ECOWAS will not take the plunge (By Chérif Diop)

However, its premature announcement is a strategic error. Despite the shock wave caused by the coup in Niger, no one has an interest in embarking on this adventure. Neither the member states, nor the Westerners, nor China, nor Russia, even less the close neighbors of Niger: Algeria and Chad, non-ECOWAS countries. The threat of the use of force is so surprising and thundering that the media have relayed this eventuality more than the nine draconian sanctions, and above all asphyxiating for the people of Niger.

And as such, the leaders committed a clumsiness to the detriment of the Nigerien populations, but also a strategic gaffe in the discussions with the junta. The height of misfortune for ECOWAS, the more the days pass, the more the sympathy capital of the junta grows within the Nigerien and African opinion.

This “excessive coup” is seen by heads of state as an opportunity to restore the institution’s lost sovereign credibility. To limit itself to economic sanctions would have been largely sufficient at first. Because, what must be admitted is that the disadvantage outweighs the objective. First: the damage is done, the military has taken over the state apparatus. Secondo: wanting to restore constitutional order at the risk of aggravating the region’s volatility is to “Libyanize” this area. The game is not worth the candle, whatever the underpinnings and consequences of this coup. Within the Economic Community of West African States, some leaders fear the domino effect.

As for Senegal, one of the rare countries in Africa not to experience a coup d’etat, the singularity of its republican army is the major asset of its stability. In the setting of Senegal, “ the army is the most beautiful adornment. The singularity of the Senegalese army lies in the subordination assumed, with zeal, to political power, as soon as this power is elected DE-MO-CRA-TI-QUE-MENT. Without any sycophancy, we can affirm that the Senegalese army is a disciplined, republican army, completely detached from political questions, as the Directorate of Information and Public Relations of the Armed Forces (DIRPA) recalled in its press release number 104 of the March 31, 2023.

Nevertheless, it is out of pure professionalism that the Senegalese military and other members of ECOWAS are preparing for a hypothetical military intervention. Because, it must be understood, when a self-respecting chief of staff receives orders from the supreme leader, he embarks on preparations for operationalization. In the meantime, all the military actions undertaken by the armies, including that of Senegal since the ultimatum set for the junta, are consistent. Fortunately, as we stated above, the military intervention is nothing more than a maneuver announced prematurely. And as a result, the indignation against this disastrous project is stronger than the coup orchestrated by General Abdourahmane Tiani.

ECOWAS wanted to impress the junta by displaying unprecedented persistence in such circumstances. She shot herself in the foot, setting the pressure slider so high. The risk when you start a negotiation with a displayed position is that you no longer have any room for maneuver to make concessions.

The initial requirement is so firm that the breaking point was quickly reached. There is no area of possible agreement between the two parties. Religious diplomacy had to be used for a semblance of a thaw. In this impasse, the sanctions are consuming the people of Niger. To get out of the rut, do not expect a blitzkrieg, a military intervention, casus belli for Mali and Burkina Faso would be a perilous adventure. Also, the geostrategic and economic stakes will impose at some point the exit from the crisis according to the ogres who maneuver behind the scenes. (For example, exfiltrating President Mohamed Bazoum and his family and carrying out a transition.)

The status quo does not help anyone because Niger is a major supplier of raw materials. According to Euratom, the European Atomic Energy Community, the European Union (mainly France) depends very largely on uranium mines: Niger with 25.3% is the second largest supplier to the EU behind Kazakhstan 26, 8. Overall in trade, China is the leading importer with 24%. Ahead of France 21%, yet the leading investor in Niger ahead of the Middle Kingdom, which is on the rise.

Russia, already well introduced to the region, is observing the situation with an ogre appetite. As far as the United States is concerned, the stakes are more geostrategic than economic. Faced with what appears to be an aporia for ECOWAS, the organization cannot intervene militarily without the real consent of its partners.

Especially since Paris and Washington condemn the coup, but do not have the same narrative on African issues. It would not be surprising to see American diplomacy distance itself from the Quai d’Orsay as events unfold and the crisis escalates. The Americans are very well informed of the reality on the ground in the Sahel, having a base in the north of Niger in Agadez.

American diplomacy knows how to show a cold realism when it comes to putting forward its interests. Moreover, in international issues, Raymond Aron’s theory has a bright future ahead of it: “Foreign policy does not depend on justice, nor on good or evil, it responds to a logic of domination and capture. There are plenty of examples, I will cite three: in 2013, the world was seized with dread following the Ghouta massacre in Syria, sarin gas attack (more than 1,500 dead.)

Barack Obama and David Cameron dropped President François Hollande at the last minute, ready to attack Bashar Al Assad. The English retained by the parliament, the American turned around after measuring the risks with the pentagon. A decade later, Bashar is still in office, the better he made his return to the diplomatic scene by participating in the last summit of the Arab League in Riyadh. More than four years after the appalling assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Kashoggui, Crown Prince Mouhamed Ben Salman is once again in good company.

More recently, in 2021, Emmanuel Macron, the French president himself went to validate the monarchical devolution in Chad for reasons known to all. Ultimately, regarding the situation in Niger, ECOWAS will still swallow snakes, because nothing would explain a military intervention. Strongly contested in recent years, the sub-regional organization has had eyes bigger than its stomach. “What is useful to many outweighs the desires of the few”. 15 heads of state do not have the right to row against the majority of African opinion. We dare to believe that they will not cross this fatal step.

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