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Coup in Niger: Manifold national, regional and international stances

  Jerry Franklin A

On 26 July, Colonel Amadou Abdramane, along with nine other soldiers, declared the "end of the regime of President Mohammed Bazoum," citing poor governance and worsening security conditions. The coup leaders announced the suspension of all institutions and the closure of the country's borders. Additionally, they pledged to safeguard Bazoum's safety and cautioned against any foreign interference.

On 10 August, the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met in the Nigerian capital Abuja to discuss the coup in Niger. Following the meeting, the leaders of the bloc agreed to assemble a “standby” military force. Meanwhile, Nigerian President Bola Tinubu said that the use of force would be a “last resort” in bringing constitutional order to Niger. The meeting comes after the coup leaders disobeyed an ultimatum to reinstate the ousted president by 6 August.

On 7 August, in response to regional threats to intervene against the coup leaders in Niger, the governing juntas of Mali and Burkina Faso dispatched delegations to Niamey to demonstrate their solidarity with coup leaders.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken applauded ECOWAS’ leadership in their call for constitutional order and decision to resort to all peaceful resolutions after the bloc approved a “standby” force.

The role of ECOWAS
Established in 1975, the major agenda of the ECOWAS is to encourage economic integration, cooperation, and development among its member states. Additionally, it aims to maintain political stability and support democracy in the region. As a result of recent coups in neighbouring countries, including Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, and currently Niger, the bloc has taken a commendable stance by suspending their membership and refusing to acknowledge the new administrations.

Previously, during the 1990s and early 2000s, ECOWAS was involved in a regional peacekeeping initiative called ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG), with Nigeria serving as the head. ECOMOG was deployed to Liberia in 1990 following a destructive civil war and to Sierra Leone in 1998 after a democratically elected government was overthrown. Back in 2013, the bloc sent troops to Mali to drive out rebels who had links to al- Qaeda. In May 2014, Guinea-Bissau was able to return to civilian rule with the help of ECOWAS. After a transitional period of two years, the country held presidential and legislative elections successfully, resulting in the election of a new president and a return to constitutional order. ECOWAS deployed a mission to the Gambia in 2016 to preserve the election outcome and ensure a peaceful transition of power.

ECOWAS has been pressuring Niger by imposing strict sanctions and issuing threats of possible military intervention if the deposed President is not reinstated. The state assets of Niger in the central bank of the region and the assets of state-owned firms in commercial banks have been frozen. Additionally, financial aid from regional development institutions has been stopped. As a result of sanctions imposed by ECOWAS, Nigeria has disconnected the 80-megawatt Birnin-Kebbi power line, and Ivory Coast has stopped both importing and exporting commodities from Niger.

International pressure on Niger to bring civilian rule back
Niger's significance in the Sahel region cannot be overstated, particularly with the economic interests of the US, France, and the European Union. The country is the seventh major exporter of uranium globally, and the military takeover poses a potential threat to its supply. Additionally, the United States and former colonial power France view Niger as a key partner in addressing security issues in the area as it borders seven African nations, including Libya, Chad, and Nigeria. These reasons increased the number of countries supporting ECOWAS's position against the overthrow of civilian rule by force. Many sanctions have been imposed on Niger from both the regional and international actors demanding to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum and restore constitutional order.

Furthermore, Niger has been facing continuous sanctions from international actors. France has called for the swift restoration of constitutional order and has ceased providing financial and developmental aid. The US paused aid projects to Niger worth over USD 100 million. After the coup, the Dutch government temporarily stopped working directly with the government of Niger to promote security and development activities. The World Bank halted payments until further notice, except for collaborations with the private sector, which it stated would proceed cautiously.

National, regional, and international backing for Niger
The transitional administration in Niger has refused to comply with the ultimatum issued by ECOWAS to reinstate Bazoum to power. Additionally, the coup leaders have issued warnings against any external interference. According to the French magazine Jeune Afrique, the military administration of Niger had refused to give the African Union (AU) permission to deploy a joint mission with members of the UN and the ECOWAS intended to restore constitutional order. Moreover, the coup leaders defied efforts from the US and the UN to engage in talks. As a retaliation to the sanctions, the coup leaders closed Niger’s airspace and dismissed five military cooperation agreements with France, and ceased transmissions of the French international news channels including France 24 and RFI.

On 3 August, during Niger's independence anniversary from France, an estimated 30,000 people, mostly young individuals, gathered in central Niamey to express their support for the military takeover against President Mohamed Bazoum. They waved Russian flags and chanted slogans against France during the demonstration. The leaders and supporters of the coup incorporated anti-French and anti-West sentiments into their propaganda as a significant component. The military leaders of Mali and Burkina Faso have warned that any military attempt to reinstate Bazoum to power could be considered a “declaration of war” against them. The Wagner group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin applauded the coup leaders in Niger for driving the colonizers out of the country, who he alleges were supporting terrorist groups in the country. Wagner group could potentially provide support to Niger if ECOWAS chooses to intervene with military action.

What does it mean?
Varying national, regional and international stances have put the whole crisis in a standoff. Frequent sanctions by regional and international actors could potentially have unavoidable negative effects on the country at large. The sanctions have affected the socio-economic situation of Nigeriens as the main borders to Benin and Nigeria closed, where the majority of essential imports, such as staple foods like rice, are typically trucked in from nearby nations.

Currently, West Africa is facing a critical security situation and the most alarming scenario that could occur is a military operation by ECOWAS. There is a possibility of conventional war if ECOWAS uses military intervention. How ECOWAS leaders handle this coup will have a significant impact on future coup attempts and political conduct across the continent of Africa. Nigeria may provide the largest contingent of soldiers to the ECOWAS military force, but the country is not prepared to lead a regional conflict. Mass migration, high mortality, and disruption would undoubtedly follow. An internal battle between weak nations would be self-destructive given the Sahel region's enormous economic, developmental, and humanitarian issues.

(Part of the commentary has been previously published as pasrt of the NIAS-IPRI-KAS Conflict Weekly.)

About the author

Jerry Franklin is a Postgraduate Scholar at Madras Christian College, Chennai.

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