Long stories short
- The death toll from Hawaii wildfires rose to at least 93 (more below).
- Saudi Arabia appointed its first ambassador to the Palestinians.
- Mark Zuckerberg dropped plans for a cage fight with Elon Musk, saying “it’s time to move on”.
A giant hesitates
Eleven West African leaders said they would put a standby force on deployment “to restore constitutional order” in Niger, where a coup led by the elite presidential guard deposed elected President Mohamed Bazoum last month. The military government is now threatening to prosecute him for “high treason”.
So what? Even a clinical invasion of the landlocked nation of 25 million people would risk setting off a bomb in that luckless stretch of land under the Sahara known as the Sahel, sending waves of refugees towards Europe.
And the Nigerian military – which would lead any assault –doesn’t do clinical.
Hold the line. West African presidents feel they must draw a line in the sand:
- They want to stop coups spreading across a region that was making serious democratic headway a few years ago. (See: nine coups in three years).
- They fear the putsch will undermine an already desperate fight against thousands of well-armed jihadist fighters who attack Mad Max-style on motorbikes across Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
- The new junta has asked for support from Russian Wagner mercenary forces in neighbouring Mali to help defend the capital.
President Bazoum is reportedly being starved by the putschists who have threatened to kill him if an invasion happens. The sight of one of their number imprisoned by the very men who were supposed to protect him seems to have jolted regional leaders into action. They don’t want their own military men to get any ideas.
Bluster or not? But it is hard to work out what is bluster and what is actually on the table:
- A deadline to reinstate Bazoum has come and gone with no military action.
- Ivory Coast’s president said there will be a military intervention “as soon as possible”.
- Nigerian President Bola Ahmed Tinubu said force would be a “last resort”.
- The head of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) stressed commitment to “peaceful means.”
- It would take up to six months before an Ecowas intervention force was ready to go in.
“Everyone is puzzling over the recent Ecowas statement,” a senior US defence official told the WSJ. “They haven’t moved forces and haven’t taken many steps to prepare for the military intervention.”
999 problems. Any military intervention would inevitably be led by Nigeria somewhere along its 999 mile-long border with Niger. Nigeria is to West Africa what India is to South Asia; it makes up about half the region’s economy and more than half its population (around 220 out of 420 million).
Tinubu is only two months into his presidency. He’s led the charge on intervention but is now facing fierce resistance to the idea at home; and the Nigerian Senate has already told him war is off the table.
Ecowas intervened successfully in the Liberian Civil War in the late 90s and, more recently, in the Gambia to oust a rogue dictator. But what hope does Nigeria have of leading Ecowas effectively today? Some argue the country is already a failed state, beset on all sides by security crises from Boko Haram around Lake Chad to separatists in the south and a kidnapping crisis in which hundreds of school children were plucked from their dormitory beds.
“It will take months for Ecowas to mount a rescue mission of Bazoum, who is now guarded by 70 soldiers. At this point, all the bluster feels counterproductive and even irresponsible,” says Cameron Hudson, a former CIA Africa hand.
An intervention in Niger would inevitably radicalise fringe elements of the public, which could help jihadist groups more than the Nigerien people. On the other hand, at what point is democracy worth fighting for?
Not so far away. Europeans should pay more attention. In the past, there were two vast walls cutting Europe off from events in sub-Saharan Africa: the Mediterranean and the grand desert.
But in the era of mass migration, those two boundaries have come crashing down, even if the barriers to Western minds meaningfully engaging with Africa have not.
Photograph Getty Images
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