At this stage, when we do not even know whether Niger’s coup d’état will take hold so our assessment of its implications can therefore only be speculative.
The first question is whether the putschists — who do not yet appear to have the undivided support of all the armed forces, and certainly not all the population — might succumb and back down to what will inevitably be massive external pressure from the US, France and the EU, not to mention the UN, African Union and ECOWAS. This is likely to be unprecedented because it was the last regional supporter of the West in the Sahel. It would be ‘the last domino to fall’ and therefore the West will do all that it can to prevent that happening.
This pressure could become extreme and especially if both the US and France withdraw their forces, either on their own will or on the orders of the junta. Without the estimated 1,100 US troops at two military bases — including the massive drone base at Agades and the estimated 2,500 French troops who have re-deployed from Mali — the Nigerien army would not be able to stem the two jihadist advances. These are: from Nigeria’s Boko Haram in the southeast; and the Islamic State affiliated État islamique dans le Grand Sahara (EIGS) in the southwest’s ‘three borders’ Liptako-Gourma region. Both could fall into the hands of Islamist extremists.
Another possibility is that Niger could literally fragment along north-south lines, or, more specifically following a rebellion by the Agades region against the county’s new rulers. Agades is Africa’s largest single administrative region and already enjoys a considerable degree of autonomy from Niamey which is around 1,000 kms away. Its predominantly Tuareg population, plus a few small Arab and Toubou-Teda tribes, is very supportive of President Mohamed Bazoum. Menas Associates’ telephone calls to key prominent officials in Agades since the coup began, have been met with expressions of anger at what has happened and even talk of taking up arms on Bazoum’s behalf.
Tension between Agades and Niamey is never far below the surface. If the plotters remain in power — and if there is an increasing Russian presence as there has been in Mali and Burkina Faso — the likelihood of civil war and Agades’ breakaway — similar to that of Azawad in neighbouring Mali — is a distinct possibility.
It is too early to say whether the new rulers will follow Mali and Burkina Faso in turning towards Russia. If they do it will bring the same horrors of human rights abuses to Niger as has occurred in the neighbouring countries, but it is unlikely to get that far. As is already developing in Mali, resistance by the Tuareg and some Arabs, to the Bamako junta and its Wagner Group allies is already heading towards renewed confrontation. If the same forces emerge in Niger, the Tuareg of both countries — those of the Kidal region and those in Agades — will probably join forces. We would see the emergence across the Sahel of something similar to France’s Organisation Commune des Régions Sahariennes (OCRS) plan of the 1950s. The difference would be that, while the OCRS was being planned by administrative diktat, it would now emerge by force of arms.
There is also the significant matter of money. Should the West — notably the US, France, the EU and a number of individual countries such as Belgium and Germany — reduce or cut their considerable financial support for Niger, its economy would be left in tatters. Its massive financial dependency on the West might deter Niger’s new rulers from straying too far towards Russia.
A final concern for the West, or at least Europe, is migration. Russia’s primary motive, should it gain a foothold in Niger, is to destabilise the West. If it were to gain influence in Niamey one of its first moves might be to persuade the junta to repeal the law — brought in following major EU funding to Issoufou — which seeks to forbid migrants from being driven across the Sahara. This would accomplish two things at once: it would ingratiate the people of Agades — who are involved in the human trafficking — to the junta while also causing no end of difficulties for the EU. It could eventually result in an additional 100,000 migrants a year cross the Sahel to the Mediterranean coast.This excerpt is taken from Sahara Focus, our monthly intelligence report on the Sahara region. Click here to receive a free sample copy.
The July 2023 issues of Sahara Focus also includes the following:
- Niger’s coup d’état threatens disaster for Sahel and the West
- The coup’s first 48 hours
- ECOWAS’ responds from Abuja
- Russia’s official and unofficial response
- Motives for the coup
- The support of the opposition
- Burkina Faso
- UNSC ends MINUSMA operation in Mali
- Foreign fighters accused of executing civilians
- US sanctions defence minister and officials over Wagner ties
- Showdown between Imam Dicko and the colonels
- New mining law could boost state and private revenues
- UEMOA lifts its suspension
- Chad adopts draft constitution and sets date for referendum
- Aid operations expanded to support Sudanese refugees
- President Ghazouani appoints a new government
- Former Army Chief of Staff elected head of National Assembly
- Mauritania urges Mali to return to the G5 Sahel
- French news channel suspended after jihadist-related remarks
- Jihadist threat labelled the world’s ‘most neglected crisis’