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Africa Weekly #73&74 | Coup in Niger and Senegal’s political crisis

  NIAS Africa Team

Africa Weekly #74&75 Vol. 2, No.29 & 30
8 August 2023

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.)

Senegal's political crisis: Four questions
Sneha Surendran

On 28 July, the leader of Senegal’s main opposition party, the Patriots of Senegal for Work, Ethics and Fraternity (PASTEF), Ousmane Sonko, was arrested. He has been implicated in plotting an insurrection, undermining state security, and encouraging political unrest, along with other charges. On 31 July, Senegal’s Minister of Interior and State Security Abdoulaye Daouda, announced that the government had dissolved Sonko’s party, PASTEF, for “frequently calling on supporters to take part in insurrectionary movements.” Violent protests broke out across the country following his arrest. On 1 August, two people died and five were injured in violence that broke out in Sonko’s mayoral town of Ziguinchor; two others died on 2 August. The current protests in the country were reminiscent of the deadly violence of early June 2023 which broke out following the conviction of Sonko on charges of corrupting the youth. The June violence had left around 16 people dead, over 300 injured, and more than 500 arrested. 

Who are the protestors and why are they protesting?
The protestors are predominantly young Senegalese, supporters of Sonko and PASTEF. While the demonstrators demanded Sonko’s release, the protests have served as a platform for people to raise several issues ranging from unemployment, corruption, pandemic hardships, and dissatisfaction with the current government headed by President Macky Sall. Over the years, young people have been disillusioned by the rising cost of living, systemic corruption, and lack of jobs, despite promises of corrective measures by political representatives. Senegal has a substantial youth population with the average age in the country being 19. Despite this, 20 per cent of the workable population remains either unemployed or underemployed. The health sector also remains underdeveloped and income inequality is a persistent concern. The recent protests in the country have been marked by high participation of the youth, including young children. The former director of Amnesty International for West and Central Africa chalked the involvement of the youth to frustration over uncertain economic prospects, stating: “Education no longer holds value. So, when the youth revolt, their little brothers follow.” 

Why are anti-government protests becoming frequent?
Since 2021, anti-government protests have increased in intensity. The primary cause behind the increasing protests is the authoritarian shift of Macky Sall's government. Senegal has long been considered the “poster child of democracy in West Africa” and a symbol of stability in Africa, attributed to the peaceful transfer of power since 2000. However, current President Macky Sall’s government has been accused of using the judiciary to stifle their opposition. Hundreds of political critics have been detained and opposition members were jailed on corruption charges which prevented their candidature in the 2019 presidential elections. According to the Reporters Without Borders' press freedom index 2023, Senegal ranked 104 compared to 49 in 2022, which is attributed to increasing media restrictions and frequent internet shutdowns. Sall’s government has also been denounced for deploying violence against peaceful demonstrations. Security forces have been condemned for firing indiscriminately into crowds and using civilians as human shields.

What does this mean for the upcoming elections?
Sonko’s arrest has been decried by his supporters as deliberate targeting by the government to prevent him from standing for the 2024 presidential elections. While Sonko’s candidature in the elections remains uncertain, there is a possible rise in tensions if he is barred from contesting. Furthermore, according to Senegal’s constitution, Sall cannot stand for a third term, something which he has already confirmed. This is the first time in Senegal’s democratic history that a president has willingly conceded to not stand for a third bid at re-election. However, concerns persist that the government may attempt to amend these provisions or disregard them going forward. Leaders who had been debarred on corruption charges during the 2019 elections will be running for the 2024 elections. 

Will growing conflict in the Sahel region have an impact?
There is a risk of regional instability spilling over into the country. So far, instability in the Sahel region has not had an overreaching impact on Senegal. The country has reinforced its borders with a strong military, especially in the regions bordering Mali. However, increasing military interventions in the neighbourhood have only exacerbated the fear of weakening democracy and instability in Senegal. Military takeovers in Mali, Burkina Faso, and the most recent coup in Niger, have rendered the Sahel region more unstable than before. Furthermore, on 3 August, Senegal informed the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) of their commitment to participate in any of the bloc’s military interventions to restore civilian government in Niger. While the Senegalese government described this as Senegal’s “international commitment,” it will have to tread carefully on its decision to involve itself in regional politics militarily when conflict brews within its borders. 

