RileySENTINEL Special Report: Niger Coup

Strategic Impact for Niger and the Region

Niger river view

Photo by Michel Isamuna / Unsplash

Report Summary

The current coup in Niger is neither a novel occurrence nor likely the last in the chronicles of the nation's political history. Preceding the recent deposition of the president, a reactionary military faction attempted a coup following the 2021 general elections, prior to the president's inauguration. This coup attempt was unsuccessful. However, Niger's post-independence history, particularly in its position as a landlocked West African nation, is punctuated by repeated coups. The country is infamous for having one of the highest instances of coups in both West Africa and the African continent as a whole.

Niger's recurrent "coup culture" has resulted in a certain degree of public apathy. When news of the military takeover disseminated amongst the Nigerien populace, the reaction was marked more by nonchalance than surprise or shock. The frequency of such events has desensitized the citizens to the point of equanimity in the face of political upheaval.

Numerous security experts in the region had foreseen a continuation of the "coup culture" in West Africa. However, predicting the exact nation to be affected next proved to be an elusive task. By their very nature, coups are underpinned by conspiracy and secrecy, rendering precise prediction on their timing and location immensely challenging.

The unpredictability of coups and the lack of definitive signs that could point to an imminent coup left Niger's regional, continental, and international security partners blindsided. This sudden political shift underlines the necessity for enhanced intelligence and strategic contingency plans to manage the inherent unpredictability of the region's political climate.

In conclusion, the recent coup in Niger underscores the persisting instability in the region, a phenomenon that is further complicated by the unpredictable nature of such events. Increased vigilance and strategic cooperation among regional, continental, and international security partners are paramount to anticipate and, potentially, counteract such occurrences in the future.

Why Niger and Why Now?

Niger, the West African nation currently experiencing a coup, is no stranger to such political turbulence. Prior to the latest president's deposition, a coup was staged by reactionary forces within the military following his win in the 2021 general elections. This attempt, however, was thwarted. The prevalence of coups in Niger's post-independence history gives it a rather notorious reputation, making it one of the African countries with the highest frequency of such occurrences.

The term "coup culture" is used to characterize Niger due to its history of frequent political turnovers. This, in turn, has led to a sense of indifference among the Niger populace when they received news of the recent military takeover.

Security experts within the region had forecasted more coups but had been unable to determine the next country to be affected. The covert and conspiratorial nature of these plots makes predicting the timing and location a formidable task. Consequently, Niger's regional, continental, and international security partners were taken aback by the sudden coup.

The question that now emerges is, why Niger, and why now? Various factors could explain why Niger has been thrust back into instability. Firstly, the broader West African region has seen several recent coups that are reminiscent of the ideological proxy wars from the Cold War era. This period of instability was initiated by the coup in Mali in August 2020, followed by political unrest in Guinea, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Niger. Interestingly, Niger shares borders with three of these countries: Mali to the west, Burkina Faso to the southwest, and Chad to the east. With all these neighboring countries now under military junta rule, Niger's political stability was at risk of being sucked into the regional vortex of political unrest.

Secondly, the rise of violent extremism has created a perception among some that military governments may be more effective in maintaining security. Even though empirical evidence from Mali and Burkina Faso suggests otherwise, the belief remains widespread. The threat of extremism, particularly from ISIS affiliates in the Sahel, is growing in Niger, and this, coupled with the military's takeover, could lead some Nigeriens to believe that their security might improve.

Moreover, despite being a Sahel state dominated by arid and semi-arid vegetation, Niger holds a certain strategic significance, making it an important nation worth governing. This strategic value, along with the region's geopolitical dynamics and internal threats, adds complexity to Niger's ongoing political instability. It's imperative that these issues are understood and addressed to promote enduring stability and security in Niger and the broader region.

Regional Significance

Niger stands as the second-largest landlocked country in Africa, surpassed only by Chad, and holds the distinction of being the most expansive in terms of land size within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Beyond its geographical significance, Niger is endowed with substantial deposits of strategic resources, including uranium, gold, iron ore, and recently discovered petroleum.

Niger's uranium deposits have global implications, bolstering the country's strategic importance on the international stage. Further enhancing its significance is its rapidly growing population characterized by youthful demographics, indicating a significant potential market both now and in the future. By the year 2100, projections estimate that Niger's population could become the largest in the Sahel and the second-largest in West Africa, trailing only Nigeria.

