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Why military intervention in Niger will be bad for everyone

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By: Mariama Khan,
Security Analyst Rhode Island, US.

There is a saying that “an unjust peace is better than a righteous war.” This is because as the Wollof people say, “Everything Fits with Peace.” Wars do not end wars. Instead, diplomacy does. For the case of West Africa, military intervention against a military junta that takes-over power in any country of the sub-region, will not end military coups. Instead, it is genuine good governance that will roll-back coups in West Africa. This is why the United States’ commitment and support for exploring all strategies for peacefully ending the impasse in Niger is a practical goal that needs to be embraced by all other stakeholders, especially ECOWAS. Peacefully resolving the crisis by whatever means should be the Plan A, Plan B, Plan C and the be all and end all Plan in this difficult situation.

An article on the LA Times states that “On Thursday, the bloc ordered the deployment of a “standby” force to restore constitutional rule in Niger, with Nigeria, Benin, Senegal and Ivory Coast saying they would contribute troops” (Mednick, Los Angeles Times, Aug. 13, 2023). Let’s tease out some of the possible outcomes we will all be faced with, if military intervention in Niger is resorted to.

Lest we forget that Niger is located in the Sahel, a region that has been faced with devastating insurgency activities for several years now.  The country shares a border with Libya, which has become a serious political and security challenge. Its other neighbor, Chad, like Libya, shares borders with Sudan, a country trying to wiggle itself out of a debilitating war. Nigeria, another neighbor to Niger, remains politically perplexed by Boko Haram. Insurgency activities have not also spared Mali and the coastal states like Benin, another neighbor to Niger. Like Benin, Togo’s case also demands urgent attention.

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At the geopolitical level, we have porous borders between these countries. Things flow easily from one country to the other. As already indicated, we have a deteriorated security environment in the Sahel and in some West African countries. The challenges this situation comes with include the existence of thousands of internally displaced people who include women and children. There are also the flows of refugees across national borders and other consequences like the illegal circulation of small arms and weapons across different national borders, human trafficking and other forms of transnational criminal activities. These realities leave us with a fertile environment for a multi-nation and sub-regional security crises.

Militarily striking Niger will create a fertile opportunity for the propelling and germination of insurgency activities that can be exported to different countries in the Sahel and West Africa. As refugees and other people caught in the military action try to flee to safety to other countries, opportunistic threats can multiply due to the fact that these threats are already present in some of the countries in the sub-region. A disorderly security environment can help such threats augment their capabilities to inflict more devastation against different targets at national, sub-regional and international levels.

Even if the proposed military intervention can be concluded within the shortest period of time (which is very unlikely), the fact that such an act will hurt the collective self-esteem of many Nigerien citizens can invite irregular  retaliatory actions against the countries that contribute troops to the military intervention as well as the interests of any country that they feel has a hand in the military intervention.

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Also, as there are different West Africans in Niger, if some of those West African citizens get harmed in the military intervention, their relatives would undoubtedly never forgive ECOWAS. This is can also be true of Nigerien citizens who get harmed as a result of ECOWAS’s intervention in their country. Moreover, President Mohamed Bazoum may be harmed as a result of an ECOWAS intervention.

Moreover, a foreign army is considered a liberator for just some momentary period before the “liberated” will come to see them as an invading army or enemy forces overstaying their welcome for ulterior motives. Additionally, as Mali and Burkina Faso pledge to support Niger in the case of such an intervention, the stakes for an ugly military fall-out are even higher. Already, the president of Cape Verde, an ECOWAS member state has expressed his country’s reservations against military intervention in Niger.

As ordinary citizens in different ECOWAS member states make known their reservations about their respective countries’ participation in such an intervention, it is predictable that instead of getting rid of coups, the military intervention can spark different forms of national political crisis in different ECOWAS member states. We must remember that, currently, as things stand politically, many governments in the West African sub-region and the Sahel face general opposition from their citizens. Their grievances range from lack of democracy, difficult economic conditions, high-levels of corruption, lack of basic services for citizens and the states failing to act like normal states should do. Therefore, military intervention in Niger can spark intense political mobilisation against different governments and create further opportunities for additional military coups in more countries in West Africa and the Sahel.

As such, more ECOWAS states can eventually oppose military intervention. The sub-regional bloc can become divided as the pro-intervention and anti-intervention forces clash. This situation will further weaken the authority of ECOWAS. If this is not properly handled, we might see a situation where some countries will opt-out of ECOWAS, even if temporarily. Since ECOWAS generally faces the critical attention of West African citizens, getting to this point will not be a good thing for the organization.

Moreover, military intervention like all wars will definitely come along with some un-anticipated outcomes. One such outcome can be the further growth and expansion of more hostile insurgency activities in the Sahel and the West African sub-region. This may also be true for North Africa where countries like Libya, Algeria and Tunisia are located.

Some of the North African countries have become popular transit points for large numbers of West African youth who embark on irregular migration from their native countries through different throughfares in the sub-region, then to North Africa and finally crossing the high-risk Mediterranean Sea. Some of these youth can be coerced or they can willing join insurgency organizations in these countries. Their frustrations can also push some of them to take up arms to engage in some illicit activities which can have serious national and sub-regional security implications.

The history of terrorism has already shown us how terrorist organizations can expand their tentacles through affiliates in different regions of the world as they do what they do. From Somalia to Mozambique, Kenya to Ethiopia, Mali to Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Benin and so on. A crises-ridden West Africa and Sahel can potentially expand insurgency activities in both areas and beyond. As different governments are forced to largely concentrate on safeguarding national security, sub-regional security will become more fragile. As security threats expand, they can move to other regions. Similarly, the European Union and its partners will equally feel the brunt of this insecurity especially as it creates new realities for clandestine migration and transnational criminal activities which include human trafficking and other forms of international crime. This will inevitably affect the interests of different Western countries in West Africa and the Sahel.

This short reflection indicates that using military intervention in Niger will lead to various difficult outcomes for different stakeholders. Therefore, a cost-benefit appreciation of military intervention in the country shows us that peacefully negotiation a resolution with the military junta is the best way forward in this already difficult situation. A military solution may not give us the most desirable outcome. So, ECOWAS negotiate, negotiate, and negotiate to come to a peaceful resolution.

Source: kerrfatou.com

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