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

26 July- 8 August
Jerry Franklin, Ryan Marcus, Nithyashree RB, Anu Maria Joseph, Sneha Surendran and Prerana P

Peace talks in Togo discuss Darfur violence  
On 24 July, peace talks conducted in Togo’s capital of Lomé discussed the de-escalation of violence in Sudan’s Darfur region. A Rapid Support Forces (RSF) representative said that they wanted an end to the violence, stating their willingness to be involved in any “kind of meeting for peace and bringing people together, and stop the war in Darfur and in Sudan.” Meanwhile, a Darfur rebel group representative stated that they were attempting to stop the violence from spiralling into a civil war, stressing that “a roadmap and an action plan” were necessary to coordinate with other leaders in the region. Simultaneously, the reopening of the RSF-held El-Geneina airport in Darfur to facilitate humanitarian aid transport was also discussed. (“Peace talks for Sudan's western region of Darfur held in Lomé,Africanews, 26 July 2023)

Nairobi will lead the “assessment mission” says Haiti’s Prime Minister
On 4 August, Al Jazeera reported on the Haitians’ reaction to Kenya’s willingness to lead a multinational force in response to the gang violence in the country. As a result of the persisting violence, Haiti is facing an increase in sexual abuse. In October 2022, Haiti’s Prime Minister Ariel Henry called on the international community to form a “specialised armed force” to counter the rising violence. The Haitian civil society groups resented Henry’s call, stating the consequences of past foreign interventions. On 29 July, Kenya’s Foreign Minister Alfred Mutua offered to deploy 1000 police officers and lead the multinational force on an “assessment mission.” Mutua tweeted: “An assessment Mission by a Task Team of the Kenya Police is scheduled within the next few weeks. This assessment will inform and guide the mandate and operational requirements of the Mission.” While the UN and the US welcomed Nairobi’s decision, there are concerns that the Kenyan police would be in charge, given their deteriorating human rights record. On 1 August, Henry assured that Kenya would be leading the potential mission. ("Scepticism, uncertainty, hope: Haitians react to possible Kenya-led mission," Al Jazeera, 4 August 2023)

Intense clashes in Amhara
On 7 August, BBC reported on intense clashes between Amhara regional forces and Ethiopian federal forces. The clashes were reported in the cities of Bahir Dar and Gondar, in the Amhara region. A state of emergency has been declared in the region following the clashes. Amhara regional head Yilkal Kefale called on the federal government to intervene, claiming that security in the region had become “difficult to control within regular law enforcement mechanisms.” The Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Demeke Mekonnen raised concerns stating: "There could be grievances that have not been addressed, but the best way to solve them is dialogue as any other means will only hinder efforts to address the same grievances, make us lose what we have and complicate issues that we want to be solved permanently.” The Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom, expressed concerns over the ongoing violence. He commented: “Humanitarian access is difficult due to blockage of roads; communication is difficult due to internet suspension.” (Kalkidan Yibeltal, "Fighting intensifies in Ethiopia's Amhara region,” BBC News, 7 August 2023) 

Tigray fighters demobilised back to their homes
On 26 July, BBC reported on the demobilisation of Tigray fighters. A senior figure of Tigray’s administration reported that more than 55,000 Tigray fighters, who took part in Ethiopia's conflict in the Tigray region, were demobilised back to their communities. General Tadesse Worde, the commander of the Tigray force, termed the fighters as “heroes who paid sacrifices.” Over half a million were killed during the conflict, which caused a humanitarian crisis in the country between 2021 and 2022. Additionally, the troops from the Eritrea region were accused of several abuses during the conflict. (Kalkidan Yibeltal, “Tigray fighters demobilised and sent home as 'heroes',” BBC, 26 July 2023)

UN Human rights office closes down
On 5 August, following the end of its mandate by the Ugandan government, the UN’s human rights mission was closed after 18 years of operation in Kampala. Human rights offices in northern Uganda have been closed too. On 4 August, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk, highlighted that most of the 54 NGOs closed in 2021 are still closed, and the amended computer misuse law can curb freedom of expression. Türk added that human rights defenders, civil society actors, and journalists are working in a “hostile environment” ahead of the 2026 elections. He urged the Ugandan government to let the national human rights body function efficiently. ("UN human rights office shuts in Uganda,” BBC News, 4 August 2023)

Protest against the Employment Equity Amendment Law
On 26 July, the opposition Democratic Alliance members marched towards the parliament in protest against the new Employment Equity Amendment (EEA) law in Cape Town. The EEA bill was signed by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on 12 April 2023, to close the racial economic gap. The EEA applies to employers who employ over 50 people except for security and intelligence agencies. Under the law, the Minister of Employment and Labour is to allocate numerical targets to achieve equitable representation. The South African government stated that EEA will bring fairer representation than job losses. (Nkateko Mabasa, "South Africa’s controversial ‘race quota’ law stirs debate,” Al Jazeera, 31 July 2023)

Opposition boycotts the constitutional referendum
On 30 July, the opposition boycotted the constitutional referendum leading to the voting being culminated. The new constitution will provide the President of the Central African Republic Faustin-Archange Touadera a chance to run for a third term. There will be an extension in the presidential term from five to seven years. The Senate will be cancelled and a new role of Vice-President will be introduced. It is expected that the results will be declared by the end of the week, and the constitutional court will adopt it in 21 days. (Azeezat Olaoluwa, “CAR awaits the outcome of the referendum to end term limits,” BBC News, 31 July 2023) 

