Wednesday, August 30, 2023
[email protected]


he military coup that occurred in Niger recently has provoked multiple reactions not only from the coup plotters but also, the citizens of Niger, Nigerians, ECOWAS, as well as external powers outside Africa. A group wants the Nigeria-led ECOWAS to intervene, while others register their opposition for any form of intervention under any pretext whatsoever.

Viewed from Nigeria’s position, one can argue that external war can be used as a means of achieving internal cohesion, particularly when the nation’s political compass remains static and political stability is eroding with domestic trouble and turmoil in the increase. Under such disturbing scenario, political leaders would succumb to the temptation of engaging in external military adventure as diversionary tactic which brings about internal cohesion. Machiavelli has endorsed this tactic and recommended it as a stratagem. Relationship therefore exits between domestic and external conflict of a state. Yes, involvement of external war does bring about cohesion and does bring about domestic harmony and also uplifts the rating of the political leader as a tough guy.

Taria Hallonen, the former Prime Minister of Finland, assured the Finns, during her presidential political campaign that she would reclaim the Finnish province of Karelia, which was annexed by Russia, when voted for office of the presidency. Even though she would never have attempted it, but it shows how political leaders value the use of external war to attain domestic equilibrium. The political leader must therefore locate a common enemy whom they can make a common cause.

William James, the American pragmatic philosopher also perceives war as the ‘glory nurse that trained societies to cohesiveness.’ Siad Barre of Somalia’s military conflict with Ethiopia might in part be related to this established theory of using external war to attain internal cohesion. Look at the Somali national flag. You would notice that it has five stars representing five Somali regions formally under Italy, Britain, France, Ethiopia and Kenya. Siad Barre’s venture to reclaim Ogaden, a province of Ethiopia inhabited by Somali speaking people was calculated to achieve domestic cohesion and raise the domestic rating of the president at the time his ranking in opinion poll was low.

In Britain, when Margret Thatcher’s opinion poll rating dwindled she engaged in external war to elevate her rating. She ventured into South America to reclaim Isla Malvinas (Falkland Island), which she claimed as Britain’s overseas territory.

A nation may also go to war by playing the role of proxy for another power. Is Nigeria-led ECOWAS being used as surrogate for a proxy role in the brewing Niger conflict? There is a prevailing view inside and outside Africa that the Nigeria-led ECOWAS has been lured to play a proxy role for external powers interested in strategic mineral deposits in Niger. The external powers do not want to get direct involvement to harvest their national interest but would prefer to do so via indirect intervention executed by a military surrogate force. Such operations are often covert; in some situations, the webs of complexity in such intervention are ambiguous. Soviet Union, during the cold war made good use of Cuba in Angolan civil war in order to challenge th United States. It equally made use of Cuba proxy role against South Africa. Prominent US surrogate states in Africa during the cold war were Zaire, South Africa, Sudan and Egypt. In the ongoing Niger imbroglio, proxy and surrogate intervention is on the card.

One advantage of military surrogate forces is that it permits the superpowers to operate with a high degree of latitude in local areas, with transparent reduced risk of being held responsible for the defeat of their clients or drawn into a regional conflict more than it is considered prudent. Furher advantage of military surrogate forces is that it makes the entire exercise oblique in order to shield or minimize the problem of direct accusation, while in actual fact the hegemonic powers are actually playing the behind the scene activities. The ability to distance oneself from the local involvement of their surrogate has made the use of indirect intervention in the affairs of developing states in ways which would normally denied them by ethnic, religious and national sensibilities. The superpowers by the use of military surrogate forces become adept at operating behind the scene, but when the situation becomes critical or of direct importance they commit their own troop, for example as in Afghanistan and Vietnam. Will the super powers use military surrogate forces in Niger or commit their own troops? Time will tell.

Past turbulence in Niger and how ECOWAS and Niger’s Military Junta reacted: When President Mamadou Tandja of Niger was in power, the country was teetering on the edge. Apart from his autocratic system, his move to alter the constitution in order to elongate his presidential tenure posed the most dangerous political signal. It was the assassination of President Bare Mainassara in 1999 that opened the door for electoral democracy that ushered President Mamadou Tandja into office. Observers of his administration would agree that he was a democratically elected autocrat. But through coercion he was able to maintain ‘cooperation’ of the coalition of political parties in his government. But fragmentations and tension arose when he permitted greediness to take ascendancy over constitutional framework.

His move to change the constitution of 1999 to enable him run for the third time was met with opposition. Article 135 of Niger’s constitution stipulates that constitutional change would have to receive either two-third vote of national parliament or the proposed changes have to be submitted for referendum. In spite of the constitutional constraint, President Tandja was determined to change the constitution. Observers of the political chess game in Niger alleged that President Tandja secured discreet backing of French President Nicolas Sarkozy to extend his presidential tenure for another term. France gets 40% of uranium extracting company in Niger.

The elongation deal was followed by signing of the production deal which was initiated when President Sarkozy visited Niger’s capital Niamey in March 2009. In the same year President Tandja crushed all opposing parties and went ahead to alter the constitution to enable him retain power for another tenure. President Tanja’s action undermined the constitution of Niger and also challenged ECOWAS treaty and regional stability. ECOWAS was compelled to invoke Article 45 of its 2001Additional Protocol and suspended Niger from ECOWAS membership. President Tandja was compelled to dialogue with ECOWAS. But he refused to halt or abandon his constitutional moves. He equally refused to accept an interim government. ECOWAS was still in mediation process when the military struck on February 18, 2010. They thought Tandja was buying time. The military junta that struck called themselves the Supreme Council for the Redemption of Democracy. The coup spokes person, Colonel Goukoye Abdoukarim pleaded with the international community to support the junta in order to save Niger from what he called ‘poverty deception and corruption.’ Under a year transitional program, the leaders of the military junta were able to return Niger to democratic path. The ongoing turbulence in Niger has its root in the smoldering grievances of the past.

Any move to use force to reverse the trend in Niger will ignite a confladration that ECOWAS would find daunting to control the domino effect it will generate in the West Africa sub region will be enormoius.