(This paper was produced in partnership with Asbab.)
The political landscape of Niger has undergone a significant transformation following the military coup led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani. The coup has not only reshaped the country’s internal governance but has also introduced multifaceted geopolitical implications for the Sahel region and the international community. The following scenarios provide a comprehensive assessment of potential trajectories for Niger in the aftermath of the coup:
- Scenario 1: Stability Under Military Government with External Support: The junta consolidates power with external backing from countries such as Russia. Regional neighbors like Burkina Faso and Mali offer support, while Western powers, including the US and Europe, adopt a pragmatic approach, prioritizing regional stability and counterterrorism efforts over democratic norms.
- Scenario 2: Western-backed Regional Military Intervention: Perceiving the coup as a potential shift of Niger into Russia’s sphere of influence, Western powers, notably France and the US, support military intervention by ECOWAS. The objective is to restore the ousted government and counterbalance Russia’s growing influence.
- Scenario 3: The Coup Faces Internal Resistance and Fails to Persist: The junta encounters significant internal resistance from the civilian populace and within its military ranks. Public unrest coupled with internal military disagreements challenge the junta’s authority, leading to potential political realignments.
- Scenario 4: Mediation and Peaceful Transition: The international community, spearheaded by ECOWAS, initiates a diplomatic mediation process. The aim is to broker a peaceful transition back to democratic governance, ensuring stability and averting potential conflict.
Each scenario presents its unique set of challenges and risks. The evolving dynamics within Niger, influenced by regional and global actors, will shape the country’s future, with profound implications for the Sahel region and beyond.
Niger has emerged as a focal point of geopolitical interest and concern, primarily due to the unexpected military coup led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani on 26 July. This development has not only disrupted Niger’s internal political stability but has also sent ripples across the Sahel region and the broader international community. The drivers behind the coup can be traced back to internal disagreements within the military ranks and perceived governance challenges under the ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. However, the implications of this power shift extend far beyond domestic politics.
From a regional perspective, the coup in Niger has been met with apprehension. ECOWAS, the primary regional body, has historically taken a firm stance against unconstitutional changes in government. Their potential interventions, whether diplomatic or military, could significantly shape Niger’s political trajectory in the coming months. Moreover, the Sahel region, already grappling with challenges posed by militant groups, views the instability in Niger as a potential exacerbating factor that could compromise regional security efforts.
Internationally, major powers have been quick to recalibrate their strategies and stances in response to the coup. France and the US, traditional allies of Niger, are particularly concerned about the junta’s potential alignment with Russia. Such a geopolitical realignment could challenge their strategic interests in the region, especially given Niger’s significance in counterterrorism operations and its rich uranium reserves. The potential for a shift in Niger’s foreign policy alignment, coupled with the junta’s approach to governance, presents a complex matrix of economic and security risks. These risks are further compounded by the junta’s potential responses to internal resistance and the broader populace’s stance on the unfolding political scenario.
In understanding these dynamics, this position paper aims to explore the potential paths Niger might take in the aftermath of the coup. By examining key driving factors, uncertainties, and their implications, the analysis provides a comprehensive understanding of the potential risks and challenges that lie ahead for Niger and the region.
Scenario 1: Stability of the Military Government Backed by External Support
In this scenario, the military junta led by General Tchiani successfully consolidates power in Niger, achieving a semblance of stability. The junta’s efforts are significantly bolstered by external support, both from neighbouring countries and international powers. Burkina Faso and Mali, both grappling with their own internal challenges, see the stability of Niger as crucial for regional peace and extend their support, possibly in the form of diplomatic endorsements or even material aid.
On the international front, Russia emerges as a key ally of the junta. Given Russia’s sympathetic stance towards the coup and the potential involvement of the Wagner Group, it is plausible that Russia provides both diplomatic backing and possibly military assistance, further strengthening the junta’s position. This alignment with Russia could manifest in economic agreements or intelligence sharing. While the US and Europe initially condemn the coup, realpolitik takes precedence over idealism. Recognizing the strategic importance of Niger, especially in the context of counterterrorism efforts and the broader stability of the Sahel region, both the US and European powers adopt a more pragmatic approach. Instead of isolating the junta, they engage in dialogue, aiming to ensure that their security interests in the region are not compromised. This could involve continued joint military operations against militant groups and intelligence sharing.
Despite its initial condemnation of the coup and its traditional stance against unconstitutional changes of government, ECOWAS finds itself in a complex situation. Given the external support the junta receives, especially from Russia, ECOWAS might opt for a more diplomatic approach, pushing for negotiations and a potential roadmap for a return to civilian rule. The regional body could also play a mediating role between the junta and international powers, ensuring that Niger’s stability doesn’t compromise the broader peace of the West African region.
Domestically, the junta might focus on strengthening its grip on power. This could involve purges within the military to remove potential dissenters, the establishment of a state-controlled media apparatus to shape public opinion, and efforts to co-opt or neutralize political opposition.
The junta’s consolidation of power, backed by external support, could lead to a period of relative stability in Niger. However, this stability might come at the cost of greater political repression. The alignment with Russia could lead to increased Russian influence in the region, potentially making Niger a focal point in the larger geopolitical contest between the West and Russia. The pragmatic engagement by the US, Europe, and ECOWAS might ensure the continuation of their security operations in Niger, but it could also draw criticism. Regionally, the Sahel might witness a period of calm, but underlying issues such as economic challenges, climate change impacts, and militant activities would still persist.