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Will African states intervene to reinstate ousted Nigerien president?

August 21, 2023 at 7:35 pm

Citizens move on the street with motorcycles as daily life continues in Niamey, Niger on July 26, 2023 [Balima Boureima – Anadolu Agency]

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided on Friday to intervene militarily to reinstate ousted President of Niger Mohamed Bazoum, who was removed from office by the current junta on 26 July.

“The decision has been taken on the exact day of the proposed military intervention in Niger, but we will not announce it,” ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Abdelfattah Moussa told journalists after a number of meetings of army chiefs of staff of member states.

According to Moussa, the chiefs of staff have agreed on the need for military intervention in Niger, stressing that they are ready to act when the order is given. “The military option is not our preferred option, but we are forced to do so because of the instability of the military group in Niger,” said Moussa.

He insisted that ECOWAS “will not engage in an avoidable war” and could withdraw the military option, noting that the group had discussed the potential humanitarian consequences of any military intervention in Niger. The intervention will not be a war, he pointed out, but a short-term operation aimed at restoring democratically-elected Bazoum, who served as the tenth president of Niger from 2021 to 2023. 

READ: Losing Niger is one of the toughest strikes for France in Africa

Will ECOWAS really take the military option to return Bazoum? I don’t think so, because this is not the first time that ECOWAS has raised the possibility. On 30 July, just five days after Bazoum’s removal, ECOWAS issued the junta with a seven-day ultimatum to release Bazoum and return him to power. However, the ultimatum ended and the military option was forgotten. 

The junta in Niger is led by General Abdourahamane Tiani, the commander of the presidential guard who was appointed head of state by a governing council set up by the forces that ousted Bazoum. It saw straight away that ECOWAS is not serious about this option.

The junta did not accept envoys dispatched to the country to discuss the reinstatement of Bazoum. However, the ECOWAS delegation was allowed to meet Bazoum and sit with the junta’s representatives. The message was passed directly to ECOWAS that the Bazoum era has passed into history, and that if the military “adventure” is taken by the organisation, it will not be an easy “trip”. This coincided with massive demonstrations in the streets of the capital Niamey in support of the junta. Calls were made to expel French troops from Niger and chants were heard against ECOWAS.

What kind of democracy do the African states want to regain on the back of a tank and then impose on the people who do not want them anywhere near their country and call for their patron – France – to leave, not only Niger, but also the other Francophone countries in Africa?

Despite saying that it “will not engage in an avoidable war,” ECOWAS renewed its threat. Analysts point out, though, that the organisation is having to reconsider its position because several member states insist that they will not back a military intervention.

Furthermore, the junta in Niger has announced that it will not sit quiet if the country is attacked. It has sought help from other states, and its neighbours have pledged to defend it against any French or ECOWAS attack. What’s more, Russia — which is slowly pushing France out of West Africa — will also step in. It has already helped other nations to deal with France through its Wagner group mercenaries.

Niger’s neighbours Burkina Faso and Mali will help because they know that if France attacks Niger, they will be next. France wants their natural resources. Guinean President Mamady Doumbouya, who carried out a coup on 5 September 2021 and overthrew President Alpha Conde, has pledged that his country will stand with Niger in case of any military attack. These countries believe that if they face enemies together they will win any war, but that they could be picked off one by one if they each stand alone.

READ: Algerian President Tebboune rejects any possible military intervention in Niger

Algerian President Abdelhamid Tebboune has announced that his country is against any military attack on Niger, either by ECOWAS or France. He said that his country, which has a 1,000-kilometre border with Niger, will defend it in the event of any attack. Leaving the Nigeriens to stand alone will destabilise the region, and this will affect Algeria.

The North African country is not part of ECOWAS, but believes that what happened to Libya will happen to Niger should it be attacked. Some argue that Algeria is trying to use the Niger issue to rid itself of the French grip, as it has been bound to Paris with unjust oil, gas and phosphates investment deals.

Nigeria, which at first encouraged ECOWAS to take the military option, but later changed its position, said that its army has been exhausted by the long, ongoing fight against terrorism. Moreover, religious and spiritual leaders of the Sufi communities with influence in Niger, Nigeria, Mali and other West African countries, have met with General Tiani and assured him that they will not support the military option.

I don’t think that West African countries, which have been involved in seemingly never-ending anti-terror campaigns, are ready for military intervention in Niger without France or any other major power alongside them. However, in such a scenario, it will look as if they are helping France to re-colonise the country and restore its military occupation of the region. The strong language used by ECOWAS looks as if it is intended simply to put pressure on the junta in Niger to reinstate Bazoum.

READ: Why military intervention in Niger could be catastrophic for everyone

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.