This is a reaction to the unfortunate coup d’etat, which truncated the existence of a democratically elected government in yet another West African country, Niger Republic on July 26, 2023. It is also an attempt at providing possible exploration of ways and means of returning the situation to constitutionality by the de facto authority in Niger.

ECOWAS response to coups d’etat as a means of unconstitutional change

The Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS) did define clearly, its grounds for intervention, ‘establishing that it would respond to humanitarian disasters, threat to peace and security for the sub-region, and disorder occurring after threats to a democratically elected government’. These positions are rooted in the October 1999, framework for peace operations, the Protocol Relating to the Mechanism for Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, Peacekeeping and Security. The main organ supporting its peace and security responsibilities are the Mediation and Security Council (MSC) and the Executive Secretariat, now the Commission. The MSC is composed of the Heads of State and/or the Foreign Ministers from ECOWAS member states.

The MSC has several supporting mechanisms in the form of committees – the Defense and Security Commission (DSC), the Council of Elders and the ECOWAS Ceasefire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). It is necessary to reflect more on the role of ECOMOG, as ECOWAS is being questioned on the authenticity of the Standby Force and its legality. It will be recalled that in 2004, ECOWAS announced its decision to create rapidly deployable standby capacity through ECOMOG. The Protocol identifies ECOMOG as its military component, to be based on a standby arrangement involving the use of national contingents. These contingents are expected to be earmarked, train and equipped in advance of deployment and prepared for such deployment at short notice.

To this end, the Defense and Security Commission approved the concept of a 6,500 strong force with three parts. 1,500 rapidly deployable troops, followed by a brigade of 3,500 troops for more prolonged missions and 1,500 troops in reserve.

Deployment is also subjected to operational requirements and procedures of the force and an evaluation of equipment and logistics capabilities of member states through such exercises as the Contingent Owned Equipment (COE) evaluation. However, there is a challenge here, that the infrastructure needed for logistic depots in the sub-region is in Mali, which is on the other side of the divide, as the latter is in support of the putschists.

In other words, the ECOWAS Standby Force is in place and the size has since been doubled to 12,500 troops and can be activated within the rules of subsidiarity which it requires the authorization of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, in accordance with Art 53 of the UN Charter. In this regard, it should be noted that to activate the Standby Force, a minimum of 6 weeks is needed for it to be effectively deploy. Therefore, the Communique issued at the 2nd ECOWAS Summit of 10 August 2023 did not contradict itself, as efforts, will be on, at different tracks – diplomatic negotiations and economic sanctions, to ensure that, eventually, the stage of final deployment is avoided. We should also realize that such negotiations can sometimes be painfully slow. It may equally be pertinent, to point out, that according to Ademola Abbas (‘Consent Precluding State Responsibility: A critical Analysis (2004), ‘the Member States of the Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS) gave their consent to the organization taking enforcement action on their territories by ratifying a protocol. Thus, since all members of ECOWAS have consented, taking enforcement action on their territories, such enforcement actions arguably do not breach international law’. In effect, collective security, in this respect, even allows member states’ action to intervene through a standby force arrangement, without recourse to their parliament, to undertake such action, although this may be controversial.

It should also be necessary to point to the effectiveness of economic sanctions, including the no-fly zone measure. It must be said that a no-fly zone measure is not a humanitarian measure, as it was claimed against the Libyan regime. Thus, it does not require the degrading of Niger’s air assets. The measure in this instance is to put economic pressure on the regime and not to destroy assets. In fact, the regime also aided, inadvertently, ECOWAS position by imposing a no-fly zone in the territory.

Overall, it is expected that this and other sanctions will bite the regime into submission.

In practical terms, what does military intervention mean, within the concept of the standby force arrangement. In its execution, there are 6 Scenarios, and the last scenario is military intervention by way of the Standby Force arrangement. The six scenarios are the following –

  • Provision of advice to a political
  • Observer mission co-deployed with AU/UN mission
  • Stand-alone Observer mission
  • Peacekeeping force for Chapter VI and preventive deployment
  • Peacekeeping force for complex multi-dimensional peace keeping mission with low-level
  • ECOMOG Intervention (Terrorism and Unconstitutional Changes through Coup d’Etat)

However, following the December 2022 pronouncement of ECOWAS, which signifies its absolute anathema to coup d’etat and which considers coups in whatever form, as a threat to collective security. Intervention here is simply put, denotes the use of overwhelming force. ‘Collective security measures are actions or authorized by the UN Security Council, on behalf of the international community, to enforce

international law’. Therefore, on the part of ECOWAS, it is on the right course, in its quest of intervening in Niger Republic. Before intervening, all it must do, request the authorization of the AU Peace and Security Council, which automatically requests the approval of UN Security Council.

