Coup in Niger

Niger left in limbo as ECOWAS dithers on military intervention

The West African bloc's deadline for military intervention in Niger lapsed on Sunday and while ECOWAS has signalled they will pursue diplomatic solutions, military action remains on the table. Aside from the potential catastrophic loss of life, there are practical, political, strategic and legal reasons why an intervention is potentially unfeasible to accomplish.

Protesters hold placards denouncing the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) during a demonstration on independence day in Niamey on August 3, 2023.
Protesters hold placards denouncing the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) during a demonstration on independence day in Niamey on August 3, 2023. © AFP

After being unanimously elected as chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in July, Nigerian President Bola Tinubu declared the organisation must promote democracy in a region plagued by coups over the past decade. “We must not be toothless bulldogs,” Tinubu said, “We must stand firm on democracy … Democracy is very difficult to manage but it is the best form of government.”

In less than a month in the top ECOWAS seat, Tinubu is facing his first major test. After the military coup in Niger on July 26, ECOWAS gave the junta an ultimatum to free President Mohamed Bazoum and reestablish order or face a full military intervention.

As the deadline came and went Sunday evening, the junta doubled down and closed Niger’s airspace – indicating that they are taking their neighbours' threats seriously.

F24 analyse Niger


Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal have endorsed the Nigeria-led plan to intervene in Niger but political support among ECOWAS members is far from uniform. Benin, for instance, has said it will not send troops.

More problematic, says Ezenwa Olumba, a specialist in the West African sub-region at the UK’s Royal Holloway University, are the governments in Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea who are actively undermining ECOWAS plans.

These military governments – who themselves got into power via coups and are suspended from ECOWAS – said they consider any intervention by ECOWAS a “declaration of war” and have signalled they will throw their support behind Niger.

Coup leader closes airspace

Dissenting voices

Olumba says this is an enormous miscalculation by Tinubu. “[Tinubu] rushed to give an ultimatum to the military leaders in Niger without even talking to Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso … he didn’t know they would support Niger,” says Olumba, “Essentially, Nigeria would be at war with Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Guinea.”

This, and other considerations, have spurred non-ECOWAS regional players Algeria and Chad to strongly condemn Nigeria’s idea, saying any military action risks escalating into a broader regional conflict. Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune told state television it would be "a direct threat" to his country that shares a 1,000-kilometre border with Niger.

Even within Nigeria, ECOWAS’s military powerhouse and the driving force behind a possible intervention in Niger, there are dissenting voices. On Friday evening, the largest opposition coalition railed against what they say is a "not only pointless but irresponsible” military action.

"For several days now, politicians have been calling on ECOWAS to give priority to negotiation. Despite a majority, President Tinubu knows that he will have his work cut out to obtain Senate approval to commit Nigerian soldiers," reports Moïse Gomis, FRANCE 24's correspondent in Abuja.

Politicians in the north of Nigeria have drawn attention to the military’s ongoing conflict with escalating jihadist violence in the region, casting doubt over whether the country can afford to tackle Niger militarily.

Regional tension


Though if this problem besets Nigeria, it is far more of a problem for Niger’s allies Mali and Burkina Faso, says Dominique Trinquand, the former head of France's military mission to the UN. "Mali and Burkina Faso have a lot to do with jihadists in their own countries, they will not have enough forces to sacrifice for a conflict in Niger … the military advantage rests with ECOWAS,” Trinquand told FRANCE 24

If Tinubu does manage to muster the necessary political will to intervene in Niger, Russia – which has endorsed the coup – and its veto power on the UN Security Council leave little hope West African countries would attain a legal mandate to follow through on its policy. This would set a new precedent as it was not the case in 2017 when ECOWAS entered The Gambia to facilitate the peaceful transfer of power. 

ECOWAS announced Monday it will reconvene Thursday to map out its next steps. For the time being, the bloc’s leader Nigeria seems blocked into a non-military solution. 


“The primary objective is to hope that the sanctions and other target measures result in the military restoring constitutional rule and therefore not needing a military intervention,” says Dr Vines, director of the Africa Programme Chatham House. “I think we shouldn't expect a military intervention immediately.”

Though one wildcard is Tinubu himself. After investing a lot of political capital into resolving the situation and threatening an intervention, backing down now could result in a loss of credibility that may be hard to stomach for the new leader of Nigeria and ECOWAS.

“Tinubu is someone who doesn’t want to lose face, he’s a diehard. He’s someone who wants to realise what he says … he will not want to back down,” says Ezenwa Olumba.

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