West African leaders have threatened to take military action against Niger if the country’s democratically elected president is not restored to power within a week. This demand was issued by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the regional bloc, following a crisis summit meeting in Nigeria. The United States and France, major security allies of Niger, had already called for the restoration of President Mohamed Bazoum, threatening to cut aid and military ties. Fueled by a growing sense of crisis, coup supporters gathered outside the French Embassy in the capital city of Niamey and demanded the withdrawal of French troops. In response, French President Emmanuel Macron issued a warning, stating that any attack on France’s citizens or interests in Niger would be met with an “immediate and uncompromising” reaction.
ECOWAS pledged to take all necessary measures, including the use of force, to restore democratic rule in Niger and imposed financial sanctions on the coup leaders. However, the newly installed junta rejected any foreign military intervention and vowed to defend their homeland. The situation in Niger has alarmed Western countries, who consider it a crucial ally in a region where Islamist militants are gaining influence.
France, which formerly ruled Niger as a colony, currently has around 1,500 troops in the country, while the United States has approximately 1,100 troops stationed at drone bases. Both countries suspended aid to Niger, and the U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken stated that American security ties with the country were also at risk. Additionally, there were signs of Russian influence, with coup supporters brandishing Russian flags in Niamey. However, experts believe personal factors were the main trigger for the coup, and there is no evidence of direct Russian involvement.
The coup in Niger adds to a growing list of African countries under military control, raising concerns about the strain on regional blocs such as ECOWAS. In recent years, ECOWAS has suspended three of its member states over military coups. Striking a balance between strong sanctions and avoiding pushing the coup leaders towards Russia or other outsiders will be crucial for ECOWAS in navigating the Niger crisis.
The situation in Niger reflects a deep-seated resentment towards perceived French paternalism and post-colonial meddling, which has contributed to support for the coup leaders. Traditional regional blocs like ECOWAS may need to find a middle path that considers the sentiments of the citizens and the potential consequences of strong sanctions.
Given the complex dynamics at play, the crisis in Niger calls for careful diplomacy and a nuanced approach to restore democratic governance while addressing the underlying issues and concerns of the population.