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ECOWAS Threaten Military Intervention In Niger To Reinstate Ousted President. Can Such Move Succeed?

Updated: Aug 12

Africa | Commentaries | Niger August 4, 2023

In its meeting in Abuja, Nigeria, following military coup in Niger on July 26, 2023, ECOWAS leaders strongly condemned the coup and ordered the ruling military junta there to give back power to ousted civilian President Mohamed Bazoum within 7 days that end on August 6, 2023. The leaders imposed severe sanctions on Niger and threatened military intervention in Niger if the military junta failed to meet their deadline.

But then, is ECOWAS capable of enforcing such an intervention in Niger? We think that may very difficult indeed if not impossible, given the following facts.

Firstly, two ECOWAS nations, namely Nigeria and Senegal, that have reportedly said they are willing to send their troops to Niger to reinstate the ousted president, have serious internal security or political problems themselves.

On the one hand, Nigeria with its claimed huge army has been fighting for decades now, its locally made terrorist group called Boko Haram as well as numerous armed bandit groups, without much success.

On the other hand, Senegal is said to be in political turmoil, having recently dissolved one of the country's major political parties and arrested its leader.

As such, utterance by the two countries that their troops could resolve an internal political conflict in Niger, is rather awkward and probably far-fetched.

Secondly, in responding to ECOWAS threat of invasion, Niger's new military leader General Abdourahamane Tchiani on August 3, 2023, dismissed the threat and said any aggression against Niger will be met by force. Even earlier, Mali and Burkina Faso that are also under military rule, declared their support to Niger saying that attack on the country will be a declaration of war on themselves too. That complicated any ECOWAS attempt to intervene militarily in Niger because they may find themselves not only facing Niger's army but the armies of Mali and Burkina Faso as well. Such military scenario may be very dangerous, implying escalation of Niger's bloodless internal political conflict into a bloody West African war.

Thirdly, it is important to realise that foreign military intervention into internal conflicts of another country may only be successful if the country's local populace support the invading force. Without support from local populace to the invading force, the invasion is bound to fail miserably. Within this context, there may be no support for ECOWAS military intervention in Niger from the majority of the country's populace. That was shown by massive crowds that took to the streets of capital Niamey after the military coup and the days that followed, in support of the new military leadership. Some of people reportedly expressed openly to reporters that they want foreign troops out of Niger. Such people will definitely not like to see more foreign troops under the banner of ECOWAS there. Invading ECOWAS troops may even be seen as agents or puppets of France and other non-African countries they distaste.

Fourthly and more generally, military coups may not be pleasant political events, but are often an outcome of flaws in national political systems and practises of individual politicians. So when military coups happen, they are internal national issues that are best resolved nationally through appropriate national policy adjustments or changes. Foreign intervention or involvement in such internal matters of countries may just make the matters worse by leaving the causal factors of the coups unaddressed.

For instance, Nigeria was the "leader of military coups" in Africa for decades. It lost the ugly title not long ago after the country identified and addressed adequately the national factors behind the coups. No foreign actors were involved in their success political story.

The above can provide a basis for appropriate political discourse about military coups that should be taking place in West Africa, if persistent occurrence of military coups in the region is to be contained.

In concluding, we would like to observe that President Mohamed Bazoum's leadership era has now ended, no matter how one wants to perceive the current political situation in Niger. For instance, even if he could be reinstated through foreign military intervention as he has been calling for, he may not have popular support required for effective leadership, due to his staunch loyalty to France and the so called West at large, that the majority of the people of Niger seem not to share with him anymore. He probably concealed his strong loyalty to the former colonial master and other foreign powers during the election that brought him to power, or people's stance towards France and the so called West probably changed dramatically in recent months, especially after the political events in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso. If the latter is correct, then the military that ousted President Bazoum knew that, while himself didn't or perhaps overlooked that!

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