The African continent is prone to coups that are mostly taking place in West Africa and the Sahel region. According to a BBC report, Sudan had 16 coups, out of which 6 were successful. Burkina Faso in West Africa had the most successful coups with nine takeovers and one failed coup.
This time another country in the Sahel region, Niger, is in the news after a democratically elected president was removed from office by presidential bodyguards. Sahel is Arabic for ‘coast’ which starts from the Atlantic sea (Mauritania and Senegal) to the Red Sea (Sudan and Eritrea). The Sahara Desert is to the North and tropical forest to the South.
There are twelve countries in the Sahel region which has a total population of 400 million. The region is also engulfed with insurgencies and different terror organisations operating in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. The border junction of three countries is the centre of attacks by insurgents affiliated with Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Boko Haram. South East Niger is under the influence of Boko Haram militants coming from Nigeria.
The region where Niger is located was colonised by France in 1890. In 1904, the military territory of Niger was created and in 1958 Niger became an autonomous state under French authority and got independence in 1960.
Niger is bounded in the north by Libya, north-west by Algeria, west by Mali and Burkina Faso, to the south by Nigeria and to the east by Chad. The population of the country is 25 million and it is the largest country in West Africa. Since independence, Niger had four coups in 1974, 1996, 1999 and 2010. On July, 26, 2023, in the fifth coup under General Tchiani, head of presidential bodyguard since 2011, the democratically elected president Muhammad Bazoum was ousted. According to the coup leader, the president was removed for deteriorating the security situation and bad governance.
Soon after the takeover, people gathered in the streets of Niamey cheering the coup leaders. Some were seen waving Russian flags and chanted slogans like ‘I love Putin’ and ‘down with France’ the country’s former colonial power. The takeover has been condemned by the European Union, US, Organisation of African Union (OAU), Economic Committee of West African States (ECOWAS), France and the UN. The ECOWAS member countries have declared that they are ready to interfere militarily in Niger should diplomatic efforts fail to reverse the coup.
Defence Chiefs of ECOWAS in a meeting have said that they are ready to participate in a standby force except those under military rule. Niger has been a key US ally in the region in combating Al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliated terrorist. Some 1100 US troops are stationed in Niger’s cities of Niamey and Agadez. The US has offered mediation for restoration of peace which has been declined by the coup leaders. The US has said that they will support the ECOWAS diplomatic efforts including contingency plans.
Military intervention certainly will have serious consequences for the region and may trigger a regional war. Nigeria has already warned and threatened to invade Niger if President Bozoum is not restored. Niger’s military junta has closed its airspace amid threats of air strikes from the ECOWAS. The Niger’s military Junta has launched a mass recruitment drive to recruit youngsters to fight as soldiers against an attack by ECOWAS.
Reportedly, the military junta planned to take help from Wagner group, which are Russian mercenary soldiers, to help Niger to fight out terrorists. The Wagner group is already present in Mali to fight out terrorists.
The crisis in Niger will have an effect on UN peacekeeping troops in Mali. The UN was all set to withdraw its 13,000 troops from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) on the Malian government instructions. Niger Junta has been threatened with sanctions and this will empower insurgent groups to carry out more attacks.
The land locked country is already impoverished and facing serious food security issues with the recent closure of borders with its neighbours. The African Union’s Peace Security Council rejected the ECOWAS proposal to stage a military intervention in Niger which will further add miseries to the people of the country.