The recent coup in Niger has triggered unique concerns in West Africa, unlike previous instances. Not only did it occur at Nigeria’s doorstep, the regional powerhouse, but it also coincided with ongoing challenges in neighbouring countries, causing unease among regional actors. The situation has prompted the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to impose unprecedented sanctions and even consider a military intervention to restore democratic governance.
While ECOWAS has engaged in a few military interventions in the past, this would be the first aimed at removing a military junta and reinstating a civilian government. Previous interventions in Liberia and Sierra Leone were part of efforts to end long-standing civil wars, but Niger’s crisis presents unique complexities.
Niger’s vast geographical size poses a significant challenge for any potential intervention forces. It is the largest territory in ECOWAS Africa, with a combined size greater than that of The Gambia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Such vastness raises questions about the scope and feasibility of a military operation.
Adding to the complexity is the ethnic dimension of the crisis. The deposed president belongs to a minority group (Diffar) that was historically persecuted and considered alien to Niger until recently. This could potentially give the military junta an ethnic advantage in rallying support within certain communities.
The location of Niamey, the capital, in the south-west region, could also play a role in the dynamics of intervention. Burkina Faso and Mali, both of which have experienced their own coup attempts, might show interest in supporting the coup makers in Niger. Thus, any military intervention could be perceived as an indirect threat against these neighbouring coup-prone countries.
On the other hand, the concentration of Niger’s population in the southern region may offer advantages for intervening forces. The southern areas have a higher population density, making it potentially easier to engage with local communities and build support for intervention efforts.
Moreover, Nigeria’s long border with Niger presents an opportunity for logistical support and troop deployment if the need arises. Nigeria’s well-equipped and sizeable military could undertake a conventional operation if required.
Ultimately, the support that ECOWAS may receive from Western forces could prove decisive. The presence and involvement of Western countries in the region might tip the balance and influence the success of any intervention.
In summary, the viability of a military intervention by West African forces in Niger’s current crisis is fraught with challenges and complexities. The vastness of Niger’s territory, the ethnic dimension of the conflict, and the geopolitical dynamics in the region all add layers of uncertainty to any potential intervention. The support from Western actors and Nigeria’s capabilities might play crucial roles in determining the outcome if ECOWAS decides to take military action to restore democracy in Niger.
source: Fidel Amakye Owusu
Below: map showing the 2017 ECOWAS intervention in The Gambia and the flag of some states.