In the third quarter of 2023, when Russia is still ravaging the Donbas region and China is continuing to show heavy muscle to Taiwan, a recent power shift in Africa might have drawn the attention of international political leaders. This scenario occurred in a region that might not get most international attention but is of great concern for global stability and security.
On July 26, 2023, Mohamed Bazoum, Niger’s first democratically elected president since independence, was deposed by a military coup. This unsettling trend as the country once again falls into military rule has heightened the security imbalance within the country and beyond, introducing new geopolitical tensions.
Niger is a West African country bordering Algeria, Libya, Chad, and Nigeria. It is the largest country in West Africa, with a land area of 1,267,000 square kilometers. The Sahara Desert covers more than 80% of its land area, and it is home to a number of ethnic groups, including the Hausa, Songhai, Tuareg, and Fulani.
Aside from grappling with political instability, Niger is confronting significant security and socio-economic issues. The Sahel region houses several extremist groups, such as Al Qaeda, the Islamic State, and Boko Haram, which have sparked turmoil and instability in surrounding nations. Additionally, Niger stands as one of the world’s most impoverished countries, with a considerable portion of its population living below the poverty line. The high illiteracy rate further adds to the country’s problems. Niger is also prone to natural disasters like droughts and floods, which take a devastating toll on its population.
Despite these challenges, Niger is blessed with significant reserves of natural resources such as uranium, gold, tin, and iron ore. Its strategic geographical location has attracted global interest, emphasizing its relevance even further. Niger’s role as a security partner is critical for Western countries such as France and the United States, which have used the country as a base to combat Islamic insurgencies in West and Central Africa. However, arguments about France’s historical ties continue, putting doubt on its motivations and goals.
The military takeover in Niger resulted in conflicting reactions. Many people strongly condemned the coup, while others have shown support for it. The persistent French presence, as well as perceived shortcomings in western counterterrorism measures, have fostered anger within the military and the people, allowing power-hungry military leaders to gain control.
The United States, France, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have directly condemned Niger’s military coup and asked the coup leaders to hand over control to legitimate President Mohamed Bazoum immediately. The coup, it is feared, will create an environment suitable for extremist groups such as Boko Haram and Al-Qaeda to exploit the region’s vulnerability as ill-equipped Niger’s military is unable to confront them for a longer period.
ECOWAS has called on the leaders of the military coup in Niger to return to the constitutional process. In the meantime, ECOWAS has also imposed sanctions on the coup leaders, including cutting off electricity supplies from neighboring Nigeria and closing the border. This has led to a shortage of goods in Niger, as the landlocked country no longer has access to a port. The junta has vowed to fiercely resist any armed intervention by regional or western countries in Niger. The European Union (EU), which had been providing financial aid to Niger to improve governance, education, and sustainable growth, has suspended its aid in response to the military coup as well as withdrawn its troops deployed in Niger for military training missions. Human Rights Watch called on Niger’s military to provide a secured stage for a return to a civilian regime and uphold citizens’ rights to democratic elections.
Perusing historical contents, military coups are mostly not sustainable in the long term and will only temporarily benefit the military leaders. They won’t get legitimacy and recognition from the international community, given the coup’s undemocratic nature. This crisis might perpetuate political instability, which could deteriorate the country’s economy. The Niger-Benin Oil Pipeline Project, which is a major economic development for Niger, could be delayed by the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS after the coup. Without the support of the United States and France, Niger will be unable to combat terrorism and other security threats effectively in the region. The military junta takeover in Niger could also lead to an increase in the number of refugees fleeing the country, which will put a strain on neighboring countries and could raise tensions in the region. Additionally, such coups could encourage similar trends in countries with a bad history of civil-military relations, posing a challenge to democracy in the 21st century. Niger was receiving aid from a number of organizations, including the European Union’s Emergency Trust Fund for Africa and the Feed the Future Initiative. These aids could be halted, which would only hurt the people of Niger.
Even though ECOWAS has announced that it will take military action if the junta in Niger does not step down, it is unlikely that ECOWAS will launch a full-scale military operation, as this would likely lead to civilian casualties and a high cost in terms of financial resources and human lives. Additionally, Russia and Wagner, who have supported the junta in neighboring Mali, could also support the junta in Niger. Even though it is highly unlikely that Russia can spare troops to help the Junta when they are already struggling with an ongoing war, they can still supply arms, which could still lead to a proxy war in the region and a challenge to disarmament and arms control, which would be of no one’s interest. The best course of action for the international community is to continue to push the junta to step down through diplomatic pressure in accordance with international law. Only international collective action can preserve the democratic rights of Niger’s citizens and promote peace in this region.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.