GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 728, 26 August 2023

Niger: Continuing standoff
Jerry Franklin A

In the news
On 22 August, the African Union suspended Niger’s membership. The African Union's Peace and Security Council stated: “We are studying the ECOWAS decision to prepare forces for deployment in Niger, and the African Commission will evaluate its repercussions. We strongly reject any external interference by any party or country in the affairs of the continent, including private military companies.”

On 19 August, a delegation from the ECOWAS met the deposed president of Niger, Mohamed Bazoum, and had discussions with the head of the military administration, General Abdourahmane Tchiani.

On 18 August, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) agreed on a "D-day" for potential military intervention to restore democracy in Niger. Al Jazeera quoted ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace, and Security, Abdel-Fatau Musah: “We are ready to go any time the order is given. The D-day is also decided. We’ve already agreed and fine-tuned what will be required for the intervention.”

On 16 August, the United Nations issued a warning, appealing for humanitarian exceptions on sanctions and border restrictions to prevent a humanitarian crisis, stating the present situation in Niger might significantly worsen the already severe food shortages in the country. The acting regional director of the World Food Programme (WFP) for Western Africa, Margot van der Velden, stated: "Our work is vital for the most vulnerable in Niger and needs to continue, particularly in the current circumstances. We urge all parties to facilitate humanitarian exemptions, enabling immediate access to people in need of critical food and necessities.”

Issues at large
First, the continuing standoff. ECOWAS has ordered the mobilisation of a standby military force, ready to invade Niger, in case the military refuses to relinquish power. All member countries of ECOWAS, except Cape Verde and those under military control, are prepared to join the standby force. Several ECOWAS delegations that were dispatched to meet with the junta did not receive positive responses. The African Union has expelled Niger from all its initiatives and warned its members to refrain from taking any actions that would give the junta legitimacy.  It called on the AU Commission to develop a list of junta members and their sympathisers for “the application of individual punitive measures” and targeted sanctions. On 10 August, the coup leaders in Niger proclaimed the establishment of a new government. The new cabinet consists of 21 ministers. This new government counters the requests for President Mohamed Bazoum's reinstatement made by the ECOWAS and other international bodies. During the delegation’s recent visit to Niger, the coup leaders proposed a three-year transition plan and claimed that the specifics of the transfer of power would be determined within 30 days; however, the ECOWAS did not accept the proposal and urged the immediate restoration of civilian administration. 

Second, the divided public. Niger’s military accuses ousted President Mohamed Bazoum of treason, alleging that he had undermined the internal and external security of the country. The junta has considerable support from Niamey's residents who routinely participated in anti-sanctions protests. On the other hand, another section is carrying protests against the coup. Rhissa Ag Boula a former politician and rebel leader, has started a movement opposing the military administration, indicating the first internal opposition. 

Third, the unbounding challenges. The neighbouring countries, including Chad and Niger, have expressed their grave concerns over the rise in crime and instability along the border regions. The people across the region are under pressure because of the unprecedented high cost of necessary food products, and it is getting harder for them to pay for their basic needs. For the neighbouring countries, the combination of increased insecurity and rising food costs has resulted in a catastrophic scenario. The military coup in Niger is affecting UN humanitarian activities because of border and airspace restrictions and posing a threat to the supply of food and medication. Currently, there are 4.3 million people in Niger who need humanitarian aid. On 16 August, near the Burkina Faso-Niger border, a terrorist strike by Islamists killed 17 soldiers and another 20 were reportedly injured. According to Al Jazeera, since the military ousted the government in Niamey, there have been seven attacks against the country’s armed forces by insurgent groups.

In perspective
First, the stalemate between ECOWAS and Niger is likely to continue and may worsen. The continuing standoff between the ECOWAS and Niger’s junta makes it difficult to find common ground to resolve the confrontation. Both the junta and ECOWAS stand firm in their stance and seek to uphold their stand at any cost. The announcement of a three-year transition is a constructive move; yet, there is a possibility of military intervention. 

Second, a divided society and its implications for the military in Niger. People who support the junta find the takeover a significant step to oppose the neo-colonial engagement of the West. The supporters of President Bazoum highlight that the coup will disregard his notable advancements in security and development, including the campaign against insurgency, girls’ access to secondary school, and promoting the resettlement of villages affected by conflict.

Third, Niger is on the verge of an economic and security crisis. The sanctions on Niger would increase the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance. If not resolved, the crisis will worsen the region's deteriorating security and economic situation. 

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