NIGER COUP AND GEOPOLITICS IN ECOWAS REGION

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By Paul Ejime

A major decision of the 30 July emergency Summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is the seven-day ultimatum, which the regional leaders handed the coup makers in Niger to either release and reinstate deposed President Mohamed Bazoum or face “all necessary measures, including the use of force, to restore constitutional order.”

The African Union has also issued a similar threat giving the coup leaders a two-week ultimatum to reverse the military takeover, which has elicited multiple interests in an unravelling geopolitical power game.

Niger may be of strategic interest to the U.S. EU and France, for economic and military reasons, but it also underscores the metaphor of “poverty in the midst of plenty.”

A country of 26 million people with many highly priced natural sources such as uranium, oil and gold cannot be said to be poor, but has been impoverished by bad governance in a ruthless conspiracy between internal and external forces.

The Abuja emergency summit convened by Nigeria’s President Ahmed Bola Tinubu, Chair of the ECOWAS Authority of Heads of State and Government also announced other measures against Niger following the coup, including a no-flight zone over the country, suspension of financial transactions with other ECOWAS member States and travel bans on the coup leaders.

The summit six-page Communique said the “Chiefs of Defence Staff of ECOWAS are to meet immediately,” indicating the use of military intervention.

However, defence experts have warned that military option as a solution to the complex political crisis in Niger could spell unintended catastrophe.

The junta leaders have already closed Niger borders, suspended all governance institutions including the constitution and warned against any foreign interference.

Niger armed forces have pledged their support to the coup leaders, who have also been mobilizing the citizens behind their cause.

Bazoum is being held as a bargaining chip by the coup makers, and any military confrontation will only put his life in further jeopardy and could trigger an internal conflict or war between Niger and countries against the coup.

The 26 July coup led by the Head of the Presidential Guard, Brig.-Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani has been widely condemned by the international community, including the African Union, ECOWAS, U.S. UN, and EU, especially France the former colonial power in Niger.

Niger is no stranger to military putsches, having experienced about seven failed or successful ones since its independence from France in 1960.

The latest coup is also the seventh in the West and Central Africa since 2020, when Col Assimi Goita led Mali young military officers to topple the government now late President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Goita has since assumed leadership of a foundering transition programme in Mali after masterminding a second coup in 2021.

Army officers in Guinea Conakry and Burkina Faso have followed the Mali example by toppling elected presidents in their countries with Niger, now the fourth of the 15-nation ECOWAS member where the military have seized political power.

Apart from the threatened use of force or military intervention, the Abuja summit Communique also said the ECOWAS Chair of the Authority is “to dispatch a special representative to Niger immediately to deliver the demands of the Authority.”

Meanwhile, diplomatic sources said Chadian military ruler Gen. Kaka Derby is already in Niamey for talks with the coup leaders in Niger.

It is unclear at whose behest, Gen. Derby, who seized power in 2021 following the assassination of his father Idriss Derby by Chadian rebels, has undertaken the mission.

Nonetheless, many analysts have condemned and described the manner in which the young Derby succeeded his father as “a military coup,” noting that while the coup leaders in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso have been slammed with sanctions, the young Derby is being provided red carpet treatment by both the African Union and now ECOWAS. This is considered as double standards.

The EU, U.S., and France have pledged their support to ousted President Bazoum and demanded his unconditional release and reinstatement while France and the EU have also suspended financial/military support and cooperation with Niger, with the U.S. expected to follow suit.

Suddenly, some foreign leaders that had not congratulated President Tinubu on his electoral victory because of the impending judicial challenge, are now working the phones seeking his intervention in Niger as Chair of the ECOWAS Authority.

It is imperative to send a very strong signal to the Niger junta that military coup is condemnable. But at the same time, Abuja must be vigilant to avoid being pressured or dragged into a proxy war. Both countries share long borders and historical ties.

While some of the multiple sanctions announced against landlocked Niger could put pressure on the coup leaders, if effectively applied, kinetic intervention remains a high-risk option, as mentioned earlier.

The socio-economic and political environment in Niger remains grave and could get worse fuelled by insecurity and mistrust between Bazoum’s Arab tribe and other dominant non-Arab ethnic groups.

According to the UN Human development latest report, Niger is one of the poorest nations in the World despite producing about 5% of the World’s uranium output, in addition to boasting other mineral resources such as cement, coal, gold, gypsum, limestone, salt, silver, tin and oil.

Unfortunately, these minerals are mined by foreign companies who use their huge profits to develop their countries, while Nigeriens wallow in poverty. Host communities of the mines also endure huge burdens of radiation, with the attendant deadly health conditions from the mining activities.

There is also widespread public disaffection with the Bazoum administration, as seen by the arson and wanton destruction of properties by protesters at his political party headquarters in Niamey a day after the latest coup.

Bazoum is reported to have fallen out of favour with his immediate predecessor in office President Mahamadou Issoufou. Coup leader Brig.-Gen Tchiani has served as Head of the Presidential Guard under both presidents, but diplomatic sources disclosed that Bazoum had planned a major reshuffle of the Niger military hierarchy before the coup makers struck.

Ensuring Bazoum’s safety and restoring constitutional order in Niger is a complex mission akin to extricating a charging bull from a well-stocked China shop. Any miscalculation could be costly.

But it is doable, if all sides could demonstrate sincerity, commitment and mutual respects in negotiations with unbiased conflict management and resolution strategy, and with the interest of Niger citizens as the major priority.

The international community has no appetite for military coups, which are an aberration in the contemporary world governed by the principles of multiparty democracy.

At the same time, it is not enough to condemn military coups, while treating “political and ballot box coups” with kid gloves.

ECOWAS, AU, and partners, including the UN and EU must act firmly and proactively without favour or bias, against any disposition toward change of government through unconstitutional means, including change of constitutions, election rigging, corruption, suppression of opposition and violation of citizens’ human rights by individuals, organizations, or governments.

*Paul Ejime is a Global Affairs Analyst and Specialist on Strategic Communications, Media, Governance Issues & Elections

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