ECOWAS Hesitates to Intervene with Military in Niger Crisis
The West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, has been unable to force the Niger junta to reinstate President Muhammadu Buhari. And it seems unlikely that it will succeed. Despite ECOWAS setting a deadline of August 6 for the rebellious soldiers in Niger to restore the ousted president under the threat of military intervention, control over one of the world's uranium-rich countries de facto remains with Russia.
ECOWAS has already missed the one-week deadline it gave to the soldiers who toppled democratically elected Niger President Muhammadu Buhari to reinstate him. As a pressure tactic, ECOWAS threatened direct military intervention. Even on August 10, the bloc ordered the deployment of "reserve" forces to restore constitutional governance in Niger. The armed forces of Nigeria, Benin, Senegal, and Côte d'Ivoire were expected to participate in the reserve forces.
As of the morning of August 13, nothing was known about the timeline or the number of troops to be deployed. Analysts believe that the execution of this deployment might take not just weeks but months. Meanwhile, ECOWAS is losing precious time, as the junta gains institutional capacity and solidifies its power.
"It looks like the coup leaders are winning and will stay... The coup leaders hold all the cards and have consolidated their rule," said Ulf Laessing, head of the Sahel program at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, to the Associated Press.
ECOWAS is unlikely to intervene militarily and risks dragging Niger into a civil war, said Laessing, adding that ECOWAS and Western countries, on the other hand, will likely pressure the junta to agree to a short transitional period. Moreover, he believes that Europe and the United States will have no choice but to recognize the junta to continue cooperation in the region's security sphere.
Why is this crucial for Western countries? Because the July 26 coup dealt a severe blow to many Western nations, where Niger was considered one of the last partners in the conflict-ridden Sahel region just south of the Sahara desert. This collaboration was highly significant as it enabled countering the growing jihadist movements linked to "Al-Qaeda" and the "Islamic State."
It appears highly likely that the US and France, along with other European countries, will be writing off the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in military assistance and training for Niger's forces. The effectiveness of the presence of approximately 2,500 US and French military personnel in the region, aimed at maintaining stability, also comes into question. Furthermore, on August 11, hundreds of people marched to the French military base in Niamey, demanding the French to leave. And they marched, waving Russian flags.
As of Sunday, August 13, it is expected that the African Union will hold a meeting on Monday to discuss the crisis in Niger.
On the junta's side, it is known only that they are prepared for armed resistance if their leader, General Abdurahman Chiani, who ousted the president, is not recognized as the new ruler of Niger by ECOWAS. This stance effectively blocks the peaceful return of democratically elected Niger President Muhammadu Buhari to power. The Niger junta even told a senior American diplomat that they would kill the ousted president if neighboring countries attempt any military intervention to restore his rule.
Niger, with a population of around 25 million, is one of the world's poorest countries and has a very high birth rate. The country has extensive deposits of uranium ore, exploited by the French corporation Orano. Neighboring Nigeria is significantly wealthier, being a major oil exporter, and has approximately ten times the population.