethal politics. Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso declared a 60-day nationwide state of emergency on Thursday following the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio the day before. Three days of national mourning will also be held to remember him. The 59-year-old journalist and veteran politician was shot while leaving a campaign event at a high school in Quito, the capital. Opinion polls had consistently ranked Villavicencio in fifth place.
Following Villavicencio’s death, two other candidates suspended their campaigns. Yet Lasso said on Thursday that general elections, scheduled for Aug. 20, will go forth as planned. Ecuador has experienced an alarming rise in gang violence and organized crime related to drug trafficking, with Villavicencio just the latest high-profile official to be killed in recent months. Villavicencio had vowed to crack down on drug gangs and government corruption if elected.
Prisoner swap. The Biden administration has reached a deal with Iran for the release of five Americans imprisoned in that country after more than two years of intense negotiations. The Iranian American dual citizens had been detained in Evin Prison on unsubstantiated espionage charges but have now been moved to a hotel in Tehran, where they are expected to remain under house arrest for several weeks before being allowed to board a plane out of the country.
In exchange, the United States will free several jailed Iranians and unfreeze nearly $6 billion in Iranian oil revenue. These assets will be placed into an account with Qatar Central Bank, and the Qatari government will regulate the funds so Iran can only access its money to pay vendors for humanitarian supplies.
Joint aid efforts. On Thursday, Tunisia and Libya announced that they will split responsibility for sheltering the hundreds of migrants stranded on their shared border. The decision comes less than 24 hours after at least 41 people were killed off the coast of Italy when their boat, which had set off from Tunisia, capsized. And it comes a month after at least 27 migrants died while abandoned at the border.
According to aid groups, around 300 individualsfrom sub-Saharan Africa remain trapped at the Tunisian-Libyan border in dangerous desert conditions. Under the agreement, Tunisia will oversee 126 people while Libya assists the remaining 150 or so migrants.
Pacific disasters. Environmental catastrophes rocked the planet this week, causing mass evacuations and civilian casualties. At least 36 people were killed in Hawaii on Wednesday as fires decimated areas of Maui—including the historic district of Lahaina—marking one of the deadliest wildfires in U.S. history. More than 11,000 tourists have fled Maui, around 271 structures have been destroyed, and roughly 14,500 people remain without power.
On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, more than 14,000 South Koreans fled their homes amid intense flooding from tropical storm Khanun. South Korean authorities have closed schools and canceled hundreds of flights and train routes in response. The storm, which had been classified as a typhoon when it hit Japan earlier this week, is expected to strike Pyongyang on Friday—potentially impacting North Korea’s crops at a time when the country is already thought to be experiencing a severe food crisis.
Artificial intelligence may not be ready for the kitchen quite yet, as one New Zealand supermarket chain discovered. In Pak ’n Save’s latest effort to spice up its app’s recipe options, AI produced some rather alarming suggestions. These included an aromatic water mix that creates chlorine gas, mosquito-repellent roast potatoes, poison bread sandwiches, and (my personal favorite) a bleach-infused rice surprise. Yum?