AS Niger’s political turmoil persists following the military ousting of President Mohamed Bazoum last month, regional countries find themselves in a credibility crisis with limited options and diminishing time to reinstate democratic governance, warn analysts.
Defence chiefs representing the West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, are meeting in Ghana on Thursday to address the escalating crisis in Niger. The situation has reached a critical point after the deadline passed for mutinous soldiers to release and reinstate President Bazoum. The president was overthrown in July and remains under house arrest in the capital, Niamey, along with his wife and son.
ECOWAS recently took a significant step by ordering the deployment of a ‘standby force’ to restore constitutional rule in Niger. However, uncertainties surround the timing and effectiveness of potential military intervention. The deployment would likely consist of troops from Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, and Benin, and the preparation could extend for weeks or even months.
In spite of ECOWAS’s determination to address Niger’s coup, its track record in curbing the region’s recurring coups, as witnessed in Burkina Faso and Mali, remains suboptimal. The response to Niger’s coup involves not only the threat of military intervention but also severe economic and travel sanctions, yet the situation is growing complex as negotiations stagnate and time progresses.
Andrew Lebovich, a research fellow at the Clingendael Institute, told The Associated Press (AP), ‘ECOWAS has few good options … particularly as the [junta] seems unwilling for the moment to cede to outside pressure.’ He stressed that intervention risks backfiring and weakening ECOWAS’s political standing. ‘An intervention could backfire and damage the organization in numerous ways, while a failure to extract major concessions from the (junta) could weaken the organisation politically at an already fragile time,’ he said.
The African Union’s Peace and Security Council is also deliberating whether to support military intervention, but its decision remains undisclosed. Concerns have arisen that military action could exacerbate regional instability, leading to potential overruling by the AU to protect broader stability.
The coup’s aftermath has led to a suspension of Western countries’ military operations in Niger, contributing to an upsurge in attacks. The security vacuum is being exploited by active jihadis, as confirmed by former militants, potentially amplifying violence and threats.
Meanwhile, the impact of ECOWAS sanctions on Niger’s populace is tangible, with energy supplies from neighbouring Nigeria severely disrupted. The use of generators has become widespread, affecting businesses, and restaurants struggle to maintain cold storage. Humanitarian aid faces challenges due to border closures and the disruption of supply chains, jeopardizing food and vaccine distribution.
Louise Aubin, the UN resident coordinator in Niger, expressed concerns about the country’s capacity to maintain essential supplies. Land and air borders’ closure hampers aid delivery, and the duration of existing supplies is uncertain. ‘With the closure of land and air borders, it’s hard to bring aid into the country,’ she said.
As Niger grapples with its political and economic challenges, regional and international actors face a complex situation that demands strategic and comprehensive solutions.