By Solomon Dersso
Niger has become the latest country to fall prey to military coup. What started as a coup attempt following the blockading of President Mohamed Bazoum by the Presidential Guard on 26 July 2023, evolved into a full-fledged coup.
The head of the Presidential Guard, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, was announced as the leader of the country on 28 July 2023 following the coup.
This is the eighth successful coup to take place in Africa since April 2020. With the exception of Chad and Sudan, all coups are concentrated in the West Africa region affecting Mali (two coups August 2020 and May 2021), Burkina Faso (two coups January 2022 and September 2022), Guinea (September 2021) and now Niger.
All the coups except the one in Sudan took place in former French colonies.
As the last central Sahelian country that was under civilian rule, Niger’s coup establishes a coup belt across the Sahel that stretches from Guinea on the Atlantic coast of West Africa all the way to Sudan on the Red Sea coast.
Despite being the latest of the series of coups across the Sahel belt, the coup in Niger constitutes a turning point. It has much more regional and strategic significance than any of the previous coups.
Before discussing the regional and strategic implications of the coup, it is important to try to make sense of the set of factors that made the coup possible.
First, the timing of the coup reveals that it has strong opportunistic element. The coup had the immediate consequence of forestalling the ousted president’s reported plan to replace the head of the Presidential Guard.
Second, as protests that took place in Niger early in the year demonstrated, Niger did not escape the wave of anti-French sentiment blowing across much of former French colonial countries.
This did not deter the government in Niamey particularly under the now deposed President Bazoum from strengthening ties with the West, notably France.
Niger became the new hub for France’s military base and its counterterrorism operation in the Sahel, notwithstanding the popular views of Nigeriens.
The resultant disconnect between the administration of President Bazoum and Nigeriens became apparent by lack of significant opposition by Nigeriens against the deposing of a democratically elected government.
Third, the coup exposed the hollowness of the narrative about Niger’s democracy. It made it apparent that international democracy promotion had not more substance than election centric and elite-driven ritualistic development and security cooperation.
Thus, illuminating the inability to meet the socio-economic, the governance and political freedom as well as security needs of ordinary people, Niger’s coup is the last nail on the coffin for burying any illusion that one may have about the failure of democracy promotion, development and security cooperation in the Sahel.
Additionally, it is possible to identify at least six regional and strategic implications of Niger’s coup, hence making it a landmark event.
First, as a coup that targeted a democratically elected president, it has triggered understandable concern that if not reversed no government in the West Africa region and beyond could be immune from falling prey to coup.
Second, Niger’s coup cast into serious doubt the future of the Group of Five Sahel countries (G5 Shale) that serves as the common regional mechanism for fighting terrorism in the Sahel, which was weakened with the withdrawal of Mali.
Third, for African Union and, the regional body, ECOWAS who have been in the business of fighting coups, the occurrence of the coup in Niger puts the efficacy of how they handled the other coups on the spotlight. It signals that the anti-coup norms of these multilateral institutions have collapsed.
Blow to West
Fourth, in the context of the ongoing geopolitical rivalry in the Sahel pitting the West against Russia and China, the Niger coup raises the specter of making the last central Sahelian country that became the linchpin of western cooperation to become more open to engagement with Russia including the notorious Wagner Group.
Fifth, Niger occupies strategic significance for international counterterrorism operation in the Sahel.
This is where the French base moved to after the fallout with Mali. Niger also hosts America’s major drone base in Africa. There are about 1,000 US troops stationed in the country.
If the coup is not reversed, which has become increasingly likely, France stands to lose its base, dealing a major blow to France’s Sahel strategy.
For the US, the coup would lead to the suspension of military cooperation and other economic cooperation as well.
Overall, it could lead to a loss not just for France and the US but for other western countries that use Niger as base for their security cooperation and operations in the Sahel.
Sixth, geo-strategically speaking this coup carries direct implications for energy security in Europe, particularly for France. France gets significant percentage of the uranium that powers its nuclear power plants from Niger.
With the junta announcing the suspension of the export of uranium from Niger, the coup has come to have direct and immediate impact.
Although it has shaken existing strategies and relationships, the coup in Niger also serves as an opportunity for rethinking both continental and international approaches to both the promotion of democracy and development and security cooperation in Africa.
As Amani Africa’s research on terrorism asserted, such a paradigm shift necessitates policy interventions that focus ‘’on the vulnerabilities and fragilities as well as political and socio-economic governance pathologies that create the conditions both for the emergence and … resilience of terrorist groups.’’
Going beyond a focus on the security sector, development and security cooperation has to mobilise ‘’the same, if not more, level of infusion of technical assistance, financial resources and training of civilian expertise is directed to the governance, the economic and social issues facing local populations as the security-related sectors.’’
The author, Dr. Solomon Dersso, is a former Commissioner of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the premier human rights body of the AU. He is also the founding director for Amani Africa, an independent pan-African policy research, training and consulting think tank.
Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT Afrika.