John Smith
Sat, Aug 5, 2023 1:10 PM

Regional Efforts to Reverse Niger Coup in Jeopardy as Tensions Escalate

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Regional Efforts to Reverse Niger Coup in Jeopardy as Tensions Escalate
Regional efforts to restore democracy in Niger and reverse the military coup have hit a roadblock as tensions rise ahead of the Sunday deadline for possible military intervention by other West African countries. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is divided, with some neighboring countries supporting the junta. The situation could escalate into a proxy conflict involving outside forces and have devastating consequences for the region. Nigeria, with its large military force, plays a central role in these efforts and may face challenges on the domestic front.

The recent military coup in Niger and the subsequent power struggle to restore democracy have reached a critical juncture as regional mediation attempts falter. With the deadline for possible military intervention by other West African countries approaching on Sunday, tensions have escalated.

The defense chiefs of the region, meeting in Nigeria's capital Abuja on Friday, devised a plan for a military intervention against the Niger junta - pending approval from their political leaders - if Mohamed Bazoum is not reinstated as Niger's president. However, the delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to Niger, led by Nigeria's former head of state, General Abdulsalami Abubakar, failed to secure a meeting with coup leader General Abdourahmane Tchiani. The junta leader later warned that any aggression against Niger would be met with immediate and unequivocal response.

What started as an overthrow of the president by his close commanders in the Presidential Guard has gained support from other soldiers, including the leadership of the Niger army. This would be the first time in years that the ECOWAS regional bloc attempts to forcefully quell a coup in West Africa, following multiple successful coups in the region since 2020.

"The events of the past two days make it more likely that this (military) intervention could actually happen," said Nathaniel Powell, Africa analyst at the geopolitical intelligence agency Oxford Analytica. "And if they resist an ECOWAS intervention, this could really have catastrophic consequences."

While ECOWAS moves forward with its intervention plans, it does so as a divided family, with three other regimes - Mali and Burkina Faso, neighboring Niger, and Guinea - siding with the junta.

The other neighbors of Niger include Chad, whose leader has tried to mediate between the coup plotters and ECOWAS, and Algeria and Libya, which are not members of the bloc. This limits any potential military intervention by land to the 1,600 km-long border between Nigeria and Niger.

The specifics of the military intervention strategy in landlocked Niger are yet to be revealed, but the country has a territorial advantage. With Bazoum detained in the capital, Niamey, that is where the focus will begin.

With a population of 25 million, Niger is the second-largest country in West Africa in terms of land area, spanning over 1.26 million square kilometers - one hundred times larger than Gambia, where ECOWAS last militarily intervened in 2017.

Leading the efforts to reverse the coup in Niger is long-standing ally Nigeria, which currently chairs ECOWAS. Nigeria has the largest military power in West Africa, with 223,000 personnel - 22 times more than Niger's 10,000-strong army according to World Bank Open Data - and four times more than the combined armies of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Guinea.

In Niger, it is believed that the military intervention may involve airstrikes. However, with Bazoum still in custody, he could serve both as a bargaining chip and protection for the junta.

A land-based intervention force coming from Nigeria would have to traverse a significant portion of sparsely inhabited land that is home to more than 200,000 refugees who have fled violence in northern Nigeria, further complicating any military deployment.

Niger's international airport in Niamey is a mere 12 kilometers (7 miles) away from the presidential palace where Bazoum is held, which could pose challenges for the intervention force. The country has two other international airports, including one in Agadez where US forces operate a drone base.

The latest military takeover amid a surge in coups in West Africa has particularly alarmed the West, which viewed Niger as its last strategic partner in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel. Niger is also significant for the global market in various aspects, including its 5% share in global uranium supply.

Nnamdi Obasi, a senior adviser at the International Crisis Group, warned that a military intervention "could also degenerate into a proxy conflict between forces outside Africa, between those supporting the restoration of democracy and those backing the junta, which has taken a strong anti-Western stance."

On one side are Niger's longstanding strategic allies, the United States and France. On the other side are Russia and its private military company, Wagner, which have been praised as allies by the military regimes of Mali and Burkina Faso.

There are concerns that any fighting in the event of an ECOWAS military intervention will not be confined to Niger's capital, Niamey.

"I fear that the junta would gladly use its own people as cannon fodder or human shields, and ECOWAS troops have a poor track record when it comes to avoiding collateral damage," said James Barnett, a West Africa researcher at the Hudson Institute.

Even the best-case scenario for such an intervention would leave ECOWAS troops in the country as anti-coup forces for an extended period. This is not conducive to democracy - both for the nation and the region, according to Powell of Oxford Analytica.

"That would make Bazoum look like he is president only because of foreign armies, and that would destroy his legitimacy."

Nigeria, leading the ECOWAS intervention in Niger, may face challenges on the domestic front, where its army grapples with overwhelmed and outnumbered personnel fighting armed groups that have killed thousands of people in the northern and central regions over the past year.

"The Nigerian army has internal problems within Nigeria," said Bello Tangaza, a resident of Tangaza in the northern Sokoto state. "They have bandits, they have Boko Haram - but they haven't been able to address these problems, and now they want to jump into Niger."

A Nigeria-led military intervention could divert attention from the armed groups that occasionally cross into the country through the porous border with Niger. On Wednesday, four people were kidnapped by armed men in the Tangaza district, and residents fear the situation will not improve quickly if the army turns its attention to Niger.

Source of content: OOO News 2023-08-05 News

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