Tipping Point Quick Hits (8.17.23)
The coup in Niger, Milley in Israel, and the coming "ring of fire" eclipse
The Implications of the Coup in Niger
So many military takeovers have happened in the politically unstable countries of Africa that most of us barely give them any attention. By one count, the past 60 years have seen more than 100 such coup attempts. It’s easy to write them off as “life in Africa.”
But the recent military coup in Niger is different, and has political implications you need to understand.
First, about three weeks ago, a group of military leaders detained Niger’s president Mohamed Bazoum in a coup, along with his wife and son. They are being held hostage in the president’s residence. The nation’s military closed its airspace, and Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani—who leads Niger’s presidential guard—declared himself head of a transitional government. He and his followers say they will soon prosecute Bazoum for “high treason.”
The United States and several West African nations, like neighboring power Nigeria, have attempted to intervene. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has frozen Niger’s assets in central banks and initiated a travel ban. Even Vladimir Putin has called for a peaceful resolution to this crisis.
Why is this coup different? Here are a few reasons:
Bazoum was elected democratically in 2021 in what became Niger’s first peaceful transfer of power. Until this summer, Niger had been an international success story.
The United States and France both have a significant military presence in Niger. The U.S. operates an air base there and France has around 1,500 troops.
While its neighbors suffered from extreme poverty and low economic growth, Bazoum and his connections have improved Niger’s public health, education, and economic outlook.
The rest of the Sahel—the band of north-central Africa south of the Sahara—is known for severe drought, political instability, and conflict due to Islamic extremism. The region is overrun by Jihadist groups with ties to Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Boko Haram and more.
While Niger had recently been able to cut in half violent events due to extremism, the history of neighboring Burkina Faso and Mali shows that military rule makes extremist terror worse.
Russia’s Wagner group is linked to the military regimes which have gained control over Mali, Sudan and the Central African Republic, and could stoke additional violence in Niger.
Over the past decade, China has invested dramatically in Africa, and the countries of the Sahel are increasingly dependent on China’s economic contributions to infrastructure, trade, and the development of natural resources.
Iran and Hezbollah have recently attempted to increase their presence in the Sahel through Algeria and Chad, which surround Niger.
So we have an unstable nation with transitional leadership in a part of the world facing an explosion of Islamic extremism. The United States, France, Russia and China all have geopolitical, diplomatic, military and economic interests here. Each of these global powers stands to lose something from Niger’s instability and has reasons to try to find a resolution. But will those resolutions be in competition with one another?
As Bazoum wrote in an op-ed last week, while still in custody, “If [this coup] succeeds, it will have devastating consequences for our country, our region and the entire world.”
Instability always provides an opening to gain power. Uprisings in a country like Niger—which may barely be on your radar—can have major ramifications in relationships between superpowers. Outside interventions are possible, and these always result in bloodshed. Don’t dismiss the current moment as “just another coup in Africa.” Nations are aligning and already fraught relationships are being tested.
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