Attacks on farmers to exacerbate food insecurity 
On 7 August, BBC reported that Save the Children, a charity organization, had warned that Nigeria’s food security was endangered by the attacks on farmers by armed groups. According to data, the first half of this year saw the killing of over 120 farmers and the abduction of over 30 farmers in the country. Furthermore, 25 million Nigerians could be pushed into food insecurity this year as per the UN. (“Armed groups threaten Nigeria food security – charity,” BBC, 7 August 2023)

Military government revokes five agreements signed with France 
On 4 August, French representatives acknowledged the announcement made by the leader of the military coup in Niger, Amadou Abdramane, where he said that Niger was cutting five military cooperation agreements with France. They stated that the deals had been made with the “legitimate authorities” of Niger. Furthermore, the operations of France 24 and RFI, two French state-funded news stations, were also halted. (“France: Deals revoked by Niger military were signed with ‘legitimate’ gov’t,” Al Jazeera, 4 August 2023) 

Mali and Burkina Faso caution against the use of force to overturn the coup 
On 31 July, the military leadership of Niger’s neighbours, Burkina Faso and Mali, announced: “Any military intervention against Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali.” They warned that this would have terrible consequences for the entire region. This comes after the regional bloc ECOWAS, suggested the use of force to reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum in Niger who was overthrown in a coup on 26 July. The military leaders further announced their refusal to levy the “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane sanctions against the people and authorities of Niger.” (Burkina Faso, Mali warn against military intervention in Niger,” Al Jazeera, 1 August 2023) 

EU reassures that no risks in the uranium supply
On 1 August, Euratom, the EU’s nuclear agency, reassured that the coup in Niger would not have any consequences on the EU’s nuclear power generation that uses uranium from Niger. According to the agency, they have enough uranium reserves to last another three years, stating: “If imports from Niger are being cut, there are no immediate risks to the security of nuclear power production in the short term.” Euratom reported that in 2022, 25.4 per cent of the EU’s natural uranium was sourced from Niger. (“EU sees no uranium supply risks to nuclear production after Niger coup,” Al Jazeera, 1 August 2023)

France cancels aid
On 7 August, France cancelled all development aid and budget support to Burkina Faso as the ECOWAS deadline to restore the ousted Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum ended on 6 August. Bamoko condemned ECOWAS’ announcement of possible military intervention in Niger, by calling it a “declaration of war,” following the coup in Niger. ("France suspends aid to Burkina Faso," BBC News, 7 August 2023)

ECOWAS president emphasizes rising insecurity in West Africa
On 25 July, the President of the ECOWAS, Omar Touray,  highlighted in the UNSC that West Africa registered 1800 attacks resulting in 4593 deaths in 2023. In the first six months of 2023, 2275 attacks have been recorded in Burkina Faso, 844 in Mali, 77 in Niger, and 70 in Nigeria. Touray added that 6.2 million are internally displaced due to lack of food and 42 million will face food insecurity in August 2023. He stated: “The reversal of democratic gains runs parallel to the insecurity that West Africa and the Sahel have been facing for some time now.” Touray added that ECOWAS military chiefs proposed a brigade of 5000 at an annual cost of USD 2.3 billion or deployment of troops on request at an annual cost of USD 360 million. He called for the allocation of funds from the UN's regular budget for the AU’s peace operations. (“Over 1,800 ‘terrorist attacks in West Africa in 2023: ECOWAS,” Al Jazeera, 26 July 2023)

Russia’s President proposes free grain for six African countries 
On 27 July, Al Jazeera reported that following Russia’s withdrawal from the Black Sea grain deal, Vladimir Putin offered to send free grain to six African countries. According to Putin, Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea, and the Central African Republic will receive nearly 50,000 tonnes of grain over the next three to four months, stating: “I have already said that our country can replace Ukrainian grain, both on a commercial basis and as grant aid to the neediest African countries, more so since we expect another record harvest this year.” Putin made the statements at a summit he attended with nearly 50 African leaders. However, an official from the Centre for Global Development said that grain aid will fall short of securing food needs in Africa. (“Russia making efforts to avert food crisis, Putin tells African nations,” Al Jazeera, 27 July 2023)

About the Authors
Nithyashree RB is a Postgraduate Scholar from Stella Maris College, Chennai. Anu Maria Joseph is a Research Assistant at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore. Jerry Franklin is a Postgraduate Scholar from Madras Christian College, Chennai. Ryan Marcus is an Undergraduate Scholar at Kristu Jayanti College, Bangalore. Sneha Surendran is a Postgraduate Scholar at OP Jindal University, Haryana. Prerana P is a Postgraduate Scholar at the Christ (Deemed To Be University), Bangalore.

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