After ECOWAS announced its intention to launch a military operation to remove the country’s ruling military junta, questions are being raised as to whether it is prudent and whether the bloc will actually take this step.
More than two weeks after the Nigerien military junta government came to power through a coup and vowed to free Niger from colonial influence, tensions in the region continue to rise and threaten to escalate into hostilities involving several African countries.
Military intervention by ECOWAS
After last Sunday the new Niger authorities rejected the ultimatum set by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which demanded the reinstatement of the ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum, the organization advertisement this thursday that supports a military intervention in the country “as soon as possible”.
Statements were already made last week about the need for a military operation by the ECOWAS joint forces, but now it seems that the organization is determined to take this step, despite the fact that not all its members agree. In this sense, in in the near future there will be conferences of the chiefs of staff of the member countries.
Meanwhile, the same day it was revealed that during a meeting between representatives of the military junta and the US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, who visited Niger on Monday, had warned her that they would kill to Bazoum in case of any intervention attempt military by neighboring countries.
It should be noted that the senior US official herself described the negotiations with the head of Niger’s Special Operations Forces, Moussa Salaou Barmou, who serves as the junta’s defense chief, as “extremely frank and, at times, quite difficult”, and three colonels. In this context, Washington also decided to suspend certain assistance to the Government of Niger “as long as the situation remains unstable.”
International reactions to a possible military intervention
The ECOWAS announcement has provoked mixed reactions: some countries, both African and Western, expressed their support for the move, while others insisted that a peaceful and diplomatic solution must be found.
One of the first reactions was Franceagainst whose influence Protestant supporters of the Nigerian coup. Thus, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs communicated than paris “supports all conclusions” adopted by ECOWAS aimed at “reestablishing the constitutional and democratic order” in the African country.
Subsequently, the Secretary of State for EUAntony Blink, assured that Washington also strongly supports the organization’s efforts in this regard. In addition, in her words, during Nuland’s meeting with the coup leaders, she “made clear to them the imperative to restore constitutional order, as well as everything that is at risk if they don’t.”
One of the most determined ECOWAS Member States on this issue is Ivory Coast. Thus, the country’s president, Alassane Ouattara, assured on Thursday that his country will participate in the military operation, along with Nigeria and Benin. «We are determined to restore Bazoum to his post“, he declared, noting that his country will deliver a battalion of soldiers and that he has already made all the financial preparations.
At the same time, there are countries that are opposed to any military intervention. For example, José Maria Neves, president of another ECOWAS member state, Cape Verde, stated that his country opposes the measure. “We must all work to restore constitutional order in Niger, but in no case through military intervention or armed conflict at the moment”, saidnoting that Praia “could hardly join such a force.”
For his part, Russia it was also opposed to hostilities. “We believe that the military path to resolve the Niger crisis could lead to a prolonged confrontation in this African country and also to a strong destabilization of the situation in the whole of the Sahara-Sahel region”, communicated the Russian Foreign Ministry.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of ItaliaAntonio Tajani stressed that diplomacy must prevail to avoid the outbreak of war:
«Sometimes Europe has been wrong: we cannot think of imposing rules on the countries of the African continent, nor a social model that they cannot adopt. We must always act with respect towards them.”
Is the possibility of an intervention in Niger realistic?
It should be recalled that ECOWAS had ordered he deployment of his “reserve force” against the Nigerian military junta, although it has not yet been specified which countries will participate in the training, what will be the number of troops and what weapons will be used.
At the same time, it is not yet clear whether the ECOWAS measure will be carried out, as it is about the first full-scale mission of their joint force, created about 30 years ago for pacification, the supervision of humanitarian operations, as well as for preventive deployments. “On paper, it is a very solid mechanism to play a crucial role in the fight against the coup plotters,” he claimed Me Oumar Berté, a lawyer from the Paris Bar Association specializing in ECOWAS law, noting that this is the preceding that this force «moves so quickly, without delay«.
nonetheless, one of the strongest arguments in favor of the intervention not taking place is the fact that, although the “reserve force” intervened on several occasions in Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau in the 1990s and 2000s, it was not deployed during the coups in Mali (2021), Guinea (2021) and Burkina Faso (2022).
In addition, according to Me Oumar Berté, not all countries were in favor of the creation of this force, which meant that several members did not participate in some of the bloc’s operations: for example, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast stayed. out of the Liberian war in the 1990s. This fact shows that there is not always consensus among the member countries of the bloc, which is confirmed by the actions of Burkina Faso and Maliwho supported the Nigerien military junta and made it clear that a intervention in Niger would be seen as an aggression against them.
Another obstacle to intervention in Niger is the difficulty in financing the “reserve force”. Although ECOWAS has its own funds, a military operation of this type can only be carried out with a increased financial support from other countries and international organizations. “An intervention of this type will take time because, even if ECOWAS manages to eliminate the coup plotters, it will have to remain mobilized on the ground for a long time to guarantee the political stability of the country,” the lawyer concludes.
For its part, the French newspaper Le Monde also underlines that the military operation of the African bloc could face resistance from the people of Niger themselves. “The accumulated frustration of the Nigerien population, which lives in unprecedented poverty, and the force of the junta’s anti-French rhetoric make any foreign intervention extremely complex,” the outlet indicates.
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