The Nigerien coup prompted a long overdue discussion about sovereignty in West Africa
by Andrew Korybko on 01 Sep 2023 0 Comment

The AU and ECOWAS are arguably against the sovereign will of the Nigerien people whereas that country’s interim military-led authorities, the newly formed Sahelian Alliance, and Russia all embody it on the national, regional, and international levels.


It was earlier assessed that “The AU-ECOWAS Rift Over Niger Was Predictable” due to their differing approaches towards the continent’s latest regime change. The AU believes that its ousted leader should be returned to power via peaceful means while ECOWAS’ active members are in favour of forcefully reimposing his rule. Neither of them support the interim authorities’ three-year transitional plan, however, with ECOWAS rejecting it outright and the AU suspending Niger right afterwards.


The AU also “called upon all Member States of the AU and the international community including bilateral and multilateral partners, at large to reject this unconstitutional change of government and to refrain from any action likely to grant legitimacy to the illegal regime in Niger.” This came shortly after reports began circulating that neighbouring Burkina Faso and Mali, which are also run by interim military-led governments, stationed warplanes in Niger to deter a French-backed Nigerian-led ECOWAS invasion.


Late last week [August 24-ed], those three countries’ Foreign Ministers met in Niamey, where they issued a joint statement that importantly declared the following:


“The three countries have agreed to grant each other facilities for mutual assistance in matters of defense and security in the event of aggression or terrorist attacks. They have decided to set up a consultation framework that allows them to coordinate their actions in order to deal with the multiple situations and challenges to which they are exposed. This consultation framework remains open to countries wishing to participate in this dynamic in order to respond to the concerns and needs of their populations in terms of peace, security and economic and monetary development. To this end, they agreed to set up a Joint Secretariat.”


Simply put, they’ve established a regional mutual defense alliance (“Sahelian Alliance”) that’ll also aim to accelerate political and economic-financial integration between them.


Before delving into a discussion about which of the three organizations involved in the West African Crisis – the AU, ECOWAS, and the Sahelian Alliance – truly represent the Nigerien people’s sovereign will, Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov’s detailed reaction to that country’s regime change is worth mentioning. It can be read in full here, but he basically concluded that the region’s interim military-led governments sought to rebalance their prior leaderships’ relations with the West for the betterment of their people.


That observation segues into the subject of this analysis since it lends credence to the views shared by Burkinabe leader Ibrahim Traore during late July’s Second Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg. While speaking among those of his fellow African leaders who were brave enough to resist Western pressure to attend, he still lambasted many of them for being imperialist puppets due to their opposition to his interim military-led government after it was suspended from the AU and ECOWAS.


His country’s people and those of similarly military-ruled Guinea, Mali, and now Niger all rallied behind their armed forces after they overthrew their French puppet leaderships, yet each were still punished by those two organizations to different extents, with Niger now facing the threat of invasion. It stands to reason that all of these interim military-led governments genuinely enjoy grassroots support otherwise there’d be Colour Revolution attempts and even anti-state rebellions /insurgencies /terrorist campaigns.


To be sure, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger – which have now joined forces to become the Sahelian Alliance – are indeed facing terrorist threats, but they’re derived from a radical ideological virus that predates their respective military coups and aren’t a result of those regime changes. The AU represents the African Establishment, however, whose members fear being overthrown by their own armed forces. For that reason, it always opposes coups even if they’re popular among the people.


The same can be said about ECOWAS’ stance since it’s pretty much just a regionally focused version of the AU that represents the West African Establishment more so than the West African people. Since the Nigerien coup is the fourth one to take place in the ambit of its influence, the non-suspended members of the group are more worried than the distant AU is about the possibility of a so-called “domino effect”, ergo why they’re threatening the use of force to reverse the situation while the AU remains against it.


Both organizations prioritize the interests of their elite members, the African Establishment as a whole in the AU’s case and the West African one in ECOWAS’, over those of the people that they claim to represent. This explains why they’re not only against the Nigerien coup, but why the AU told others not to legitimize it while ECOWAS is threatening an invasion. Although Russia is formally opposed to it and any anti-constitutional regime change too, Moscow’s stance is much more pragmatic than theirs.


Post-coup Mali became one of Russia’s closest military partners on the continent behind the Central African Republic, while Burkina Faso is considering following in its neighbour’s footsteps after Interim President Traore declared earlier this spring that he considers Russia his country’s strategic ally. These two Sahelian security relationships are flourishing in spite of Moscow having opposed their anti-constitutional regime changes since it believes in cooperating with them during their transitions.


By contrast, the AU and ECOWAS are against third parties legitimizing the post-coup leaderships of those countries who they’ve suspended even though the aforesaid could advance everyone’s objective interests like in the Russian example of helping Mali and Burkina Faso fight transnational terrorists. Once again, it’s important to remind the reader that neither those two, Guinea, or Niger experienced any Colour Revolution attempts or serious anti-state violence, thus confirming popular support for their rulers.


All factors considered, the AU and ECOWAS are arguably against the sovereign will of the Nigerien people whereas that country’s interim military-led authorities, the newly formed Sahelian Alliance, and Russia all embody it on the national, regional, and international levels. The first of those three carried out their coup for patriotic reasons aimed at realizing their people’s desire for true sovereignty after languishing under France’s neo-colonial occupation for decades as de facto slaves.


The second’s allies experienced their own patriotic military coups for the same reason and then sought to pool their forces to deter imperialist puppets like ECOWAS’ remaining members. As for Russia’s interests, it pragmatically decided to help these post-coup countries’ leaderships fight transnational terrorism since it’s in their own people’s, the region’s, and all of Africa’s interests. These three – Niger’s new authorities, the Sahelian Alliance, and Russia – are the true vanguards of sovereignty in West Africa.



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