John Smith
Thu, Aug 10, 2023 8:05 AM

West African States Consider Action against Niger Coup

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West African States Consider Action against Niger Coup
The West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, is discussing potential measures, including military intervention, against the coup in Niger. ECOWAS had given the junta a one-week deadline to reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum, but the deadline passed without compliance. Niger's coup is seen as a threat to the region's democracy and stability, especially in the face of growing Islamist terrorism. The situation poses a significant challenge to ECOWAS, which has successfully conducted missions in the past but risks a larger inter-state conflict.

Niamey/Abuja (dpa) - Two weeks after the military takeover in Niger, the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, is deliberating on potential courses of action against the coup leaders. Under the chairmanship of Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu, ECOWAS had threatened further measures, including military intervention, if the junta did not restore the constitutional order and reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been held captive in his residence in the capital, Niamey, for two weeks. However, the ECOWAS-imposed seven-day deadline expired on Sunday.

Until the coup, Niger was a strategically important ally of the United States and European countries, and it was the last democracy in the Sahel region bordering the Sahara. France and the US have important military bases in Niger with over 1,000 soldiers each, and the German armed forces operate a logistics hub in the country. Following coups in neighboring states Mali and Burkina Faso, which subsequently turned to Russia, Niger was considered the last partner for democratic states in a region plagued by growing Islamist terrorism for over a decade, and it has become a center of jihadism. The Niger is also a central migration route through Libya to Europe.

The country, with a population of 26 million and the highest birth rate in the world, is three and a half times the size of Germany. Despite natural resources such as gold and uranium, over 40 percent of the population live in extreme poverty. President Bazoum has been in power since 2021, following the first democratic transfer of power since Niger gained independence from France in 1960. Prior to his presidency, there had been four military coups, the last one being in 2010.

On July 26, Niger's Presidential Guard, led by General Abdourahamane Tiani, detained the president in his residence because Bazoum reportedly wanted to replace Tiani at the head of the elite unit. After initial speculation about an internal power struggle, other branches of the armed forces joined the coup, announcing "the end of the regime" and dissolving all constitutional institutions. Tiani assumed power.

For ECOWAS, it was "one coup too many," said Aïssata Tall Sall, Senegal's Minister of Foreign Affairs. Following coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, which are also EOCOWAS member states, the military has taken power in Niger, making it the fourth out of 15 EOCOWAS member states since 2020 - all four states have now been suspended. On July 30, ECOWAS imposed sanctions on Niger and called for the reinstatement of Bazoum and the restoration of the constitution within one week, threatening the potential use of force.

Experts primarily attribute the threat of military intervention to Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu. Less than four weeks prior, as he assumed the EOCOWAS chair, the new president of Africa's most populous country had pledged to defend democracy against the wave of coups. "I think it was a deliberate decision to counter the accusation that ECOWAS would once again stand by and watch the military take over," said Marija Peran, Nigeria Country Director at the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation.

Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, and Benin are said to be willing to join a potential intervention. According to a plan approved by EOCOWAS military chiefs, a task force of 25,000 soldiers from the four countries is envisaged, most of which would come from Nigeria - a country with one of the largest armies in Africa, boasting around 230,000 soldiers and a powerful air force. EOCOWAS, with Nigerian involvement, has conducted several successful operations in the region, most recently in The Gambia in 2017. However, these actions were always carried out at the invitation of the respective states.

The suspended EOCOWAS members, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, have aligned themselves with the coup governments. Mali and Burkina Faso stated that any intervention would be considered a "declaration of war." The military junta in Niger closed its airspace and prepared to defend itself. Demonstratively, a delegation from Mali visited Tiani for talks on military cooperation, while a senior US diplomat and EOCOWAS negotiation teams were unable to meet with him.

"A military strike can quickly escalate into a widespread fire. In practice, I can't imagine that," said Sahel Regional Director Ulf Laessing of the Konrad-Adenauer Foundation. Africa analyst Ben Hunter from the British consulting firm Verisk Maplecroft warned, "This would no longer be a counter-insurgency operation but an interstate war and one of the largest wars West Africa has ever seen. It would have catastrophic consequences for the entire Sahel region. It would be a huge risk for ECOWAS."

After initially heated rhetoric, the tone has cooled, even from Nigeria. Germany, the US, and Russia have all emphasized the importance of finding a diplomatic solution. Nigeria's President Tinubu was also quoted as such on Tuesday.

Even in Nigeria, the prospect of intervention in Niger, which would require crossing the 1,600-kilometer border between the two countries, is extremely unpopular. The security situation in Nigeria, with a population of approximately 220 million, is catastrophic, especially along this border. In addition to terrorism and gang violence in the north, there are bloody land conflicts in the center and separatist violence in the southeast. "The Nigerian military is already so understaffed that they cannot handle the problems," cautioned expert Peran. The Senate rejected the deployment of troops.

Military experts believe that an intervention force from other EOCOWAS countries could be at a disadvantage in a confrontation. In recent years, European countries had great hopes for Niger, which was supposed to be developed as an "anchor" for stability in the Sahel region. In 2020, Niger itself announced plans to double its number of soldiers from 25,000 to 50,000 by 2025.

The German special forces mission "Gazelle" alone trained around 500 Nigerien soldiers. Germany built an entire barracks for the country's 41st Special Forces Battalion in western Niger. Equipment and uniforms, vehicles, assault rifles, machine guns, and communication devices were procured for the special forces. Other Nigerien special forces battalions were supported by other Western partner nations - USA, Canada, Italy, Belgium, and partly France.

This does not mean that the Nigerien army overall has the situation under control. Internal military assessments have often been skeptical of the security situation. The Ministry of Defense stated in October to the Bundestag that the "situation in the operational areas" in some regions along the Malian-Burkinabe border and parts of the border with Nigeria was "mostly uncontrollable." Nigerien forces are not capable of taking action against jihadists without support. For this reason as well, there is hope in Berlin that the coup leaders or parts of the armed forces will change course.

Source of content: OOO News 2023-08-10 News

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