TLDRUpFront: Continuing instability from ISIS & AQ Sahel conflicts and a string of emerging military dictatorships has put the 15-country ECOWAS bloc on a path for a regional war. ‘Suspended’ ECOWAS members, plus Wagnar are backing Niger’s coup, while ‘current’ members, plus Chad are considering military intervention to restore the former government, likely supported by France and the United States.
Supporters and opposition to the Niger coup, not shaded Chad to the east of Niger and Nigeria.
Full Context in Back:
Rising Instability in Sahel
The pre-pandemic ‘bad feeling’ I had from 2020 (see first comment) has now fully manifested. At the time, fighting between and from local ISIS and AQ affiliates was destabilizing the Sahel region, which extends as a central band across north Africa, south of the Sahara and north of the coastal countries on Africa’s northwestern edge.
That fighting continued and worsened during the pandemic, intertwining with local insurgencies and conflicts, prompting interventions by France (in Mali) and United States investment in Niger counter-insurgency operations. However, over the course of two years, beginning in May 2021, existing governments fell in civil war or coups in Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso and now in Niger. Add in Sudan to the east and there is a band of military dictatorships that stretches from west to east over most of Northern Africa south of the Sahara. Opposing these are the ‘current’ members of ECOWAS: Nigeria, Guinea-Basso, Liberia, Senegal, Benin, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, and Togo.
The Niger coup began when President Bazoum attempted to dismiss General Tchiani from command of the armed forces, leading to the President’s detention. President Bazoum is currently being held but has not resigned his office. This coup created a flash point between the two factions mentioned above which raises the risk of regional war. On one side, the ‘current’ ECOWAS members, backed by US, France which have invested heavily in Niger (it is a major exporter of uranium) and possibly Chad. ECOWAS has conducted military interventions in the past into member states to restore order and has threatened to do so again if Bazoum is not restored. The scope of this conflict space is roughly 10x the size in land and population as the current war in Ukraine.
Additional Combatants in a Potential Conflict
The “suspended” members of ECOWAS have aligned with General Tchiani and invited R̷u̷s̷s̷i̷a̷ Belarus PMC Wagnar to support their effort. Prigozhin met with Niger officials and seems eager to demonstrate Wagnar still has relevance, global reach, and punching power after the WTFEverThatWas in Russia in June.
Local Salafi-takfiri groups are also likely to continue to exploit, and be the cause, for regional instability. ISIS West Africa, which split off from Boko Haram in Nigeria, and ISIS Greater Sahara, remain active in conflict both with local government and their cola-war rivals of Al-Qaeda’s Jamaat Nusrat al Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) across the Sahel; though they are not coordinating together. Boko Haram, now returning to ‘independent contractor’ status after a few-year affiliation with ISIS still remains an active insurgency crossing the northern borders of Nigeria and Chad, allowing it to play a spoiler for potential land routes for intervention into Niger.
What Happens Next
A deadline set by ECOWAS to restore Bazhoum to power has met, and coup forces in Niger have closed the airspace and fortified the capital. However major fighting has not broken out (as of this posting) and there are some options still for non-violent resolution, perhaps a power sharing deal. Bazhoum is only under arrest and is making regular appearances. There is significant pushback to the coup within Niger indicating that local support for the military is mixed. But definitely, something to keep an eye on.
The Bad Feeling Comment from 2020:
Context for the Bad Feeling comment Pre-Pandemic 2020…This ‘bad feeling’ occurred *after* I thought the assassination of of Solemani would be the foreign-affairs story of the year for 2020 and *before* I thought the Turkish-Russian war in Syria would be the foreign-affairs story of the year for 2020.
In retrospect, 2020 had a lot going on.