Everybody saw the coming disaster but the Economic community of West African States (Ecowas) whose top leaders, the Heads of State and Governments of its Member States, excepted the four countries under military regimes they have outlawed -they blindly decided on July 30th that the military route is the wisest way to dislodge those militaries who staged a coup on July 26 against what they term a constitutionally elected President. That happened in Niger Republic. In an esprit the corps, the civilian rulers of the remaining 11 West African States declared they would go to war to ensure their mission to restore democracy in the hapless Sahelian nation is accomplished.
That was grandstanding at its worst. And immediately the feeling ran through the populace of the region and in far-flung regions of the world that in addition to talking tough to preserve their own status, the new political warriors were also suspected to committing an assisted suicide in the hands of France in a bid to help this lingering neocolonial power to maintain its grip on what is called its “pré-carré”, the francophone preserve made up of a confettis of remnants of its colonial past on the continent.
Ecowas’ decision shocked the world. This was the blunder of all blunders awaiting to fall on a West African region already plagued with countless woes, torn apart between its economic impasse, social and security ills, political uncertainties -now comes in the hasty and headless decision by Ecowas to flex its weak muscles with a view to entering in a war, if needs be.
All this came about because its leaders without enough thoughts nor serenity decided barely four days after the coup d’Etat toppled their Nigerien pair that they would not want to be seen as giving to the latest pronunciamentos.
Dismissing their experts, not taken into account their proposition to go it gradually, and not properly consulting at home with their people or Parliaments, acting in an arrogant and blind way, the Authority of the Community as they are referred to, launched a series of unbearable economic sanctions against Niger, hurting strongly its people, along with an ultimatum to the authors of the coup plotters.
They were stark in their posture, calling them either to restore the ousted President, in the name of a sacrosanct constitutional order, within a week time, or face a military intervention that would force them out of office.
Never in international institutional cooperation has there been such a brutal response to an internal upheaval as the one the West African regional leaders have come up with to fix Niger’s latest bout of political disruption with the military exiting their barracks and positioning themselves at the heart and helms of their country’s socio-political life.
For Ecowas to unleash such a blow to the Nigeriens new leaders, many believe, there must be serious reasons.
France’s minister of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Colonna said they had made the “coup de trop”, one drop too much, immediately echoed by Aïssata Tall Sall, her Senegalese counterpart, borrowing the same expression from her French conceptual leader, to justify the war rhetoric that shakes since then the whole West Africa.
Who may not see that under the threat to be the next domino to fall in a context when militarism or, to use a Nigerian concept, “militics”, is no longer a shame.
An Afrobarometer report recently stated that 53 percent of Africans feel now comfortable with that prospect. And a meeting held over the past ten days in Monrovia, Liberia, even posited that at least two coups d’Etat may rock West Africa before the year ends.
That means we are now experiencing a race to the bottom.
Civilians who came to power in dubious conditions and entrenched themselves in all kinds of shenanigans have been among the loudest in the region’s leadership to call for a military intervention against the Nigeriens coup makers.
Their objective is to frighten the soldiers. To keep them away from the allays of political powers in a bid to maintain what had been the original arrangement after African nations gained independence, ie, that the political and military relations should be governed by the submission of the last groups to the formers.
That principle didn’t however survive long as, at the inception of African countries early years of political independence, over 60 years ago, the syndrome of the big men in power, ethnic-rule or bad governance made the first civilian rulers quickly become illegitimate -and hence the flurry of intrusion of military in African politics to rescue their nations as they cast their move.
In June 1999, at an Algiers Summit, held by the predecessor of the African Union (AU), namely the Organization of African Unity (OAU), African leaders, following a global trend towards democratization, on the back of the end of the Cold war with the demise of the communism, vertical, leadership, agreed to change the continent’s polity.
They decided that a pact making the military return to the barracks, controlling national borders, ensuring a secure national atmosphere and providing military engineering for national development and infrastructure would be matched by an improved, democratic, governance of the politics by the civilians.
That deal fell apart in light of the gross failure of civilians’ rulers to live up to their promise to do better than their Kaki counterparts.
What happened in Niger falls in that context where civilians once they get to power practice “one man, one vote, once”, never willing to exit democratically nor manage the resources of their countries for the national interest but for their private yearnings.
What prompted Ecowas to vade in with the warmongering language may have also to do with the fact that many of its national leaders have a conscience problem. Some of them, if not many, know they have not been elected in a transparent manner; others carry a lot of baggage having looted their countries’ purses and natural resources; and, worse, there are those who have blood in their hands considering their human-rights abuses and even killings.
The Niger military safari they recklessly validated is not surprising for any careful observer of politics in places where democracy is just a tool for achieving private goals.
The world indeed knows that when leaders, in such environments, get confronted at home with challenges that affect negatively their popularity or legitimacy, one of the ways to extricate from their declining lot is to find a way to distract the attention of their compatriots is by finding a scapegoat or distracting project.
In this regard, the fastest bet is to create a war. Argentinian militaries did just that by engaging over forty years ago in a war against the United Kingdom around the disputed Falklands/Malvinas Islands.
The Niger coming war -if ever it passes the rhetoric level- is not just one about going after a bunch of coup makers nor a derivation conflict alone.
Who is not aware of the geopolitics behind it? Here comes to mind France’s role in this saga. As, clearly, losing her grip on the former colonies she maintains through a solid web of indirect neocolonial strategies in Africa, including the control of their money, the supervision of their resources and security apparatus and the selection of their leaders, acting on her behalf and interests, France has been a driving force behind the tough stance Ecowas has taken on Niger. Even to the poing where it has mobilized the international community, from the United Nations, The AU, The European Union and of course Ecowas puppets eager to serve her wishes.
