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Fallout for the West from Niger’s military coup

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Niger’s military coup leaders and their supporters

Often referred to as the ‘Dark Continent’ in public discussion, military coups are no stranger to post-colonial Africa. In fact such instances of violent grabbing of power from legally-constituted or otherwise regimes by the military and quarters that operate outside the democratic framework have come to be seen as more the norm than the exception in the continent.

However, the recent military coup in Niger could be seen as attracting the West’s interest and concern to an exceptional degree. For instance, Niger’s just-installed military regime has drawn some crippling economic and military sanctions from the US and France. More such sanctions could be expected as the rest of the democratic West takes stock of the evolving situation in Niger.

Suffice it to mention that Niger is on record as being the largest recipient of US military aid in West Africa. It has, for instance, received armed assistance amounting to some $ 500 million since 2012. That is, it has been a staunch ally of the US.

In West Africa itself opposition to the coup is intense and growing. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), for instance, is reportedly mulling collective armed action against Niger’s military rulers with a view to returning the country to the democratic fold by restoring to power ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. Right now, ECOWAS is keeping the world in a suspenseful wait on what it intends to do in Niger.

To understand the urgency with which the US, for example, views developments in Niger, the observer would need to take into consideration the overall value the US in particular and the West in general places on strengthening their ties with Africa. A recent pronouncement by US President Joe Biden to the effect that, ‘Africa’s success is the world’s success’, sums it all up.

While the African continent has always been in the forefront of Western scrutiny and assessment from multiple viewpoints, a December 14, 2022, multinational summit President Biden held in the White House with African leaders, stressed afresh the importance the US has been placing on strengthening its ties with Africa on a number of fronts.

Some of the aims of the US in thus renewing and strengthening rapport with African leaders, reports indicated, were: ‘Building on shared values to better foster new economic engagement, reinforce US-Africa commitment to democracy and human rights, promoting food security and advancing peace and security in Africa.’

Molly Phee, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of African Affairs of the US State Department said in a communique earlier that the Biden administration, ‘intended to partner with the African Union, African governments and African societies to support climate adaptation projects to help Africans to respond to these dangers – seeking to help those directly endangered on the continent as well as those of us indirectly affected.’ She also explained that, ‘Africa is expected to become the 5th largest trading bloc in the world, and we want to be their partner of choice…’

Given this diversity of interests it should not come as a surprise if military coups in African states today are having the Biden administration extra worried. The US sees the abundant and diverse potential the African continent possesses as one of its future economic partners in particular and perceives it to be in its interests to ensure that anti-democratic forces, lawlessness and criminality are contained in the continent.

Thus, it could be said that the US is seeking to place its future relations with Africa on a pragmatic, mutually-paying footing. However, it seems to be also conscious of the fact that it has been losing out somewhat to China and Russia in this effort to shore-up its influence in Africa. Currently, China is speeding up with its investment drive on the continent under its Belt & Road mega economic infrastructure development project. Many African countries look to China for economic assistance, aid and investments and the dangers of such dependence are not lost on the US.

Likewise, Russia’s relations with a number of African political leaders and military strongmen are cordial and vibrant. In fact, Niger’s current military rulers and the Putin regime are reportedly on the best of terms. It is all too obvious that the ‘New Cold War’ is taking hold of Africa as well and the West cannot afford to stand idly by while all this happens. Hence, its multi-pronged initiative to strengthen its relations with Africa.

However, the merits of the US’ approach to Africa lie in the fact that it is depending on what may be described as democratic development to strengthen its influence in the continent. For instance, besides economic security, the US is also focusing on Human Security in its influence-wielding efforts. The US emphasis on strengthening human rights and democratic governance in the continent makes sense from this viewpoint. Its assistance to Africa on militarily neutralizing extremism and terrorism in the continent too makes sense when viewed from this stand point.

However, a long uphill task awaits the US and its Western allies in Africa. Over the past few months poverty has been growing in leaps and bounds in Africa particularly in the wake of Russia calling off its support to facilitate grain exports to the continent from Ukraine’s Black Sea ports. Accordingly, food security in Africa will be greatly endangered and it need hardly be said that extremism on numerous fronts will gain ground in the wake of such growing poverty and disempowerment.

The West could still contain the above sources of economic destabilization by supporting vibrantly the UN in its efforts to bring peace to Ukraine and other festering trouble spots. Besides, the US would need to patch-up its ties with China and place them on a durable footing if the prevailing storm centres in the international political order are to be neutralized.

In these efforts diplomacy and cordiality need to take centre stage. Clearly, the US and China ought to perceive that none would stand to gain by perpetuating the current troubled spell in their relations. Besides, such ups and downs in bilateral relations render the world bad for business.

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