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[Analysis] After the coup d'état in Niger, several questions arise

(B2) Should we intervene militarily in Niger? Should we continue to train African armies who then carry out coups? What about European training missions on site? The questions are many, disturbing if necessary. But you have to ask yourself.

It is not certain that the Defense Ministers and their Foreign Affairs colleagues gathered on August 30 and 31 in an informal meeting in Toledo in Spain would dare to address all these questions in public. But it will certainly be discussed in the corridors.

1° Is ECOWAS military intervention desirable?

A military intervention by ECOWAS would be extremely risky. Unless there is an extreme turnaround, it could unite Nigeriens rather than divide them. Banking on an implosion of the junta is also risky and could leave the country in a Sudanese situation, more dangerous in itself than this takeover by the military. Victory is therefore far from certain.

Even a military victory achieved, the country would then have to be held and managed with security and defense forces crossed by opposition movements and who could drag their feet.

Furthermore, a military intervention would be a fantastic opportunity for terrorist movements such as Daesh, Al Qaeda and others who could carry out offensives that could lead, in a deadly manner, to several cities in the country. The danger is not theoretical.

In short, the military route to resolving the Niger crisis appears to be a path fraught with danger.

2° Can ECOWAS intervention be supported by Europeans?

If officially ECOWAS benefits from the political support of Europeans, in practice the situation is quite different. And the Europeans are far from being so determined and united. Are they ready to provide logistical assistance (air transport for example) or in terms of intelligence? Apart from France, no country seems willing to do so and especially not those which have troops there (Belgium, Italy, Germany). Are they ready to say yes to a possible request for financial support from ECOWAS? In particular, via the European Peace Facility. Not sure at all.

3° Can this intervention be dissuasive?

It doesn't seem obvious. The military coup obeys often internal imperatives and motives (1), as the coup in Gabon proves. On the other hand, putting oneself tied hand and foot in the hands of the military to solve a political problem is rather a risk of ensuring the contagion of coups d'état. In the countries ready to provide troops (Benin, Guinea-Bissau Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Senegal, etc.), who will be the one where the forces will take action tomorrow?

4° What to do with European military missions on site?

Of the five training missions (EUTM) or military partnership (EUMPM) that the European Union has in Africa, three of them (Central African Republic, Mali, Niger) are in a state of sidereal suspension. They operate slowly, or are even officially suspended, due either to a military coup (Mali, Niger), or to strong competition from other actors (Russia in particular), thwarting European plans (Central African Republic). The same goes for the civilian assistance missions of the internal security forces: EUCAP Sahel Mali is at a standstill and EUAM RCA is functioning at half capacity.

Staying put is necessary, some say (Spain for example) in order not to leave room for others and to guarantee possible developments. Leaving is the only solution to avoid supporting a military regime, say others (France for Mali, but not for Niger). Each of the arguments is admissible. But we will have to decide at some point.

5° Should we continue to form armies which then carry out coups d’état?

This is a fundamental question, which will perhaps not be addressed head-on in Toledo. Because it is very complex and multifaceted. But you will have to ask yourself one day. Is the forced development of armies and security forces, desired by the West to fight against terrorism, not putting the military in a position of strength against civilians, subsequently leading to a takeover of power?

Doesn't the European doctrine for training African armies, inspired largely by France, date from another era? Should we keep it, transform it or abandon it? A major strategic review is necessary.

In the same way, maintaining the French Operation Barkhane in Niger appears (very) complicated. How does France intend to cooperate with a military regime that it considers illegitimate and reviles copiously? A decision should be necessary, if not today, then at least in the short term.

6° Finally, should we not change our attitude towards Africa?

The fact that these events mainly occur in the former French colonies is striking. Are the official speeches highlighting the necessary partnership and equality between Europeans and Africans the reality? The last speeches, by their condescending tone, their arrogance, are not the best testimony to this. Three years after the France-Sahel summit in Pau in January 2020 (Read: Pau Summit: Africans and French agree to work together) the result seems a beautiful disaster.

One method seems to have had its day: that of summoning African leaders and teaching them a lesson, that of making outrageous public denunciations. Supporting certain leaders too openly today amounts to a real “kiss of death” for them.

Finally, the double standard is hard to deny. The coup in Chad, the certain cuts to the democracy of the powers in place "friends of France" in Gabon or Senegal as much as the virtual silence of Paris on these countries are of concern. They do not go unnoticed, especially in Africa.

7° Prepare to face possible retaliation?

A very poor country, Niger is certainly very dependent on the outside world. But there is no lack of pressure tactics either, contrary to what some comments indicate. Starting with immigration. Niger is one of the locks » set up by the Europeans (in Agadez) in particular to, if not prevent, at least limit, the rise of populations from the South towards Europe, via Libya (or Tunisia afterwards). Blackmail at the opening of this lock is always possible. You have to prepare for it.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

  1. Seeing this coup only through the prism of Russian interference is biased. We seem more in political opportunism - Russia (like other actors) is looming on the spot, delighted to take the place of the French (and Europeans) - than in a situation like the Central African Republic, where Russia pushed the French out.

Updated with mention of Barkhane

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).