Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

EDITORIAL: Niger Needs Deeper Mediation Diplomacy, Not Military Intervention – Premium Times

After toppling the democratically elected Nigerien President, Mohamed Bazoum, on 26 July, the new military junta in Niamey, riding on a dizzying wave of orchestrated populist urgings, has suspended the constitution, detained the president (and his family members), and closed the nation’s airspace and borders.

The junta has also continued to maintain a hard line in response to a range of sanctions, some of which are crippling, like those from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and other merely symbolic ones from the African Union, the United Nations, and some other states. It has neither released the detained president and his family, nor sought to restore civilian rule. Instead, using the easy fig leaf of geopolitics, it has made it all about French and American power overreach, and the pawns of these powers to subdue the sovereignty of Niger.

Seeking early legitimacy by dredging into the pool of the anti-colonial sentiments of its 25 million citizens, the junta seems poised for a long battle to retain power. This is where the key challenge of diplomacy will be tested vis-à-vis the new administration of Bola Tinubu in Nigeria, ECOWAS, and the world at large.

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, a victim of a callous history and geography. It is landlocked, arid, and an ugly symbol of the current global crisis. While a vengeful colonial history has drained most of the country’s wealth for the purposes of France, its post-colonial reality, since independence in 1960, has offered no respite from corrupt and greedy elites who have seemingly weaponised the sprawling poverty and wretchedness of the citizens to retain power and continue their plunder.

Much has been said about the country’s uranium deposit, but its true value is a paltry 6 per cent of the global market share and even France, contrary to the raucous media fiction, imports most of its uranium needs from Kazakhstan. The reality is that Niger is in the doghouse. It can hardly grow its own food. In fact, Niger imports one-fifth of all its food requirements, and for that reason, depends considerably on close to $2 billion a year in development assistance for survival.

The junta needs to take a hard look in the mirror and match the image with the object. Rhetoric and bluster will not cut it for the country; neither will the khaki or jumpsuits offer any easy way out of the economic and political crises facing the country. The situation could easily spiral out of control if not carefully managed.

With Russia’s cynical blockade of the UN-sponsored Ukrainian grains programme to Africa, Niger needs every cent of the half a billion euros in European assistance pledged until next year, and the $153 million US assistance in the books for this year, otherwise the humanitarian situation in the country will worsen and the poorest of its people will be the victims. This potential misery ought to inform the decisions taken by the junta, going forward.

PREMIUM TIMES urges the ECOWAS Council of Heads of State to deepen the path of diplomacy and dialogue with Niamey. The sanctions must not make a post-Tchiani recovery impossible. The electricity cut off, for instance, will damage, very badly, an economy already reeling. This is not a lame excuse in support of the objective of the junta, which is adding “offences” against the ancien regime daily as a justification for legitimacy. The most recent claim of probing a whopping $153 million defence procurement corruption is a case in point.

Corruption is the unhappy element in the post-colonial narrative of Niger’s underdevelopment, and the Omar Tchiani-led coup will not be the first to use it as an excuse to unravel democracy. However, this defence procurement scandal deserves attention and diligent investigation.

As PREMIUM TIMES indicated three years ago, when we published this scandal, the defence sector, particularly its procurement process, is the most opaque and corruption-ridden aspect of state management in Africa. Hardly any ECOWAS state, including Nigeria, can stand the test of integrity in this regard. It will be fascinating to see how former President Issoufou, Tchiani’s erstwhile boss, under whose regime all this happened, and perhaps the unseen patron of this current coup, fares in relation to the scandal.

This is a straight line to the theme of good governance, the missing epicentre in the region’s story of development deficit, and the foundation upon which successive military adventures have built their plots to truncate democratic consolidation in this corner of the globe.

Most commentators will propose that this fragility of the state, the worst representation of which assumes the complexion of francophone ECOWAS, should remind France of the moral quality of its civilisation and how its ex-colonies find purpose in that enterprise. It is for want of a decent term that we must characterise that relationship as the worst case of peonage in the lexicon of international relations.

This, putting it kindly, is a challenge to France’s conscience, and it ought to consider it a curse that some usurious oddity called Colonial Agreements still bind it to sovereign states six decades after their independence. More than ever before, the “agreement” casts France as a parasite on its former colonies. The spectre of the agreement is strong in the developments we are witnessing in Niger, beyond its instrumentalisation by the junta. Duplicity is not a strange entry in the choice of terms when it comes to diplomacy but a country that assembled the world in Paris this June to design a new global financial architecture that is “just, equitable and inclusive” must shred those horrible pages from the agreement binding it to its former colonies.

Pity will be the word if the Tchiani junta, like its compatriots in Mali and Burkina Faso, thinks that dressing up in military camouflage will solve the problems of their countries. Africa is the best reference of the encyclopedia of military worthlessness in governance, where successive “revolutionary” militarists quickly decompose into morbid putrescence, once the coup leaders find adjustment and cosily tuck their tummies into the sofa of power.

Tchiani, who has served as head of the presidential guard since 2011, is evidence of everything wrong with the military in Niger. His current metamorphosis as a presumed liberator needs to be welcomed with sharp doubt. For this reason, PREMIUM TIMES urges him to cut his rowdy rallies in Niamey short and announce a quick handover plan to an elected civilian administration based on credible and clear democratic tenets, including subordination of the military to civilian authority.

This is the point Nigeria, as the current Chairman of ECOWAS, has tried to deliver, loud and clear. It was not going to be an easy role. Nigeria’s northern segment has citizens whose relations are aboriginal Nigerien. Hausa is spoken by over 50% of the people in Niger, who also share the culture and religion as their Nigerian cousins. In many respects, the two countries share more than what separates them. This is the challenge Nigeria faces in imposing crippling sanctions on a fraternal neighbour.

The integrity and future of ECOWAS is also at stake. The decision of the Community had to be implemented, and while the communique issued on Thursday, 10th July in Abuja sounded escalatory, it nonetheless offers wide margins for mediation and negotiated outcomes. Niger must at least meet the Community halfway. The sponsored anti-Nigerian rhetoric in the country serves no tangible goal. The predominant mood in Nigeria itself rejects a war against Niger but that is not the same as saying people accept military rule. To be clear, there are few and influential war mongers in Nigeria’s policy corridor, but they are at best spent forces seeking relevance and lucre in a new dispensation.

It is worthy of making the point very strongly that no military in the subregion, or even Africa, has any special skills in making itself the preferred option in solving the continent’s myriad problems. Evidence has routinely proven this to be true. Niger should be the watershed that says no military regime will ever be tolerated again in our subregion, or even the African continent. It also means that we can now ask ECOWAS to be equally as stout in its opposition to any unconstitutional rule change that would benefit any incumbent in the subregion.

PREMIUM TIMES also hopes the Nigerian authorities are open to their peers in the sub-region that the Nigerian military is not ready for a foreign war now. It is deployed in 34 of the country’s 36 states, and with evidence of the resurgence of ISWAP being palpable and requiring its timely response, in addition to the challenges inherent to the overflow of displaced persons across the border – either as victims or embedded terrorists, any present military invasion could be far costlier than assumed. It is important to note the fact that many of our citizens do not want their cousins killed for no just cause.

PREMIUM TIMES urges all national, regional and international stakeholders to invest more in mediation and diplomacy above the military invasion of Niger at this time.

Curled from Premium Times

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