Niger: One coup d'état too many for the Sahel region

Niger: One coup d’état too many for the Sahel region

Thursday evening the heads of state of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) therefore gave the green light to a military intervention in Niger. The junta which overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26 had already been put on notice by the regional organization which had given it a week to return power to the deposed president still detained with his family in the presidential residence.

This Friday, the international community multiplied worried messages about the situation of Mohamed Bazoum. The European Union expressed its “deep concern” about “the deterioration of detention conditions” of Mr. Bazoum, held prisoner with his wife and son. they “have, according to the latest information, been deprived of food, electricity and healthcare for several days (…). There is nothing to justify such treatment”, denounced the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell. The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, also expressed “his deep concerns” on “the deterioration of detention conditions” by Mr. Bazoum.

And the prospect of a military intervention by ECOWAS raises fears for his security: according to one of his relatives, the putschists brandished “the threat” to attack him if such an operation was launched.

Is war inevitable?

No. ECOWAS does not hide the fact that it still hopes to achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis. She did not specify any timetable, nor the number or origin of the soldiers making up this “standby force”. The West African bloc, larger than ECOWAS, has never ruled out the diplomatic route to reinstate Mr. Bazoum.

France and the United States, for their part, have expressed their support for ECOWAS with different accents. Paris reiterated “his strong condemnation of the attempted putsch underway in Niger”. On the American side, the head of diplomacy Antony Blinken declared his support for ECOWAS but without forgetting to add that “The United States appreciates ECOWAS’ determination to explore all options for a peaceful resolution of the crisis”.

Why this mobilization?

The ECOWAS countries do not hide the fact that they fear a movement of contagion. “We must never forget that all these officers know each other in the region. They see that their colleagues, who sometimes studied at the same schools, took radical decisions which led them to power. This can give ideas, especially if political power, often accused of being incapable of confronting threats, does not react., explained an African diplomat last week. For him, “the crisis in Niger is one too many for the heads of state of the region. They cannot remain without reaction even if it will be complicated”.

The military, for their part, highlights the fact that political errors and the Islamist surge, in particular, have terrible effects in their ranks. Frédéric Lejeal, Africanist, explains in his work on “The Franco-African decline” (L’Harmattan) that “the military pays the heaviest price”. It lists an impressive series of attacks in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger between 2019 and 2021. They caused dozens of deaths among soldiers in the region. He writes in particular that in March 2021, the election of Mohamed Bazoum as head of Niger was greeted by a wave of attacks.

Are juntas doing better than their predecessors?

No. The maps of Mali are significant. The junta continued to lose ground to the jihadists. The observation is similar in Burkina Faso where Islamist movements continue to progress. The arrival of Wagner’s mercenaries in Mali did not change this situation.

Until now, these juntas have benefited from the powerful impact of social networks fueled by Russian troll factories which have highlighted the responsibility of Westerners and in particular France in this failure against the Islamists. It is striking to note the extent to which certain slayers of the West, presenting themselves as champions of Pan-Africanism, are throwing themselves into the arms of Moscow. “Do you know a lot of Africans who spend their money buying posters of Putin or Russian flags? The activism of Russian diplomacy on the ground is terribly effective,” insists our diplomat from Central Africa.

Can the Nigerian army resist?

The Niger army barely exceeds 5,000 men. “The Sahel armies, like most African armies, are under-equipped, corrupt and understaffed., explains Frédéric Lejeal. The armies of Burkina Faso and Mali, who promised assistance to their brothers in Ares of Niamey in the event of an attack, are barely doing better.but we must not forget that these armies must face very complex security situations on their national territory. They will therefore not be able to mobilize many soldiers,” he continues. It remains to be seen who would make up the intervention force and how many men will be part of it. The real regional military force is undoubtedly Nigeria, which has an army of more than 135,000 men. But they too must face a very complicated security situation, without forgetting a real ethnic link between Nigerien and Nigerian soldiers. “We must not lose sight of popular support. This intervention, if it takes place, will not be well accepted in the region and the Russians can be trusted to encourage this movement on social media., explains our diplomat. The balance between letting go carries the risk of contagion and intervention, experienced as repression, is very delicate. “We absolutely must still leave time for negotiation. Everyone will lose in the event of military intervention”, continues the diplomat.