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ECOWAS military plans in Niger could lead to wider conflict – DW – 08/11/2023


Following a summit of West African heads of state in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, the ECOWAS bloc has ordered the activation of a standby force for possible use against the junta that took power in Niger late last month.

But, said observers, the final communique by the bloc leaders is wrought with inconsistencies and highlights the complicated nature of the challenges facing the region.

“Militaries don’t have any function restoring democracy. So I have a bit of difficulty in the wording of the mandate,” Festus Aboagye, a retired colonel in Ghana and security analyst, told DW.

The statement read by Omar Alieu Touray, ECOWAS commission president, on Thursday said the regional bloc was committed to “the restoration of constitutional order through peaceful means.”

Touray added, however, that West African leaders had acknowledged the failure of diplomacy, leaving them with force as the last option.

He expressed a determination “to keep all options on the table for the peaceful resolution of the crisis,” but then ordered the immediate activation and “deployment” of the “ECOWAS standby force with all its elements.”

Explainer: What is the ECOWAS?

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Abubakar Kari, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Abuja, argued that the standby force is part of a broader diplomatic strategy.

“I don’t see it as a contradiction. I see it as naturally having several aces up your sleeve, several options,” he said. “In the event that one option fails, then you resort to the other.”

Security analyst Aboagye, however, said West African leaders have been “hasty” in their decisions. He pointed out that it’s now too late to talk of diplomacy.

“I find it a bit difficult that they are now saying that all options are on the table. It’s too late because you have already used the coercive tools that you have,” he said, referring to the sanctions already imposed by ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) on Niger.

Niger conflict could spread to entire region

The strong stance taken by ECOWAS could, according to observers, lead to a wider conflict in the entire region.

Apostle Ambe Valentine, a political and economic consultant based in Cameroon, told DW Niger is being used as a patsy to wage a proxy war between world powers.

Russia has already caused a stir against Ukraine. The tension is mounting. Extending it to Africa will be the spark of a third world war,” he said.

He said Western powers, who are at a deadlock on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and are unable make headway, are using Africa as a new battleground.

This comes at a time when Russia has been making significant headway on the continent, especially within countries headed by military leaders. Russia’s paramilitary Wagner Group has welcomed the Niger coup and said its forces were available to restore order, as in neighboring Mali, while signs of pro-Russia sentiment have been seen at demonstrations in support of Niger’s coup in recent days.

No official source has come out saying Russia is directly responsible for the toppling of Mohamed Bazoum, Niger’s democratically elected president.

But: “These incessant coups in West Africa are all coordinated by Russia,” said Apostle Ambe Valentine. These sentiments were shared by Kari, who said ECOWAS was probably “the poster boy” on the front line of a much wider global effort to tighten the noose around the military junta.

“I’m sure the noise that [ECOWAS] is making is in tandem with the position of the US […], the EU and many regional and continental bodies and powerful countries,” Kari told DW.

Experts believe military intervention in Niger likely to fail

With ECOWAS acknowledging that diplomacy has failed and the junta leaders in Niger preparing to counter an invasion, it appears the stage is set for a new regional conflict.

But retired Ghanaian colonel Aboagye felt the message sent by ECOWAS was too vague, and did not inspire confidence in the bloc’s ability to effectively resolve the situation.

“It should have been a bit more specific because soldiers, normally we go to destroy, we defeat, we capture,” he said. “In peacekeeping terms, we go to maintain security.”

Coup puts focus on Niger’s uranium resources

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In addition, analysts have said the option of a military intervention by ECOWAS remains a relative unknown, as it has rarely been used in the past. While some have cited the case of Gambia, when longtime President Yahya Jammeh refused to step down after he lost the 2017 presidential election, some analysts have pointed out that Jammeh was not preparing a military defense as the Niger coup leaders are doing. The case of Niger presents a greater danger, said Apostle Ambe Valentine.

“The military option [in] the case of Niger will cause a spark in the entire West Africa [region],” he said.

Aboagye agreed, pointing out that a military intervention will “entail destruction, loss of lives” and that what ECOWAS is hoping to achieve is not worth the sacrifice.

“Nobody needs to lose a life over one civilian government that has been overthrown for good or bad reasons,” he said.

Edited by: Martin Kuebler


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