Niger signs an official defense pact with Mali and Burkina Faso and warns ECOWAS that an attack will be ‘no walk in the park’
Niger signed an official defense pact with Mali and Burkina Faso leaders on Thursday 24th August, ‘allowing the defense and security forces of Burkina Faso and Mali to operate on the territory of Niger in the event of aggression.’ The signing followed a meeting between Niger’s new President, General Abdurahman Tchiani, and the foreign ministers of Mali and Burkina Faso which took place in Niger’s capital, Niamey.
An attack will be 'no walk in the park'
The announcement of the pact, was clearly a response to last week’s ECOWAS summit in Ghana, at which it was announced that a coalition of the forces of ECOWAS members stood in readiness to intervene militarily in Niger ‘anytime the order is given’ adding that:
‘We are ready to go anytime the order is given. The D-Day is also decided’
Niger’s de facto new President, General Abdurahman Tchiani, responded by warning the ECOWAS Generals that:
‘If an attack were to be undertaken against us, it will not be the walk in the park some people seem to think’
The leader of Mali, Colonel Assimi Goita, issued a warning to ECOWAS:
‘If ECOWAS dares invade Niger, we will not only intervene, but we will militarily invade Nigeria, to bring back the rightful winner of the 2023 election. We are fully aware of the real winner of the presidential election’
African Union suspends Niger's membership and gives tacit approval to an African led intervention
The African Union (AU), whilst urging foreign non-African entities to stay out of the crisis, is understood by omission to have given its tacit approval to an African led intervention proposed by the Generals who attended the ECOWAS summit. At the end of July (26th), the AU officially suspended Niger from all AU activities and called on all its member states and the international community to refrain from any action that could ‘legitimise’ the administration of the ousters of former President Mohamed Bazoum.
Neighbouring countries uneasy about the implications of ECOWAS military intervention
The leader of one of Niger’s close neighbours, Algerian President, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, has openly expressed his fears that:
‘a military intervention could ignite the whole Sahel region and Algeria will not use force with its neighbours’ adding that ‘We are against the coup but we are against a military action that would worsen the situation in Niger and beyond in the Sahel’
Also other states remain uneasy about the implications of starting an offensive, which could unsettle the whole region. It is notable that while Senegal’s government has pledged military support to the ECOWAS coalition, there is major unrest among its ordinary citizens at the idea of taking up arms against their neighbor and potentially plunging the regional bloc into an existential crisis, which they believe will raise questions about the relevance and the legitimacy of the bloc. Political pundits have noted that there are dissenting voices and disagreements at the very heart of ECOWAS, with the suggestion that member states appear not to be able to act freely. There is also the recognition of the struggle for influence from outside entities such as Russia and France. Opposition parties have argued that any support towards an invasion should first be discussed in the National Assembly.
Earlier in the month, The Nigerian Senate, whose President, Bola Tinabu, is also the current Chair of ECOWAS, completely rejected the idea of military intervention to reinstate Mohamed Bazoum. The head of the Senate in Nigeria, Godswill Akpablo, issued a statement which read:
‘The Senate calls on the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as chairman of ECOWAS to further encourage other leaders of ECOWAS to strengthen the political and diplomatic options and other means with which to resolve the political impasse in Niger Republic’