No matter what America says, despite her laudable efforts at mediating by sending to Niamey, Niger’s capital, Victoria Nulland, her number 2 diplomat, Washington has continued unfortunately to repeat Paris’s mantra. Stating that Ecowas, that is failing, must be supported. That is a stance that used to be the norm during the Cold war, from 1946 to 1989, when it agreed to a role-sharing with its European, former colonial powers, giving them the mandate to be in charge of Africa while it was focusing on the bigger picture, namely the containment of the Soviet Union.
No one can understand why when neocolonialism is being rejected across the continent and that former colonial powers have left Africa, why Paris remains still hell-bent to salvaging a divine ownership on over a dozen number of African nations.
The truth is that with herself and her Western allies calling for the sovereignty of Ukraine to be upheld in opposition to the Russian invasion, it has been suffering from since February 2022, how come France has managed to convince further the international community, to back the military solution to end the coup d’Etat in Niger? Many are also aware that it is only doing so to keep control of that hapless country’s uranium while stating the case that her colonial safari is not yet over.
We are living at a time when Francophone people and countries, not necessarily the Trojan horses Paris has kept at their helms, have engaged the battle for a genuine decolonization, the second and most earnest, of their lands.
By covering the military coup, may be the “parricide”, as it is known in French parlance (killing of his adoptive father, Idriss Deby), by General Mahamat Deby, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, is in the midst of this confusing situation while making the local official players being put to use at meeting like those of Ecowas which create a new rupture between an organization losing touch with the pulses of their nations -and the peoples who no longer are aligned with its erratic behavior.
In light of the growing conundrum, we are now faced with a huge dilemma. Will France bankroll a neocolonial military adventure in Niger with the risk of transforming West Africa into a powder keg? Will it not be funny to see the African military forces being deployed under the supervision of France? How can Macron justifies this zeal when barely two and four months after he was sworn-in as Niger President, the same Mohamed Bazoum he is projecting as a democracy champion was celebrating next to him, on April 2021, the coup d’Etat made by Deby-son as the sole manner to contain the rebels lurking on Chad?
Let us not overestimate the talk of Russia taking advantage of France’s demise in West Africa. The war against Ukraine and the Wagner rebellion, albeit brief, exposed the status of Russia’s Putin: a giant with clay legs…
Let us also not believe that China is eager to mingle in this complex crisis. The decision to invoke “force majeure” by the Chinese firm Guezouba in order to stop the Kandaji dam it was doing in Niger is the confirmation that the Middle Empire is more capitalistic than ideologically driven: hence the wait-and-see attitude it adopts, based on the tenets of real-politics -namely it bids its time, as advised by one of his paramount leaders, Deng Xiaoping, the father of its economic reform, before following the winning side.
The biggest challenge this crisis lay bare is the democracy decay in West Africa. We have never witnessed such a regression. Rule of law is suffocating. Corruption is rife. Social inequality destroys the social harmony. Ethnicism is back with a vengeance. Insecurity and terrorism all around. Human-rights trampled with. State-violence, the legitimate one, as argues Max Weber, is replaced by the surging of private militias, many created to sustain to power their masters. And, compounding this situation; sovereignty is being lost, even reduced, because leaders in the region are more dealers, willing to sell out what had been hitherto the pride of the nations they are in charge of.
Rescuing democracy will take more that bellicose rhetoric from the Ecowas leaders who are first and foremost compelled to show their true democratic colors before lecturing the world on what they don’t practice at home. Going to war in Niger is an even worse proposition. Having failed to fight the rag-tags armies of terrorists and jihadists, unable to play a Leviathan role as the keeper of security in their national borders, most of them have become day-dreamers.
By announcing they will go to war in Niger to do what America failed to achieve in Somalia in 1993 and in Afghanistan (where it ended up negotiating with the Talibans), the West African leaders did not even take into account that they could not fly their Chiefs of Army Staff to a meeting place in Accra this past Saturday, August 12th. Now they will do the encounter on August 16 and 17th just to show off, to increase their bargaining capacity towards a military junta they know they can get out of power.
Too little, too late. Where will they get the muscles to carry the troops, maintain them, face the budgetary constraints to be added to their dire internal situation? Who will foot the bill? Have they prepared a plan before going to war? Do they have an exit strategy?
With a landmass of 1, 266000 km2, in the hands of a military backed up by their citizenry and the population of West Africa, this harsh and inhospitable territory that Niger is may be the graveyard for many ill-equipped West African armies -and for France’s neocolonial remaining allure. And at the end of the day, the solution will be worse that the ill it was meant to cure may transform West Africa into a new Libya.
The signs are on the walls: the outcome would make of the region a big ball in fire, a volcano, while West Africa would fall further in all the metrics it had tried to meet by creating Ecowas on May 28, 1975.
This war talk is a joke that is better put aside than maintained as an unnecessary distraction for a region still grappling with challenges that make it the sick man of Africa.
Stop this nonsense…The shortest jokes, even those in the name of grandstanding or to seek legitimacy through proxy-wars, are the best. The West African leaders do not speak on behalf of democracy or the people of the region but only for the Club of civilian coup makers they want to be the sole in this league of criminals -the military is their fiercest competitors in this regard.
Restoring them once they lose power is not in the best interest of democracy, the world must be awaken on the complexity of West African politics…
As far as I am concerned, as an Ecowas citizen, I want to state it candidly: this war is not in my name!
Adama Gaye, a former Director of Communication of Ecowas, lives in exile after being illegally detained by the human-rights violating state of Senegal. He is the author of Hostage of a State (Editions L’Harmattan) that recounts his ordeal.