As the ultimatum set by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the Niger junta expired at midnight on Sunday, August 6th. With the possibility of military intervention looms on the horizon, it becomes crucial to delve into the characteristics and significance of this supranational organization.

The deadline expired set by the West African regional bloc ECOWAS for Niger’s junta to reinstate democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum or face possible military action.

ECOWAS, an acronym for the Economic Community of West African States, is a West African regional organization created on May 28th, 1975. It brings together 15 West African member countries to promote economic integration, sustainable development, and regional political stability. Based in Abuja, Nigeria, it is a key player in regional diplomacy and has already played a crucial role in resolving regional crises.

Over the years, it has committed itself to eliminating trade barriers and facilitating the free movement of goods, people, and capital between its members. It is also seeking to establish a single currency, the ECO, which should replace national currencies in the near future.

In addition to economic integration, ECOWAS has developed a program to address security challenges and political issues. It has played a crucial role in mediating regional conflicts, such as the crises in Liberia (1990, 2003) and Sierra Leone (1997). The force has recently distinguished itself in the Gambia (2017) and Mali (2013).

The fight against terrorism is a major challenge for ECOWAS which coordinates regional efforts to ensure collective security, and has set up a joint military force, the Economic Community of West African States Cease-fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). The latter intervenes when necessary to maintain peace and stability in the region.

However, ECOWAS faces several challenges in achieving its ambitious goals. Economic disparities between member states, political tensions, and governance problems are just some obstacles to be overcome.

The military intervention is not a new action by ECOWAS. In 2017, the ECOWAS Mission in The Gambia (ECOMIG) started in the Gambia after former President Yahya Jammeh refused to step down following the 2016 presidential election results.

The current crisis in Niger, triggered by the July 26 putsch, is particularly revealing in this respect. The organization had already suspended Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso due to the coups d’état they experienced between and 2022. On July 30th, Niamey suffered a similar fate: this means that four of the 15 member states have been banned from the African Group. An armed conflict could well tear the organization into two camps.

Despite these challenges, ECOWAS remains a key regional player in promoting economic development and consolidating peace in West Africa. Its commitment to regional integration and political cooperation continues to be crucial for West Africa, particularly in view of the turbulence in the Sahel.