West Africa, notorious coup region …what can be done about it?

On July 28, the head of Niger’s presidential guard, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, declared himself head of state after the mil­itary seized power. The military in the West African country took over the country in what is described as a coup d’état.

General Abdourahamane Tchiani led soldiers from Niger’s presi­dential guard to depose President Mohamed Bazoum and close the country’s borders. Entrances to government ministries were also blocked. Reports say, the disgrun­tled members of the elite Presiden­tial Guard sealed off access to the president’s residence and offices in the capital Niamey, and after talks broke down “refused to release the president.

His claim has been dismissed internationally, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has given him a week to hand back power. One week has passed and he continues to rule the country.

To exert more power and con­trol, the new leader has arrested a number of ministers. On Monday, the oil and mining ministers were arrested, the coup leaders had previously arrested the Interior Minister, the transport minister and a former Defence minister. They have also captured the head of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism’s national executive committee.

Beyond warning against any regional and foreign interven­tions, the military leaders in Niger have given no indications of ways forward.

The coup plotters have blamed rising insecurity and a lack of eco­nomic growth. They have stated that the intervention was necessary to avoid “the gradual and inevitable demise” of the country. I believe, however, there are other issues that precipitated the latest coup d’état. These are: ethnicity; the presence of foreign forces; and the weak­ness of regional bodies.

Political analysts also suggest that the rise in insecurity and declining economic prospects have contrib­uted to the unwarranted military action which has created severe fragility in the country.

This is because, despite the in­crease in foreign forces, especially from the United States of America (USA) and France, and military bases in Niger, the country’s lead­ership has not been able to stop insurgent attacks.

There are several insurgent groups, such as Al-Qaeda and other Islamic State affiliates not to mention the Boko Haram groups operating in Niger.

Such severe economic hardship and uncontrollable insecurity have caused the death of thousands of citizens and compelled many oth­ers to be displaced, within the last decade according to media reports.

This perhaps might have ac­counted for the celebration of the coup by a teeming youth in the streets of the capital of Niamey.

Two years ago, Mohamed Ba­zoum was elected as president in Niger’s first peaceful democratic transfer of power. He enjoyed the backing of Western governments, including the United States. Then, just last month, members of his own presidential guard detained him and seized power.

Although Niger has recently enjoyed its longest democratic rule since independence, there has been a constant threat of coups. When Bazoum was elected president in 2021, there was a coup attempt about 48 hours before his inau­guration. It failed as presidential guards who conducted the recent coup fought off the coup plotters.

This coup d’état will have a significant impact on peace and stability in Niger and the entire Sahel region. It is part of a wave of attempted, and successful, power grabs in West and Central Africa, a region gripped by political instabil­ity. Now, a group of West African nations imposed sanctions on Ni­ger and threatened military action if the coup leaders don’t reinstate the president within the week.

ECOWAS also imposed strict sanctions, including suspending all commercial and financial transac­tions between its member states and Niger and freezing assets in regional central banks.

Economic sanctions could have a deep impact on Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, which relies on imports from Nigeria for up to 90 per cent of its power, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency

French President Emmanuel Ma­cron on Sunday promised “imme­diate and uncompromising” action if French citizens or interests were attacked after thousands rallied outside the French embassy in Nia­mey. Some protesters tried to enter the compound but were dispersed by tear gas.

In the last four years, there have been seven coup d’états in the region. Three were successful. Leaders of ECOWAS and the African Union have threatened sanctions on these three countries, but nothing much has been done to deter other opportunistic mili­tary leaders.

In a round table organised by the think tank Chatham House London on the impact of military intervention in West Africa, one of the leaders from the region stated that they kept avenues of com­munication open with the three military presidents as a courtesy. This creates an impression that there is no deterrence for military takeovers.

African countries especially with­in the West African subregion have registered the highest notoriety in coup d’état. Always have means to justify such abhorring military ac­tions which retrogress democratic systems but the military also argues what is democratic about a demo­cratically elected president wishing by fair or foul means to extend his term of office.

Either way, coups are not cogent solutions to bad governance. The trend must be stopped in its tracks. Yet, it also invites a reassessment of the neoliberal democratic proj­ect in Africa.

A cursory look at the history of coups in West Africa suggests some recurring themes as causes. These show how likely more coups are and what needs to change to prevent them.

In each decade between 1958 and 2008, according to one researcher, West Africa had the highest number of coups on the continent, accounting for 44.4%. Since 2010, there have been over 40 coups and attempted coups in Africa; some 20 occurred in West Africa and the Sahel (including Chad). Since 2019 there have been 7 (five successful and two failed with Ghana having a fair share of five successful coups in 1966, 1972, 1978, and 1979. 1982

Between 1958 and 2008, most coups in Africa occurred in former French colonies, as did six of the 7 since 2019. Similarly, 12 of the 20 coups in the sub-region since 2010 happened there. The latest success­ful putsch in Burkina Faso came on the heels of two attempted ones, in 2015 and 2016.

In all the cases, the internation­al community reacts vehemently amidst threats and disowning but by and large, that this the extent to which they can go. No, further than that. In the recent cases of coup d’tat, for instance, African and international organizations have reacted with disapproving statements and sanctions, and in Mali, the threat that a regional standby force will invade — but few take the latter very seriously.

The African Union suspended Mali, Guinea and Sudan, but not Chad — a double standard that analysts warned could have dire consequences for Africa. For some, this was evidence that the African Union had become little more than a weak and biased dictators’ club.

After the coup in Burkina Faso, the regional economic bloc, ECOWAS, released a statement saying that such a move “cannot be tolerated” and instructing the soldiers to return to their barracks. But it was not clear what ECOW­AS could do, given its dubious record mediating in Mali.

The ECOWAS, African Union and even the United Nations have not done much by exercising real power to halt the occurrences of coup d’états in this part of the world. Most of the countries affected are francophone countries and their master France must relax its influence here to enable peace and absolute peace to prevail.

This time, the ECOWAS must take a critical look at how the grievances of military officers and the youth in these countries could be effectively addressed. The leaders must also consider military popularity and attitudinal cohesive­ness. Importantly, the economic decline. the domestic political crisis, and external threats among others to help curb this menace.


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