Niger’s coup leaders have announced a list of 21 people they say will become ministers in a new government, forcing their agenda ahead of a summit of regional leaders demanding an end to their military takeover.
Mahamane Roufai Laouali, cited as “secretary-general of the government”, read out the names on state television overnight on Thursday, without specifying any further plans.
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Three of the generals who helped in the July 26 removal of democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum were named ministers of defence, interior and sports in the government, which is about half the size of the previous one.
The 21-member cabinet will be headed by Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, a civilian. The 58-year-old previously served as finance minister under the administration of former President Mamadou Tandja.
Niger’s previous government had 43 ministers of whom none were military officers.
Heads of state in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) are holding a summit in Nigeria to agree on a plan of action for Niger, where the coup leaders have refused to stand down.
Since the coup, which shocked the region, ECOWAS has been calling for Bazoum’s reinstatement. It imposed a number of sanctions including a no-fly zone and has threatened the possible use of force to restore democracy.
The defiant putschists rebuffed diplomatic overtures and ignored an August 6 deadline by ECOWAS to restore civilian rule. Military governments in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso have promised to treat any military intervention in Niger as a declaration of war on them.
Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has voiced concerns about Bazoum and his family after his party reported that they were being detained at the presidential residence without electricity or running water, and had gone days without fresh food.
“The secretary-general … once again calls for his immediate, unconditional release and his reinstatement as head of state,” a UN spokesperson said on Wednesday.
The meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, could prove a pivotal moment in the standoff. The bloc’s leaders are expected to agree on next steps, which could include military intervention – something an ECOWAS official has said would be a last resort.
Sadeeq Garba Shehu, a security analyst and adjunct professor at the Marshall European Centre for Security Studies, said the ball was in ECOWAS’s court after the coup leaders “called the bluff” on the bloc’s seven-day deadline.
“It’s a very decisive moment for ECOWAS and its leaders,” he told Al Jazeera from Abuja. Pressing ahead with the option of the use of force “is a position that is fraught with dangers and uncertainties”, Shehu said.
“First, will there be acceptance by all the members to put their money where their mouth is? How many of the ECOWAS members are ready to do that? How many are ready to finance that?” Shehu added, noting that West African leaders had to also consider domestic pressures from their countries’ own populations.
‘Time for public diplomacy’
On Wednesday, former Nigerian central bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi met coup leaders in the Nigerien capital, Niamey, offering a glimmer of hope for dialogue after previous ECOWAS missions were spurned.
And after a meeting with Nigerian president and ECOWAS chair Bola Tinubu, Sanusi told Nigerian press in Abuja that “interventions are ongoing and will continue”.
“This is a time for public diplomacy. It’s not a matter that we leave to governments. All Nigerians, all Nigeriens need to be involved to find a solution that works for Africa, for Niger, for Nigeria and for humanity,” he said.
A former emir of the northern Nigerian city of Kano, Sanusi is also a leader of the Nigerian order of the Tijaniyyah, a Sufi Muslim sect with origins in Algeria but with followers across West Africa, including Niger.
He is yet to respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment on the mission to Niamey.
Any escalation would further destabilise West Africa’s Sahel region, one of the world’s poorest, where longrunning violence from armed groups has displaced millions and stoked a hunger crisis.
Niger was suspended from ECOWAS following the military coup, just as Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali were after coups occurred there in the last three years.