- Regional Stability and ECOWAS’ Credibility:
- Niger’s military coup, which disregarded ECOWAS’ deadline for restoration of democratic order, directly threatens regional stability and undermines the legitimacy of ECOWAS. An inter-country divide is evident as some nations, like Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali, oppose sanctions against Niger, potentially creating deeper factions within West Africa.
- Impact on Counterterrorism and Western Relations:
- Niger, a significant ally for Western nations like the U.S. and France in counterterrorism, faces isolation due to Western condemnation of the coup. The resulting discontinuation of development aid and sanctions may decelerate counterterrorism initiatives and pave the way for a surge in militant activities, increasing vulnerability in the region. Furthermore, the coup poses the risk of diminishing U.S. and other Western influences, potentially allowing adversaries like Russia to gain more influence.
- Humanitarian Concerns and Democratic Backsliding:
- The aftermath of the coup could spark a refugee crisis as Nigeriens seek to escape the escalating instability and deteriorating civil liberties. Niger’s role as a migration corridor to Europe could also exacerbate human trafficking issues. Meanwhile, the region’s democratic fabric is at risk, with Niger’s coup being the latest in a series of military takeovers in the Sahel. The growing trend of democratic backsliding, highlighted by multiple military coups across several nations, raises concerns for the future political landscape of the region.
On July 26, a faction of the Niger military launched a coup that overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum and installed General Abdourahmane “Omar” Tchiani as Niger’s new leader and formed a junta made up of various branches of defense and security forces called the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland (CNSP). The coup threatens the stability of the country and of the wider region. Inside the country, the coup has led to domestic unrest, erosion of civil liberties, and opened Niger to higher repercussions including a surge in militant activities and socio-economic instability due to sanctions and the suspension of development aid. Further, the effects of the coup bring a high potential for regional conflict, including setting the stage for either a stronger or a debilitated Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)— depending on how they play their cards— and could weaken the United States’ influence in the region.
The following are the critical security implications in the Sahel:
A loss of legitimacy for ECOWAS: ECOWAS had set Monday, August 7, as the deadline for the Junta to step down and renounce power, however, that did not happen. As of August 10, the option to wield the use of force to restore the constitutional order in Niger is still on the table and ECOWAS has ordered a standby force to be ready to intervene at a moment’s notice. The activation of an ECOWAS standby force of several thousand military personnel from member countries underlines commitments to prevent a domino effect of military coups in the region, ensuring regional democracy and efforts towards stability. There is a high probability that ECOWAS will intervene, especially in response to recent statements from the Junta to prosecute the democratically elected president Bazoum with the charge of high treason.
Emerging Factions and a Deeper Divide in West Africa:
Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali are unanimous in their refusal to impose sanctions on Niger. In addition, both Mali and Burkina Faso issued a joint statement that warned that any military intervention in Mali would be perceived as a declaration of war against them, actively opposing the rest of ECOWAS and its member states. This rift showcases a divide in how countries in the region are willing to act to prevent democratic backsliding.
Growing regional insurgency, terrorism, and militant activity across West Africa: Niger has been an instrumental ally to the West in its efforts to counter regional terrorism, specifically, both the United States and France maintain military bases in the country. The condemnation from the West against the coup has isolated Niger from Western allies and as a result, can slow down counterterrorism efforts and lead to a resurgence in militant violence. In addition, western countries, including the United States, have suspended development aid and imposed sanctions on Niger, further isolating the country leaving it vulnerable to increased militant activity.
An Emerging Refugee Crisis: The coup has led to a suspension of civil liberties and has increased insecurity in the region. Thus, there is a high chance of a refugee crisis with Nigeriens escaping instability and insecurity. In addition, the sanctions in condemnation of the coup are further straining Niger’s fragile economy which can lead to a surge in economic migrants and increases Nigeriens’ dependency on militant groups for livelihood. It is worth noting that Niger serves as a corridor to migration to Europe, which can lead to increased human trafficking and other dangers. A potential influx of tens of thousands of refugees into neighboring countries risks further destabilization of the region.
A Loss of US and Western Influence in the Region: Niger had long been considered a key ally in the US efforts to combat terrorism in West Africa and played a central role in containing the expansion of terrorist groups in the region. Since the ousting of President Mohamed Bazoum, the Coup has largely been condemned by key players including the United States, France, and the European Union, which represents a break in the relationship and influence the US had in the country and region. The United States has also ceased development aid to the country and the Junta has confined US troops to their bases further icing and threatening the relationship between the two countries.
Increasing Influence of Russia in the Region: Russia can be expected to back the coup both militarily and diplomatically as it seeks to compete with the West for influence in Africa and backing on the international stage.
Escalating Influence of Mercenaries via The Wagner Group: The coup will likely create further inroads for the Wagner Group, a mercenary Russian Private Military Company that operates in the Sahel region and broader Africa. Reports indicate the generals that orchestrated the coup in Niger have already asked the Wagner Group for help against a potential military intervention. It is unclear if the Wagner Group is willing to send personnel to Niger to fight a potential ECOWAS intervention force and risk angering member states. However, the Wagner Group might provide the Niger military with material support such as weapons in exchange for rights to natural resources. Should ECOWAS fail to militarily intervene, Wagner Group personnel can be expected to enter the country and deepen insecurity. The Wagner Group has followed a similar playbook in Mali and Burkina Faso, moving in to support military coups in exchange for rights to natural resources.
Regional Democratic Backsliding: The election of President Bazoum in 2021 marked Niger’s first peaceful and democratic transfer of power since its independence. Now, his ousting, captivity, and the coup threaten to destroy the thin fabric of democracy in Niger. The military coup in Niger is one of five coups in the region over the last 3 years including two coups in Mali in 2020 and 2021, and two coups in Burkina Faso in 2022 thus representing an ever-fragile context in the Sahel region. Regional actors are concerned that Chad could fall next to a coup in a domino effect.
The Coup in Niger leaves a security vacuum for violent extremist groups to thrive. If the Junta is able to consolidate power over the coming weeks, the neighboring countries of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger would all be ruled by military Juntas signifying a dangerous trend of democratic backsliding in the region.