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NIGER: WHY PREPARING FOR WAR IN NIGER?

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Leaders often discover the most complex solutions by asking direct questions. Many advocates of military intervention against the military junta in Niger claim that it is essential to protect democracy and prevent soldiers from unconstitutionally seizing power. Despite the potential consequences of military intervention, they believe it is a justifiable price to pay for restoring democracy. However, they struggle to provide concrete evidence of wars leading to sustainable civilian democratic governance. They often cite The Gambia as an example, but it is a unique nation due to its size and distinct socio-economic and geopolitical context.

Interestingly, the high command of the Gambian Armed Forces reacted strongly to comments from their former colleagues suggesting they were not ready to contribute troops to the impending ECOWAS military invasion of Niger. While these comments may have bruised the ego of the Gambian Armed Forces, it is clear that several factors influenced contributing nations’ decisions. These factors are not based on independent assessments. Still, they are driven by political decisions and the expectation of financial gains from the military campaign rather than a genuine commitment to restoring democratic rule.

Some soldiers are eager for combat experience, a desire often associated with military personnel in various countries. However, it is crucial to clarify that voicing opposition to the Gambian Armed Forces’ contribution to the military intervention is not an attack on the competence of our military personnel. An independent, expert opinion would likely conclude that none of the ECOWAS contributing nations can provide an effective fighting force capable of waging and sustaining a war in Niger while restoring democratic rule in the foreseeable future.

Comparing the situation in Niger to the 2016 threat of military action in The Gambia reveals significant differences. Waging war against the Niger is more analogous to the experiences in Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. It requires effective command and control, as well as a substantial force to overthrow the regime and maintain long-term occupation.

ECOWAS could initiate the conflict as conventional warfare, similar to Iraq and Afghanistan, or evolve into a popular revolt within Niger, identical to what occurred in Libya. Regardless of the initial approach, it is likely to culminate in a civil war, potentially leading to the emergence of jihadist groups, as seen in Iraq and Libya. This could make peace and stability in the sub-Saharan region unattainable and relegate the restoration of democratic rule to a distant dream.

One must also consider the potential consequences of military intervention, including the loss of life, extensive casualties among contributing troops, suffering of civilian populations, economic damage to nations, and the uncertainty of restoring peace and stability. Moreover, such a military campaign could ignite coups in the contributing countries, similar to what has happened in the aftermath of other conflict interventions.

ECOWAS and the African Union leaders should conduct a thorough, unbiased assessment, free from selfish interests or the egging on of external powers. They should consider the potential human cost, economic hardships, and the unpredictability of restoring peace, all of which could trigger a wider sub-Saharan conflict. It is crucial to learn from history that military interventions rarely determine a nation’s fate; instead, the people must decide their destiny. In contrast to some NATO countries that have supported invasions, believing they could reshape nations, this approach has often led to disastrous outcomes, such as in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and Yemen, resulting in countless deaths and the rise of jihadist movements.

A more thorough analysis prompts the West Africans to question why ECOWAS governments are eager to wage war. Is it to restore constitutional order, or do individual states have specific interests to protect? Sadly, it appears that the latter is true.

If ECOWAS leaders were genuinely committed to safeguarding democracy and upholding constitutional order, they would focus on addressing issues within member states that threaten their democratic institutions, such as electoral fraud and constitutional tampering. Leaders like President Alassane Ouattara of Ivory Coast and President Macky Sall of Senegal, who have manipulated their countries’ democratic processes, are among the most vocal advocates of military intervention. Their actions contradict their professed commitment to good governance and constitutional order.

One striking contrast lies in ECOWAS’ response to crises in Niger and Senegal. While they are eager to intervene militarily in Niger to address a bloodless coup, they show little presence or urgency in addressing the emergency in Senegal.

In Senegal, a grave assault on democracy and human rights is underway, with over a hundred opposition members and demonstrators killed and over 1800 unlawfully imprisoned. Opposition leader Ousmane Sonko, along with others, has gone on a hunger strike to protest these injustices. An independent and honest analysis would suggest that ECOWAS should prioritise addressing these crises in member states to protect democratic institutions and ensure good governance.

The conflicting approaches of ECOWAS in dealing with the crises in Niger and Senegal reveal the geopolitical and geoeconomic interests of France and the EU. They seek to secure a cheap energy source independent of Russia and Arab nations. Senegal and Ivory Coast have historically served as France’s strategic colonial outposts, influencing French geopolitical interests. Now, the EU has joined in exploiting Senegal’s abundant natural resources, particularly after the discovery of oil and gas. Senegal has become critical to the EU’s efforts to diversify its energy sources, reducing dependence on Russia and Arab nations.

The imprisoned opposition leader, Ousmane Sonko, advocated for a Pan-African liberal approach, renegotiating natural resource exploration agreements to ensure fairer royalty payments and the creation of value supply chains that generate more employment opportunities. This approach did not sit well with France and the EU, leading them to prioritise their strategic interests over addressing the crisis in Senegal. This is evident in ECOWAS’ disproportionate focus on the bloodless coup in Niger, driven by the desire to control the country’s natural resources.

Niger’s mineral deposits, especially uranium, are crucial for France while constructing a gas pipeline through Niger to Morocco serves the EU’s energy diversification goals. These factors heavily influence the hawkish stance of certain ECOWAS member states, supported by France and the EU, towards military intervention. However, this path risks repeating the mistakes made in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and Yemen. Such interventions resulted in widespread death, the destruction of a generation, the proliferation of jihadist movements, and a loss of control over geopolitical rivals like Iran and China.

In conclusion, military coups and wars are not solutions to the complex challenges the subregion and the broader African continent face. It is time to explore Pan-Africanist alternative solutions for socio-political sustainable development.

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