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Niger coup divides West African states, may weaken Ecowas

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Picture: ORTN-Télé Sahel/AFP – General Abdourahamane Tchiani, Niger’s new strongman, speaks on national television after seizing power from president Mohamed Bazoum late last month.

By Dr Sizo Nkala

Niger President Mohamed Bazoum was detained in the presidential palace by the members of the Presidential Guard on July 26 in a coup d’etat which saw yet another military takeover in West Africa.

Announcing the coup on national TV, Colonel Amadou Abdramane said that the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) had “decided to put an end to the regime you know”.

He cited the continuing deterioration of the security situation and poor economic and social governance as the reasons for the army’s takeover.

He announced that land and air borders were closed pending the stabilisation of the situation.

The military later announced General Abdourahamane Tchiani who served as the head of the presidential guard as the new head of state chairing the CNSP.

In his televised speech, General Tchiani said the country was on the brink of demise (due to internal security challenges and the economic crisis) and the army had to take responsibility.

He pleaded for the understanding and support of Niger’s “technical and financial partners” to help the country overcome its challenges.

Abdramane who first announced the coup, was later quoted as saying that the country’s constitution and other institutions had been suspended.

It seems the decision to appoint Tchiani did not receive unanimous support from the army as he prevailed with the support of the majority.

The military takeover in Niger drew swift condemnation from the international community including France, Britain, the EU, the US, the UN, the AU who have all called for the reinstatement of Bazoum.

The French President, Emmanuel Macron, whose country has important mining and security interests in Niger, described the coup as illegitimate and posing danger not only to Niger but to the Sahel region as a whole.

France and the US have 1,500 and 1,000 soldiers stationed in Niger respectively and have been collaborating with the Niger government in fighting the terrorist insurgents in the country and the wider Sahel region.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) met in Nigeria on July 31 to deliberate on the military takeover in Niger.

The regional bloc issued a one-week ultimatum for Niger’s military leaders to return power to the ousted president failing which Ecowas would “take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger such measures may include the use of force”.

Ecowas also imposed immediate sanctions on Niger which included the closure of air and land borders, suspension of commercial and financial transactions between Ecowas members and Niger and freezing of all assets belonging to Niger’s public institutions in the central banks of Ecowas member states.

Travel bans have also been imposed on the military personnel taking part in the coup.

If implemented, these sanctions will bring Niger to its knees.

The EU, France and Britain have suspended all aid to Niger and have moved to evacuate their citizens as the Ecowas deadline approaches.

The US has also threatened to suspend its aid to Niger. The West African country which is one of the poorest countries in the world gets over $2 billion in official development assistance which it relies on to provide essential services for its people.

However, in an unexpected twist of events which has complicated the situation even further, Burkina Faso and Mali, who are also ruled by the military issued a statement in response to Ecowas warning that any military intervention in Niger would mean a declaration of war on their countries.

Implicit in their statement is that they would also intervene militarily if Niger is attacked. The two countries have also refused to join what they have called “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane” sanctions imposed by Ecowas on Niger.

Guinea, another military state, also released its own statement expressing its disagreement with Ecowas and asking the regional bloc to reconsider its position.

As such, the coup in Niger is already deepening divisions in the region between military rulers and civilian rulers and will weaken Ecowas going forward. In the worst-case scenario, a regional conflict may erupt pitting Ecowas member states who took the decision to sanction Niger and the countries with military regimes.

Moreover, the political developments in Niger will complicate the fight against terrorism and insurgency which have continued to affect the Sahel region.

The region is home to numerous terrorist outfits such as JNIM, Islamic State West Africa (ISWA), Islamic State Sahel Province (ISSP), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Al Murabitoun, Ansar Dine, Katiba Macina and Boko Haram who continue to wreak havoc.

As a result, the Sahel region is disproportionately affected by terrorism accounting for about 43% of global terrorism deaths. Niger had served as the base for counter-terrorism efforts assisted by the major powers like France and the US.

These efforts will be derailed because of the coup thus giving the terrorist outfits more room to manoeuvre which will worsen the security situation.

Further, if Niger’s putschists somehow manage to survive the threats from Ecowas and the international community, militaries in other countries willing to seize power may be emboldened. This would see more coups happening and democracy backsliding further.

*Dr Sizo Nkala is A Research Fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Africa-China Studies