Following the military coup in Niger which appears to be roiling the international community, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has joined the fray, sounding unusually aggressive, going as far as issuing a one-week ultimatum to the coup plotters in Niger to return power back to the democratically elected president or risk the use of force.
“…in the event the authority’s demands are not met within one week, [we will] take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger. Such measures may include the use of force” read an ECOWAS communique.
The last time ECOWAS was this bold and aggressive was in 2010 in Cote D’Ivoire. Laurent Gbagbo, the Ivorian president then, was defeated in a hotly contested election but refused to concede citing ‘vote rigging’. He got a pliant constitutional court to declare him elected. But by then, the international community and ECOWAS had already recognised his rival, Alassane Ouattara, as the legitimate winner. ECOWAS leader at the time, Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan, many believed, at the instance of France, asked Laurent Gbagbo to vacate office or expect to face “legitimate force,” while ruling out any power-sharing arrangement like the ones struck in Kenya and Zimbabwe following disputed elections.
Well, France was too impatient to wait for the snail-like movement of ECOWAS. Two weeks later, the French military yanked Gbagbo from power, pounding his residence with helicopters and gunships while rolling in tanks and armoured personnel carriers to boot. Ivory Coast is the French jewel in West Africa and the French government had soured on Gbagbo. The election was the perfect opportunity to get him out.
But there have been many coup detats of late in West Africa and ECOWAS did not threaten to intervene. France even agreed to disband Operation Barkhane and leave Mali and Burkina Faso after the coupists there indicated they no longer needed France’s assistance. So why Niger now?
Well, Niger is a far more strategic partner not only to France, but to the United States and Europe in the fight against Islamic insurgent terrorists, in curbing illegal immigration to Europe, and in the mining of Uranium to feed France’s huge nuclear energy industry. When France withdrew from Mali and Burkina Faso, it moved its troops to Niger and Chad. The United States also has 1000 troops stationed in Niger. The European Union has also been using the Nigerien army to disrupt the migration economy of Agadez. The town’s economy, even before colonialism, was centred on migration to and from North Africa and the middle east.
It looks eerily suspicious that ECOWAS, which quietly allowed the coups in Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso to stand is now bullish, threatening the use of force in Niger. Is it the hand of Esau but the voice of Jacob situation again? The French and United States military contingents in the country are perfectly capable of reversing the coup detat in a matter of hours. Why is ECOWAS agreeing to own the fight even though it may not be the one making the decision? It’s time to get real in Africa!
What did Africa get from St Petersburg?
As at the last count, about 16 African heads of state attended the Russia-Africa summit in St Petersburg last week. We should know the usual suspects – South Africa and a group of six countries that embarked on the ill-fated grain diplomacy or ‘peace mission’ to Russia and Ukraine in June together with some renegade African leaders who hoped to get some handouts from Moscow. It is good that most African leaders boycotted the summit. So, what exactly did those that went get? Nothing of course, except humiliation and publicly begging Vladimir Putin for grains. Putin, of course, responded in kind, condescendingly announcing he will even ‘dash’ free grains to six African countries – Burkina Faso, Zimbabwe, Mali, Somalia, Eritrea, and the Central African Republic. What do these countries have in common? They are either pariah states or those where the Russian Wagner mercenaries are active. The United Nations described the gesture as a ‘handful of donations to some countries” that will not dramatically impact anything.
Meanwhile, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa tried to sound tough calling for “the Black Sea initiative to be implemented” and insisting that “We are not here to plead for donations for the African continent.”
Putin just ignored him, announced his miserly donations, and continued with the bombing of Ukraine’s grain export facilities. Had African leaders decided to collectively boycott the summit, they would have achieved a better result or sent an unmistakable message to Putin. Rather, they choose to go parade themselves before the same person hurting them and begging him for grains. So much for diplomacy and self-respect!
Christopher Akor, an associate fellow of the Brian Reuben Policy Group is a political analyst.