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HomeOpinionIt’s Coup Season in West Africa: Will U.S. Lose a Counter-terrorism Ally?

It’s Coup Season in West Africa: Will U.S. Lose a Counter-terrorism Ally?

OPINION: President Bola Tinubu faces a test of his international leadership

By Scott Morgan

After a flurry of military takeovers in West Africa in 2021, the next domino to fall was Niger on July 26, the day Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum was seized by members of the Presidential Guard led by General Omar Tchiani. The putsch looked disjointed at first. After the arrest of the President on July 26, it took a day to get the endorsement of the Army and the arrest of cabinet ministers on July 30.

The coup raises some questions about whether the 1,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Niger will have to leave. Since U.S. policy insists upon working with functioning democracies, it won’t prop up a non-democratically-elected regime. True, only a small number are currently present (est. 1100 troops), but they are performing a vital role maintaining a base for Unmanned Arial Vehicles (UAVs) in the Agadez region. The facility for now has been locked down, and US Troops have been confined to base. The Biden Administration has not decided whether or not to declare this event as a coup, since that decision could lead to a withdrawal of US Forces in the region.

Bola Tinubu Enters Niger to Rally the Regional Peacekeepers

The newly elected president of Nigeria, Bola Tinubu, in his capacity as Chairman, invited the leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to a meeting in Abuja. This trip will be a test of his diplomatic prowess. By most accounts, ECOWAS is suffering the most from this crisis of coups falling in rapid succession. Some analysis

suggests that the failure of the regional body to address the coups in Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso may have encouraged the generals in Niger to take action. It is in this context that ECOWAS found themselves in a position where if they didn’t push back against the putsch in Niamey the region could find itself sliding further into chaos.

The regional body has given Niger’s military until August 6th to release President Bazoum and restore him to power. The West-leaning ECOWAS powers are facing hostility from the region’s military juntas. Already the juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso have indicated that any effort to unseat the junta in Niger could be seen as an act of war. This potential division of ECOWAS could be devastating to the region if conflict does break out — especially when it appears to be dividing Francophone blocs from the Anglophone ones.

The deadline is approaching. A meeting of the Defense Chiefs of ECOWAS held in Abuja on August 2nd was boycotted by the Defense Chiefs of Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. The boycott is not a good sign for the multilateralist bureaucrats at ECOWAS. There are to be some divisions within a bloc like ECOWAS that should be expected. That being said, it appears that a military intervention by ECOWAS will be the last resort after all diplomatic efforts are exhausted.

In countries where military juntas have taken over already, the leaders are standing up for the coup https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/nigers-neighbors-defend-coup-hinting-war-warning-africa-101938646 . In fact, as the United Nations has documented, thousands of West Africans are insisting that democratically elected regimes have failed to deliver on their promises, but instead have benefitted wealthy elites and failed to meet the needs of the working class.

Background of the Coup

A more interesting question to answer is “How did Niger find itself in this situation? The answer has two aspects.

First, there was a tribal conflict in Niger. As in other African Countries most politics are tribal in nature. One of the factors that appears to have led up to this event is that the President is a member of a minority Arab tribe which according to some reporting led to accusations of him being a foreigner and rankled some members of Niger’s military establishment where traditionally some appointments have been made along these ethnic lines.

The second answer appears to be the president failed to give the military what it needed to defeat the desert terrorists. In 2022 France ended its controversial Operation Barkhane in neighboring Mali. This was a French -led counterterrorism effort that failed to defeat a decade-long insurgency led by an Al Qaeda linked group calling itself Jama’at Nusrat al-Islamwas-Muslimin, (JNIM) in Northern Mali. As a result, the insurgency not only continued to affect Mali to this day but has spread to Burkina Faso and is spreading southward towards the Gulf of Guinea as well. The threat from JNIM is not the only threat to Niger. The Jiffa region has been targeted by Boko Haram for several years, and Niger’s Maradi Region is becoming a flash point also as it appears to be used as a base by bandits targeting Northwestern Nigeria and the Middle-Belt States.

Nigeria has to be concerned with a growing insurgency in its Sahelian neighbors to the North that could reinforce its own large-scale war with the Islamic State of West Africa, and the smaller, older group known as Boko Haram (Western Learning is Forbidden).

One of the issues that draws attention to this crisis is the role of Russia its mercenary corporation known as the Wagner Group. Wagner already assists the governments in Mali and The Central African Republic. A pullout of U.S. troops from Niger might leave the door wide open for Wagner. While the putsch has been openly celebrated by Wagner Founder Yvegeny

Prighozin, the Russian Foreign Ministry has taken a more nuanced approach with Dmitry Peskov stating that the Kremlin supported a quick restoration of the rule of law in the country.

Who is the most affected by this putsch? Analysts tell Truth Nigeria that the winners are the Islamist insurgents, radicalized bandits and mercenaries for hire – in other words, the bad guys — what nobody in the region needs.

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Scott Morgan is an independent Africa analyst in the Washington, D.C. area. He contributes to the site Militant Wire and is the Washington Editor of the Maghreb and Orient Courier.

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