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Monday, October 2, 2023

The most viable solution for Niger’s three-year transitional timetable

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By Retired Lt. Colonel
Samsudeen Sarr

By now, my readers are likely acquainted with the recent announcement made by the military leaders of Niger on Sunday, August 20, 2023. The announcement revealed their unwavering commitment to a three-year transitional government, a move that stands in stark opposition to all negotiations conducted by ECOWAS. I mean the negotiations aimed to reverse the military takeover that occurred on July 26 and to reinstate the ousted President Mohamed Bazoum.

This declaration accentuates the failure of the diplomatic efforts led by envoys sent by ECOWAS, headed by former Nigerian head of state Abdulsalami Abubakar. Regrettably, their mission did not yield any substantial results. On the contrary, the situation has taken a turn for the worse. Instead of effecting the reinstatement of President Bazoum, the junta – perhaps out of a sense of frustration and anger – has chosen to subject him to a trial for alleged treason. This charge stems from their belief that Mr. Bazoum colluded with a foreign nation to exploit Niger’s resources against the will and benefit of the population. This foreign nation is none other than France, which has garnered significant attention since the global community commenced investigating the reasons behind the French insistence on retaining Bazoum’s power.

Evidently, the plethora of negative media content, encompassing videos, audio recordings, and written articles, has displayed the adverse consequences of France’s post-colonial role in Francophone countries. The persistent efforts to uphold compliant African leaders and governments loyal to Paris have elicited sympathy for the leaders of the Niger coup. Their aim is to break free from the deplorable status quo. Globally, it has become evident that leaders like Mohamed Bazoum, like a few of his contemporaries in Francophone former African colonies, do not challenge French economic and resource control, regardless of the detrimental impact on their indigenous populations.

As witnessed with recent military coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, which severed the six-decade-old ties binding them to France, Niger seems poised to embark on a similar path. It appears that many more nations will likely follow suit, if not all, within a relatively short span of time. This shift signifies a growing determination to emancipate the former colonies from the grip of historic dependencies and assert their sovereignty.

As a scholar aptly pointed out, resolving the issue of military coups in former French colonies in Africa requires addressing the ongoing exploitation of these nations’ resources by France for centuries.

The West African regional bloc ECOWAS has declared that if the demands of the junta are not met through negotiations, they might resort to military intervention against the Nigerien coup leaders to reinstate Bazoum.

In an interesting yet seemingly theatrical move, ECOWAS Chiefs of Staff convened in Ghana last week for a ceremonial meeting. However, they refrained from disclosing the exact number of troops available for the mission, announcing a confidential “D day” for the operation. This gesture raises two possibilities: either they are bluffing, or their lack of troops and resources has become apparent, a point I’ve been emphasizing.

Out of a minimum requirement of 23,000 combatants and an initial budget of US$2 billion for the mission, only Senegal and Ivory Coast have contributed a combined total of 3100 soldiers. Moreover, they lack a suitable staging ground near the Niger border. Additionally, accusations have arisen against Presidents Macky Sall of Senegal and Allasane Ouattara of Ivory Coast, claiming they are merely following France’s orders, underscoring their allegiance to President Emmanuel Macron.

Hence, I must candidly state that an ECOWAS-led intervention in the Niger coup seems implausible from my perspective. Nonetheless, before I delve into my proposed way forward, it’s worth noting the curious case of the former ousted president of Burkina Faso, who blames ECOWAS for failing to intervene militarily in his 2015 situation, yet supports such action for Bazoum. The disparity lies in the higher stakes for France and NATO in Niger due to the country’s valuable resources that sustain global industries and technologies.

With a military confrontation in Niger ruled out due to the aforementioned reasons, the next rational course of action aligns with what I previously suggested and what the government of Abdourahmane Tchiani recently proposed. They have established a three-year transitional government, which ECOWAS could possibly negotiate to be reduced to 18 months.

Reflecting on the 1994 military coup in The Gambia, reminiscent of the present situation, offers insights. The Jammeh government initially declared a four-year transitional period but was eventually persuaded through effective negotiation to reduce it to two years, yielding stability and a workable solution. ECOWAS would do well to draw inspiration from the Gambian experience of twenty-nine years ago, as opposed to pursuing unattainable dreams.

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