UNITED NATIONS-The security situation in wider West Africa could worsen unless the political crisis in Niger is resolved, the top UN official for the region said, while underscoring the need for peace. Briefing journalists at UN Headquarters in New York on Tuesday, Leonardo Santos Simao reiterated condemnation of the reported overthrow of Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum on 26 July. He also underscored support for efforts by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) aimed at restoring constitutional order and consolidating democratic gains in the country. “The unfolding crisis, if not addressed, will exacerbate the deteriorating security situation in the region. It will also negatively impact the development and lives of the population in a country where 4.3 million people need humanitarian assistance,” he said, speaking from Accra, Ghana. He added that “Niger and the region do not need coups d’état. Populations deserve to enjoy peace, democratic governance and prosperity.” As the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Mr. Simao heads the UN Office in West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS). He was in Nigeria on Sunday to participate in the ECOWAS extraordinary summit on the crisis, where leaders took “decisive action commensurate with the gravity of the situation.” The 15-member bloc of West African States issued a communique demanding that Niger’s democratically elected President be returned to power within a week.
Failing that, they would “take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order”, including use of force. ECOWAS also imposed financial sanctions on Niger and closed air and land borders with the country.
In response, the military governments in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso said use of force in Niger would be a “declaration of war”, according to international media reports.
Simao had no comment on their statement but said he will travel to Mali’s capital, Bamako, on Wednesday “so I will have interaction with the authorities and maybe these matters can be raised.”
He said ECOWAS “is trying to give time for a peaceful settlement to take place” and described the situation as “very fluid”.
Other diplomatic efforts are also underway, including a visit by the President of Chad who will meet with some of the “key personalities” in Niger, he added.
“ECOWAS, as far as I understand, is not for use of force. It is for negotiating a settlement of the situation,” he said.
The UN envoy expressed hope that military action will not be necessary but stressed that this would solely be the decision of ECOWAS and not the UN.
“What we value and support is that all means to find a peaceful solution for the problem should be used but recognize also that ECOWAS has the right to take other measures if they feel fit,” he said.
Simao was asked if he was concerned about any potential impact the Niger crisis could have on the wider region.
“My concern is that if measures are not taken, or the situation is not reversed, it is very likely the spread of terrorism in the region can increase,” he said. “But no one wants to see regional conflict happening.”
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed deep concern over reports of the arrest of several members of Niger’s Government.
“(He) urgently calls for the strict adherence to Niger’s international human rights obligations and the prompt restoration of constitutional order,” said UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq, speaking on Tuesday in New York.
Farhan Haq also said that the UN and humanitarian partners are committed to stay and continue to provide vital aid to the most vulnerable segments of the population.
“To ensure the continuation of this crucial assistance, it is imperative that all parties foster a conducive operating environment,” he added.