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The Niger Crisis: A Coup That Could Turn Into a War

Niger was thrown into a crisis this summer when the country’s military overthrew its democratically elected president on July 26. This coup has prompted threats of intervention from other countries in the region, with different countries supporting either the overthrown president or the military. The crisis even risks leading to intervention by France or the United States.

A West African nation of about 25 million people, Niger has endured political upheaval before, but held successful democratic elections in recent years. Mohamed Bazoum was elected president of Niger in 2021.

Niger also has deposits of oil and uranium and has been a partner of both France and the United States in combating insurgent groups in West Africa. Roughly 1,500 French troops and 1,100 American troops are stationed in Niger, which also serves as a base for US drones.

The July 26 coup began when soldiers in Niamey, Niger’s capital, placed President Bazoum under house arrest. The coup plotters, led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani, soon dissolved the government and announced their seizure of power. They also announced their intention to try Bazoum for “high treason” and “undermining the internal and external security of Niger.” As of this writing, Bazoum is still alive and has even been able to communicate with international organizations and others while under house arrest. Protests in the streets of Niamey were met by soldiers firing guns.

France and the United States have responded to the coup by suspending their cooperation with Niger’s military; US drone flights have stopped and US troops are restricted to their bases. Both countries have also threatened cutting aid to Niger.

The most dramatic response to the coup has been from other West African countries and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional organization of 15 countries. ECOWAS, which has intervened in regional crises in the past, has imposed sanctions on Niger and threatened possible military action if President Bazoum is not restored to power.

Following ECOWAS’ lead, Nigeria’s government has indicated a willingness to intervene in the crisis with military force. Several other nations in the region have made similar promises. Other West African regimes have a different view: Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali have indicated support for General Tchiani. Burkina Faso and Mali have even suggested they would consider foreign military intervention against Niger’s new regime a declaration of war on them as well.

Competing regional interventions in Niger would be dire enough. The Niger crisis might draw in still more actors, though. France or the United States might be tempted to intervene. One or both of these countries might intervene to protect their ability to continue military operations in Niger or to prevent Russia from gaining influence in the region. After a coup in Mali, members of the Wagner Group, the Russian paramilitary organization, were deployed to that country. Western nations might intervene to prevent the same outcome in Niger.

The violent overthrow of a democracy is a grave injustice and tragedy. Restoring democratic government to Niger is a worthy goal. However, such a goal is best pursued nonviolently by the people of Niger. Nonviolent methods of resisting coups exist, and not all these methods involve the same risk as public demonstrations, such as those violently dispersed in Niamey. What is crucial is non-cooperation with the coup-imposed regime, which can involve strikes, work slow-downs, or officials simply declining to provide support.

In contrast, military intervention, whether by nations in West Africa or elsewhere, will likely lead only to increased bloodshed. Intervention might even give greater legitimacy to General Tchiani, who could present himself as defending Niger from foreign enemies. Those of us living in countries that might intervene in Niger should be on guard against this danger. Niger should decide its own fate.


Disclaimer: The views presented in the Rehumanize Blog do not necessarily represent the views of all members, contributors, or donors. We exist to present a forum for discussion within the Consistent Life Ethic, to promote discourse and present an opportunity for peer review and dialogue.

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