A question to be asked is, is military intervention the first option to be presented to the putschists. Given the near penchant of coup making in the neighborhood, it was deemed necessary to come out, heavy handed, in ensuring that no one defiles the will of the organization, in terms, of the maintenance of democratic practice. If there is need for change, then it will have to wait for another round of elections. This was affirmed in the December 2022 pronouncement through a communiqué.

Nonetheless, majority of West Africans, including Nigerians question the sanctimonious attitude of ECOWAS, to coup making as anathema while condoning other forms of Unconstitutional Change of Governments, within the neighborhood. They asked, where was collective security, when the situation in Guinea was brewing; when Ouattara of Cote d’Ivoire changed the constitution; what was the reaction of the organization to the attempt by the President of Senegal to extend his tenure; as well as the lackluster nature of the previous regimes in Mali and Bukina Faso, when they were obviously going against constitutional provisions. These are pertinent questions for ECOWAS to answer for them to be credible in front of their citizens, in its attempt at intervention.

Arising from the regime change in Niger Republic, one may want to ask, what are the likely factors that instigated the change. Here, I will mention three possible factors that come to the fore, among many others. The first, is the attempt to eradicate the vestiges of French colonialism in Niger. The lingering French domination through a series of unequal treaties between France and Niger and indeed many French West African countries leaves much to be desired. However, I do not in my honest opinion, agree to this factor of eradicating the vestiges of French colonialism. Because, if that is the case, why would they, in all honesty, think of replacing that with the Wagner

Group and even Russia. There is evidence of Wagner complicity in the pillaging of Sudan’s resources, to the detriment of the Sudanese people. Furthermore, the Wagner Group is likely to replace the French in the exploration of Uranium, given the non-state party access to such strategic material thereby contributing to fragile global security by way aiding the development of dirty nuclear arsenal.

The second point and which is of vital importance is the three-prong burner that is fueling conflict on the African continent. These are power contestation, identity management, and equitable distribution of proceeds of (natural) resources. In contemporary Niger, Bazoum and former President Issoufou are in a power struggle. Bazoum wants to show himself as being in control of affairs while Issoufou wanted to be the power behind the throne and attempt to direct things, sometimes openly. It should also be noted that Issoufou comes from the majority Hausa tribe, which constituted about 60% of the population and Bazoum comes from the Shuwa Arab tribe which is about 2% of the entire population, leading to the accusation that Bazoum comes from Libya. Again, the Presidential Guard headed by Tchiani (who planned and executed the coup), remained largely intact from the days of Issoufou. Most of them were Issoufou loyalists and belong to the Hausa and the Zamba tribes which constitute 20% of the population. Through a combination of policies, Bazoum tried to upset the apple carte by attempting to change the headship of the presidential guards as well as re-organized certain interests in the energy sector, mainly the oil sector and uranium exploration. This is a sector of the economy that Issoufou has a lot of interest in. From the foregoing, all the three are complete here. Power contestation between Bazoum and Issoufou; the fact of Bazoum belonging to a minority tribe and inappropriate management of identity and the need for equitable distribution of proceeds of natural resources – continued control by Issoufou, even being out of power.

Thirdly, it is necessary to interrogate and examine ECOWAS decision to come against the coup in Niger Republic. The kernel of ECOWAS position is aimed at ‘countering terrorism across West Africa and in particular, the Sahel, which still remains an ungovernable space and reinstating democratic governance following military coup d’etat’. These two threats were perceived as rather germane to the continued insecurity of West Africa. These seem to crystallize the sub-regional thinking of what constitutes the elements of regional security. To this end, in classical international engagements, states form an ‘alliance for the purpose of using force to resist external aggression (exogeneous phenomenon) on any of its members’, in this case exogenous to democratic order in Niger and therefore, breaching the peace of both Niger and that of the neighborhood. Therefore, the use of the standby force arrangement is directed against those who breach the peace, ‘and when you enforce an action against someone, you do not need their permission to do so’.

In my humble opinion, I wish to advise that ECOWAS should focus on both diplomatic negotiations and maintain economic sanctions as a means of convincing the putschists to negotiate a way back to status quo ante, while holding the deployment of the standby force as a final card which can be dealt. This, nonetheless, does not detract from ECOWAS abhorrence of military coups and terrorism in its neighborhood. It would ultimately allow for the development of an appropriate Concept of Operations (CONOPS) to fit the demands of a Niger operation if required.

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