Niger, Ecowas Wrangle over Mamadou Tandja

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has attempted to exert authority over Niger ever since the country’s constitutional and leadership crisis of summer 2009. Struggles between ECOWAS and Nigerien leaders subsided with the military’s ouster of President Mamadou Tandja this February. Now ECOWAS and Niger are again at odds, this time over the fate of Tandja himself.

Since the coup, the military junta has kept Tandja under house arrest. On Monday, an ECOWAS court ordered Tandja’s release, ruling that his detention violated his rights. ECOWAS officials “called on Niger’s military junta to respect [the] decision.”

AFP reports that Niger’s leaders have different ideas:

Niger rejected a ruling by a West African regional court that it release ousted president Mamadou Tandja from captivity, and will seek a judicial review of the case, a government source said Tuesday.

“Niger’s government will demand a review of the trial, the only possibility it has before the court,” said the source on condition of anonymity.

From this it sounds as though Niamey respects the court’s authority enough to grant it some legitimacy and operate, at least to a limited extent, on the court’s terms. But if Nigerien leaders cannot obtain the legal outcome they want, will they adhere to the court’s original decision?

AFP notes that “the ECOWAS court, based in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, has no power to enforce its rulings.” Undoubtedly the military junta in Niger recognizes this fact as well. If push comes to shove, as it well might, I expect they might hold Tandja until after the transition to civilian rule is complete (April).

ECOWAS has succeeded in constructing regional governance and legal frameworks, but not in translating these institutions’ existence into broad authority in places like Niger. The fact that both civilian autocrats (Tandja) and the current crop of military leaders have defied ECOWAS shows how far the organization has to go before it will have full power over its member states.

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