GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 718, 10 August 2023

Niger: Standoff after the coup
Jerry Franklin 

In the news
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 will be a “last resort” to bring 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, the US Acting Deputy Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, stated that her requests to meet with Bazoum, whom she referred to as being under "virtual house arrest," were turned down. Nuland stated: “They are quite firm in their view of how they want to proceed, and it does not comport with the Constitution of Niger.”

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 Niger's coup leaders. 

On 7 August, the spokesperson of the Niger's National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, Amadou Abdramane announced Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine as the new Prime Minister. 

Issues at large
First, consistent regional and global pressure on Niger. ECOWAS has taken a firmer position against Niger compared to its stance against the previous coups in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali. Following ECOWAS sanctions, Nigeria has disconnected the 80 MegaWatt Birnin-Kebbi power line, and Ivory Coast has stopped both the import and export of commodities from Niger. France has called for the swift restoration of constitutional order and has ceased providing financial and developmental aid. The US had paused aid projects for Niger worth over USD 100 million. The continued sanctions on Niger are intended to increase pressure on the junta to reinstate civilian rule.

Second, increasing global support for ECOWAS. Niger's significance in the Sahel region cannot be overstated, particularly considering the strategic interests of the US, France, and the European Union. The country supplies seven per cent of global Uranium exports. Additionally, the United States and former colonial power France view Niger as a key partner in addressing security issues in the region as it borders seven African countries, including Libya, Chad, and Nigeria fighting multiple insecurity issues. The above reasons increased the number of countries supporting ECOWAS's position against the coup. 

Third, continuing resistance from the junta. 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. Additionally, the coup leaders defied efforts from the US and the UN to engage in talks. As a retaliation to the imposed sanctions, the coup leaders closed Niger’s airspace and dismissed five military cooperation agreements with France. 

Fourth, the national, regional, and global support for coup leaders. On 3 August, during Niger's independence anniversary from France, nearly 30,000 people, mostly young individuals, gathered in central Niamey to express their support for the military takeover. They waved Russian flags and chanted slogans against France during the demonstration. The leaders and supporters of the coup are incorporating anti-French and anti-West sentiments into their propaganda. 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. Russian paramilitary, the Wagner Group leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin praised the coup leaders in Niger for driving the colonisers out of the country who he alleges were supporting terrorist groups in the country. 

In perspective
First, the standoff between coup leaders and ECOWAS would only add instability to Niger. To condemn the coup, the international community has frequently declared sanctions, which could potentially have unavoidable counter effects on the country at large. The sanctions have affected the socio-economic conditions of the people of Niger which significantly depends on foreign aid. 

Second, comparable backing for ECOWAS and the junta. The coup leaders and ECOWAS both enjoy backing from regional and international actors. There is a possibility of conventional war if ECOWAS use military intervention. Meanwhile, ECOWAS's strong stance on the coup in Niger will have a significant impact on future coup attempts and political conduct across West Africa.

Third, the prudent course of action is not military intervention.  Nigeria may provide the largest contingent of soldiers to the ECOWAS military force; however, the country is not prepared to lead a regional conflict. Mass migration, high mortality, and disruption would undoubtedly follow. A regional conflict between weaker countries would be self-destructive given the Sahel region's enormous economic, developmental, and humanitarian issues.

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