Why ECOWAS should rule out military option in Niger

When residents of Niger's capital, Niamey, gathered to protest the coup that ousted President Mohammed Bazoum. [Niger Presidential Office, Facebook]

Since the army-backed ouster late last month of Niger's president Mohamed Bazoum, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has - among other things - been toying with the idea of using force to "restore constitutional order" in the uranium-rich Sahelian nation.

Lately, following a series of meetings in Abuja, Nigeria, the regional leaders have called for the deployment and "activation" of a "standby" military force, though they still insist such action would be a "last resort." Niger joins Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso in a growing list of countries in West Africa - and the Sahel region - that are under military rule lately.

The coup leaders in Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso have reacted to the threats of force against the usurpers in Niger with statements of solidarity with their fellow putschists. And Muslim clerics from northern Nigeria - which shares a long border with Niger - have warned Nigerian President Bola Tinubu not to use force against the junta in Niger.

However, it would make greater sense to study - and possibly address - the factors leading to the confluence of military takeovers in and around Africa than to be dismissive and hawkish, and consequently gloss over important realities. Niger - like many other countries around Africa - hosts Western countries' military bases, including those of the US and France - the nation's former colonial master.

Important ally

Under President Bazoum, Niger was an important ally of the West, and partly played host to American and European forces fighting jihadists in the region. And its significance internationally can be understood from the fact that its uranium deposits are among those heavily relied upon for energy generation and nuclear weapons technology, including by the US and France.

A significant chunk of the public in Niger welcomed the coup, and have since been seen waving the Russian flag, suggesting a newfound ideological propinquity with Russia. The vast majority of the people in Niger are poor, and view relations between their country and the West as exploitative. They don't profit from the extraction and sale of the country's uranium.

And they feel that the anti-jihad war fought on their country's soil - with the active participation of their country's army - helps more towards the security of the West than their country's.

Military intervention to reinstate "the democratically elected government" of President Bazoum could aggravate the situation - likely lead to a civil war and, worse, a regional conflictual ferment.

And the people might resist the "coercive" attempt at making them - and their country - once more - "look West!" The "anti-imperialist" army-led dislodging of "democratically elected governments", such as we have seen lately in West Africa and the Sahel, is symptomatic of the subtle turning point in relations between Africa and the rest of the world. Africans want to be the masters of their own collective destiny.

Mr Baraza is a writer and historian. [email protected]

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