Dr Marcel Mbamalu writes that while the hopes of war in the aftermath of the Niger coup dims, diplomatic options are getting even vaguer:
Since the military takeover in Niger, the option of war has dangled over the country.
Western powers and ECOWAS strongly condemned the coup and demanded immediate restoration of democracy. The coup leaders, led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani, have so far refused, and instead dug in, even threatening to kill Mohammed Bazoum, the ousted president. They are backed by their own people who are celebrating the coup, in addition to other military-ruled countries like Mali and Burkina Faso, which are lining armament to support Niger. The action of ordinary Nigeriens is the major irony surrounding democracy and its notorious toga of a veiled route to civilian autocracy and western inroads to neocolonialism in Africa.
The echoes of war have since dimmed, as disagreement have grown within the ranks of ECOWAS member countries. First, Nigeria’s senate refused to grant the president the leeway to war, the meeting of ECOWAS parliaments on August 15 ended with vague support for war and sanctions against Niger. Recall that Nigeria has stopped electricity supply to Niger, while ECOWAS has closed all land and air borders with Niger, whose foreign accounts have been frozen.
Many analysts in Nigeria, West Africa and the world have warned about the grim consequences of war, which no party in the dispute can afford both in the short and long terms. Such consequences include a dire humanitarian crisis, possibility of bigger security problems in the Sahel, a refugee crisis, threat of escalation to the whole of Africa, and the implications of war to the non-demarcated borders between Niger and many of its West African neigbours, especially Nigeria, where about six states share borders with Niger.
There is also the repugnant idea of West Africa fighting itself to serve the neocolonial and mercantilist interests of France and the US, who have been implicated in sordid economic exploitation of Francophone Africa in general. There is an alleged US blackmail of Nigeria’s president, who is fighting a serious legitimacy battle as a president, and whose fiercely contested electoral victory is now a cynosure. Tinubu is also facing critical battles regarding his educational background and drug-related past.
As the Hopes Of War Dim, Diplomatic Options Are Even Vaguer
ECOWAS, the US and France want democracy back in Niger. The coup makers have said no. In the short term, ECOWAS has been singing the tune of diplomacy, while still dangling the war option. Even the US is also singing the diplomatic song. Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, told the French radio station RFI on August 8 that “there is no doubt that diplomacy is the best way to resolve the Niger situation”. Blinken also dismissed speculations that the either Russia or Wagner or both plotted the Nigerien coup, insisting that the coup plotters were simply taking advantage of the speculation to contrive support for what they are doing.
However, terms such as the use of multilateral diplomatic mechanisms have not gone beyond the semantic sweetness. Niger’s rebuffing of dialogue leaves a diplomatic quandary for ECOWAS and co. It is unlikely that future diplomatic efforts would resolve this quandary, especially as the coup makers know the setbacks to war bedeviling ECOWAS and Nigeria, the main war dramatis personae. First, for a developing region, with security and economic problems, the cost of an invasion can be scary, with further fears of escalation and a protracted war. Threats of more coups in some West African countries have already started heightening. There is also the attendant difficulty of forming a command structure for the war. It is not easy to plan for an invasion of a country with a difficult terrain and vast lands like Niger. This can take months to plan. This is something that Tchiani knows very well, having served as battalion commander for ECOWAS peacekeepers in Ivory, after a ceasefire between government and rebel forces in 2003.
The Best Diplomatic Option is Long-term
In the end, there is a long-term diplomatic advice for ECOWAS, if it is interested in a healthy democratic future for West Africa. That is, to create a multi-nation team to start critical discussions on democracy, Western imperialism and self-determination in the emerging world order. This is in light of the ongoing tussle for global domination between NATO and BRICS countries, which appear to be using Africa as a turf and tug of war.
West Africa, not only Niger, should engage in an introspection of sorts. Such a retreat must transcend the Niger coup and the contrived necessity of restoring democracy there. As it is, the series of coups in Africa may be an imperative to talk about the severe crisis of governance, human dignity and the rights to life in today’s Africa. But will it work with the current puppet regimes in Africa?
Since 1999, when Nigeria returned to democratic rule, every election cycle has revolved around London, which appears to be the conferrer of legitimacy to presidential aspirants. Between 1999 and 2023, Nigeria moved from a fuel price (premium motor spirit) of less N25 naira to N625; four working refineries to no functional refinery; a dollar to naira exchange of N22 to nearly N1000 naira; inflation rate of 6% to 24%. Unemployment, hunger, insecurity and corruption have all defied statistics to make the country one of the worst places to be a human being. It is within this context that President Tinubu, less than one month in office, sought senate approval to drag ECOWAS and Nigeria to war. Some have questioned why Nigeria has taken up the ECOWAS presidency for the second time in four years within a 15-member body. The democratic process in West Africa is characterized by choking international interferences, which end up with the worst (puppet) leaders possible. This should be the subject of diplomatic efforts on democracy in West Africa. Restoration of democracy in Niger in the short term may only worsen the situation.
Dr Mbamalu is a veteran journalist/Editor, Journalism Teacher, and media/Communications Consultant of over 24 years