Whose war is Niger? FENRAD seeks tension De-escalation in the Sub-region
For some weeks now, Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy and Development, FENRAD, a pro-democracy and environmental rights advocacy group in Abia State has followed the trends of the development in Niger Republic, a West African nation where a military coup d’état staged by soldiers ousted the democratically elected President Mohammed Bazoum. FENRAD condemns in its entirety any form of unconstitutional change of government (UCG) as enshrined in the Organization of African Unity, OAU’s 2000 Lome Declaration known as Framework for an OAU Response to Unconstitutional Change of Government, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS Charter and 2001 Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, even in the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance (ACDEG) adopted in 2007 by African Union (AU) member states.
We reaffirm our belief in all the extant instruments of international law as well as other constitutive laws binding on the sub-region that outlaw unconstitutional change of government, but we still maintain that for ECOWAS, war is not among the first options in addressing the Nigerien question. We validly state this mindful that there are no easy wars, even as contemporary global events keep showing that modern conventional wars are not easily winnable. Russia, for example, could not easily and conventionally decimate a weak Ukraine even with all her military might and sophisticated war machinery after one year now. Long-drawn asymmetric and internecine struggles in Africa have heightened instability, altered migration patterns with attendant refugee and humanitarian crises. This is what we believe ECOWAS is not pushing for in the sub-region.
The Foundation is of the view that reading copyists the riot act (through an 8-point resolution of ECOWAS’s Authority of Heads of State and Government) which culminated in issuing a seven-day ultimatum, tightening sanctions and the screw on Niger were all tantamount to putting the cart before the horse. Shuttle diplomacy should have come first, in which case ECOWAS would be able to meet with and extract commitment from the junta in Niger, including on how to release and reinstate ousted Bazoum. Should that (shuttle diplomacy) fail, the next would be soft power diplomacy, in which case ECOWAS offers appealing choices to the junta for them to restore constitutional order. It is only after all the instruments and avenues of diplomacy have been exhausted that a war or military intervention becomes inevitable. Even in intervention, there are levels to military operation depending on the scale and type of hostility. There is ‘peacekeeping’ and there is ‘peace enforcement.’ Peacekeeping, usually a lighter military operation, comes first to create a safe passage or corridor in line with international humanitarian law. Peacekeeping is followed by peace enforcement, which is a full-fledged military operation/action targeted at coercing parties to a conflict to come to a resolution or ousting illegitimate and unpopular regimes. The Foundation thinks that a non-kinetic approach would have achieved a negotiated peace.
The questions ECOWAS has not asked are: what are the motivating factors behind incessant coups d’etat happening with a domino effect in the sub-region? What can be done to address them? Are there factors alien to the sub-region which explain these coups?
In Mali and Burkina Faso, for example, putschists are of the view that the failure of France to flush out jihadists and militant Islamists in the Sahel states through the so-called ‘Operation Barkhane’ partly necessitated military intervention, including the need to end all forms of colonial imprints and stranglehold in the sub-region. In Niger, the perceived pro-West posturing of Mohammed Bazoum, for example, was adduced largely as reason for the coup. Frankly speaking, the age-old patterns established during colonial and post-colonial days still persist decades after self-government status was attained. The fact that these coups d’état are happening in former French colonies, most of who long after flag independence still have their national reserves held in the Bank of France and currencies tied in a weak monetary zone known as CFA franc Zone sustained through the policy of Fran Afrique is what ECOWAS, as an economic bloc, ought to have interrogated. What can ECOWAS do differently to end these unequal international economic relations, and to in its place establish one favorable to all parties in the sub-region and beyond?
The option of war edges the sub-region to a likely endless conflict given that Niger’s Neighbours to the west (Mali and Burkina Faso) promised to mobilize in support of the junta in Niamey in event of hostility outbreak. Here is where the question must be asked: since ECOWAS does not have any military air base or drone base from which it could launch un/manned or drone attacks, which country will open the channel or sector for the bloc? Currently, Benin Republic which is contiguous with Niger is showing a seeming neutral stance. Chad which shares border with Niger in her north-western flank is not a member state of the ECOWAS and so may not likely cooperate; and as earlier mentioned, Niger’s western Neighbours are all her allies. This leaves Nigeria as the likely option for launch of offensive. Here too, domestic politics with shared historical sentiments are already playing out, so the Foundation understands war is not in Nigeria’s interest given that the military is already stretched trying to contain the forces of ISWAP, Ansaru, Boko Haram, bandits and unknown gunmen, both locally and internationally through the JTF military operations in the Lake Chad Basin.
With war mercenaries and warmongers having mining interests in Africa and running campaign and propaganda likely to reinforce the Cold War narratives, Africa may soon lose men and resources as had been observed elsewhere. The Wagner Group, today, is selling an anti-West narrative, and the Foundation is not unaware that with the sack of France’s Operation Barkhane and its subsequent replacement with the Group in Mali, ideological and proxy wars are possible in the sub-region should any conflict happen. We urge ECOWAS leaders to weigh their options well as there are no free riders in the affairs of states. Merchants of death are cavorting, ECOWAS should be watchful. East is East, West is West.
The economies of member states at a a time like this are fragile, already on their knees, the Foundation laments. 14 of the 15 ECOWAS member states are ‘heavily indebted,’ according to IMF report of 2022, so whose interest is war in Niger in, and who will fund it among member states without further worsening debt burden and poverty? More so, considering that there is no efficient standing military group in the sub-region, like the old ECOMOG, with existing fragmented military alliances scattered across the sub-region like the Accra Initiative, Liptako-Gourman Authority and the Lake Chad Basin JTF, all existing within and beyond the sub-region, it will be a tough task organizing and coordinating a military operation unanimously. This is not the time.
We urge ECOWAS to look inward and consider building strong institutions, ones that check corruption, electoral malfeasance, life presidency and the rest. Some countries in ECOWAS, like Cote D’Ivoire, have presidents who have gone beyond their constitutional term in office but will prefer to amend the laws and remain in power by other means. Sadly, the same France that ousted Lauren Gbagbo remains tight-lipped. The Foundation calls on ECOWAS to take democracy, as enshrined in its Charter and 2001 Protocol, including in AU’s 2000 Lome Declaration, seriously as military coup alone does not constitute an illegitimate regime. We believe that ECOWAS should begin to act and rebuild supranational economies as was the goal in 1975 when it was founded. War in Niger does not assure a win-win outcome for the bloc, so we ask: in Niger, whose war is ECOWAS planning to fight?
Comrade Nelson Nnanna Nwafor
Foundation for Environmental Rights, Advocacy & Development (FENRAD Nigeria