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Senegal’s democracy at risk as president calls off election

On Saturday, President Macky Sall called off the election for his replacement without naming a new date, which means he will remain in power extralegally, thrusting the former rock of West African stability into crisis. On Monday, Sall called a special session of Parliament to consider a bill endorsing his decision and allowing a delay of up to six months.

What happened? Karim Wade, son of Sall’s predecessor and a political rival, was running for president but a constitutional court blocked his candidacy last month, alleging he held dual French and Senegalese citizenship. Wade claims he had renounced his French citizenship, and his party launched an investigation into two of the court’s justices last week. Then, in a masterstroke of political judo, Sall backed the investigation – and used it as the excuse to call off the elections.

Will Sall get away with it? The opposition parties rejected the cancellation, and police used tear gas on scattered groups of protesters in Dakar on Sunday, but the mass of civil society did not take to the streets. If elections do go forward – there’s no guarantee – the constitution requires 80 days' notice, and who knows how long the inquiry will take.

On the international stage, the Economic Community of West African States expressed concern but did not condemn the cancellation. ECOWAS has struggled to maintain democratic unity, with military juntas seizing control of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger in recent years, all of which announced their withdrawal last week.

Supporters of Burkina Faso's junta attend a rally to mark the one-year anniversary of the coup that brought Captain Ibrahim Traore to power in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on Sept. 29, 2023.

REUTERS/ Yempabou Ouoba

ECOWAS “officially” loses three junta-run states

Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger say they have withdrawn from West Africa’s largest political bloc – but the Economic Community of West African States says it hasn’t received the paperwork. It won’t matter much in the short term because all three were already suspended by ECOWAS following military coups in their countries. Big picture? The move underlines an emerging cleavage in international alignment between the Sahel, trending toward Russia, and the coastal states with stronger ties to the US and Western Europe.
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Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune chairs the meeting of the Higher Committee for Supervision of Customs Declarations and Commercial Operations Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune chairs the meeting of the Higher Committee for Supervision of Customs Declarations and Commercial Operations in Algeria on Aug. 01, 2023 .

Algerian Presidency Office via Reuters

Algeria tries to play peacemaker in Niger

Algeria announced that the military junta in Niger has accepted its offer to mediate a return to civilian control. In late August, Algiers proposed a six-month-long transition plan, overseen by a civilian.

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Colonel Sidi Mohamed delivers a message as he stands with other Nigerien junta leaders.

Reuters

New African alliance bolsters military junta in Niger

In what could prove to be a major stumbling block to restoring democratic rule in Niger, on Saturday its ruling junta signed a mutual defense pact with the governments of neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso.

The three countries have all seen their governments toppled by military coups since 2020. Niger’s fell most recently in June with the ouster of President Mohamed Bazoum, who remains under arrest on charges of “high treason.”

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Thousands of Nigeriens gather in front of the French army headquarter, in support of the putschist soldiers and to demand the French army to leave, in Niamey, Niger.

Reuters

Niger junta calls out France

The West African nation of Niger has accused former colonial power France of plotting military intervention to reinstate the government of ousted leader Mohamed Bazoum, who was removed from power in a military coup on June 26.

In a statement on national television, a spokesman for the ruling junta, Colonel Amadou Abdramane, claimed that France was deploying forces to other West African countries as “part of preparations for an aggression against Niger” and that military cargo aircraft were unloading supplies and equipment in Senegal, Ivory Coast, and Benin.

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Niger's security forces stands guard as pro junta supporters take part in a demonstration in front of a French army base in Niamey, Niger.

Reuters

Niger’s junta to try ousted president for “high treason”

The prospect of a diplomatic solution in the West African country of Niger – more than two weeks after a military coup – appears more remote than ever after military leaders announced that they’ll prosecute the recently deposed leader.

After weeks of back-and-forth with regional leaders, junta personnel say they will try President Mohamed Bazoum, who’s currently in custody along with his wife and son, for “high treason.”

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Niger's junta supporters take part in a demonstration in front of a French army base in Niamey, Niger, on Aug. 11, 2023.

REUTERS/Mahamadou Hamidou

Talk, not troops, in Niger

West African nations continue to dither on using force in Niger, even after last week’s resolution by the Economic Community of West African States to send in troops to restore the government of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.

Instead, Nigerian President and ECOWAS Chairman Bola Tinubu is pursuing diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis, including green-lighting a mission to Niger by a delegation of Islamic scholars, who met with coup leader General Abdourahamane Tchiani for several hours on Saturday.

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Thousands of supporters of Niger's coup flocked to a stadium in the capital Niamey on Sunday.

Reuters

Niger deadline passes

The Economic Community of West African States threatened to intervene militarily if Niger’s coup leaders didn’t restore the country’s democratically elected leader, President Mohamed Bazoum, by Sunday. That deadline has now passed without any sign of a military response.

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