The geographical positioning of Niger, particularly its southern border, is also of strategic significance. This border connects the more densely populated southern regions of Niger to Nigeria, the continent's largest economy, further emphasizing the importance of Niger in regional economic and strategic contexts.

Taken together, these factors - from its resource wealth to its demographic trajectory and geographical location - underscore Niger's substantial strategic significance. A deeper understanding of these factors is crucial to fully comprehend the regional and global implications of Niger's ongoing political instability.

The Global Dimension

Niger's strategic significance, as previously noted, has drawn the attention of numerous foreign powers. Traditionally, France has been the most influential power in Niger, maintaining its influence both before and after the nation's independence. Despite its historical function as a labor reserve for France's coastal colonies, which resulted in minimal developmental attention during the colonial era, Niger has maintained close diplomatic and economic relations with France post-independence. The French have dominated Niger's uranium mining industry, further cementing their enduring influence.

In recent years, as French forces in Mali and Burkina Faso have encountered challenges, Niger has served as a refuge for these units in the Sahel. In addition to France, the United States also maintains a security presence in the country.

Trade between China and Niger has increased significantly over recent decades. This pattern, reflective of broader regional and continental trends, poses a challenge to French economic dominance in Niger. Notably, in early July 2023, China engaged in discussions with the Nigerien government about potential deals, including the prospect of a uranium mine for the Asian power.

Russia, too, has exhibited increasing interest in Niger in recent years, as it seeks to expand its influence in the region. Much of Russia's presence in the Sahel, where Niger is located, is embodied by the Wagner PMC and the weaponization of information. Allegations of Russian disinformation campaigns are becoming increasingly prominent across Africa, and it's plausible that the current coup could, in part, be a result of this information manipulation in Africa, unless the new junta asserts otherwise.

Emerging powers, such as Turkey, the Gulf States, India, and Brazil, have also expressed interest in Niger, a testament to the country's strategic significance. Consequently, it's crucial to consider these dynamics of international interest and influence when analyzing Niger's political instability and potential paths forward.

What Happens Now?

In a move typical of African coups, the prospective junta has seized control of state television and declared their leadership. This symbolic gesture is often indicative of a successful coup, and the junta has stood firm in defiance of all regional, continental, and global condemnations.

Security actors in the region are closely monitoring the situation as the future direction of the country is expected to be shaped in the coming days. Meanwhile, Nigeria, the chair of ECOWAS and a country that shares a border with Niger, has firmly condemned the coup and declared the region's non-acceptance of this military takeover. While this position cannot be overlooked, such an approach has previously proven ineffective against juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso. It's anticipated that the current military leaders may treat such declarations as mere posturing.

In the aftermath of coups in other Sahel states, ECOWAS imposed sanctions against coup leaders and occasionally entire states. However, these measures have not dislodged the soldiers from their positions of power. In Mali's case, the sanctions even facilitated the engagement of Wagner PMC as an alternative external force in the fight against terrorism. The PMC's presence has fortified the junta and enabled their continued rule.

These precedents may lead ECOWAS and the African Union to reconsider their approach toward the current coup. If past strategies have failed, a more pragmatic approach may be deemed necessary.

After sanctions were imposed on Mali, the country left the G5 Sahel—a group of five Sahel states coordinating their efforts against terrorism. This exit disrupted the operational capacity of the force, as Mauritania became geographically separated from the other G5 Sahel states. Any African Union actions will largely hinge on ECOWAS's stance, and with Nigeria's economic heft within the region, a certain deference in handling the situation is expected.

While international forces are present in Niger, they are legally barred from intervening in the country's domestic politics, rendering this largely a domestic affair. Although some actors from the ousted government claim that the majority of military personnel do not support the coup, this isn't unusual as coups are not orchestrated openly. If these assertions hold true, we might witness dissent against the colonels who have assumed power. The situation will require close observation in the coming days and weeks.

For insights into the global dimension of the current coup, the junta's overtures to foreign powers could provide a revealing signal.

As the situation continues to evolve, understanding the broader implications of this recent coup is crucial. The RileySENTINEL team encourages all interested parties, particularly those whose organizations may be impacted by these events, to reach out here for a deeper analysis of the current political landscape and its potential ramifications.


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