Niger’s recent coup leaders have reportedly reached out to the Russian mercenary group Wagner for assistance, as the deadline approaches for the release of the country’s ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum.
The West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, has threatened military intervention if Bazoum is not reinstated. General Salifou Mody, one of the coup leaders, made contact with someone from Wagner during a visit to Mali, according to journalist and research fellow Wassim Nasr. This meeting was later confirmed by three Malian sources and a French diplomat.
Wagner’s assistance is being sought by the coup leaders as a means of guaranteeing their hold on power. The private military company is said to be considering the request, highlighting their potential role in the ongoing political crisis in Niger. ECOWAS has set a deadline for the military government to release and reinstate President Bazoum, who has referred to himself as a hostage.
In response to the situation, defence chiefs from ECOWAS member countries have finalised an intervention plan and have urged their respective militaries to prepare resources for potential action. However, a mediation team sent to Niger on Thursday was denied entry and the opportunity to meet with General Abdourahmane Tchiani, the leader of the military government.
General Mody, following his visit to Mali, where a sympathetic military government is in power, issued a strong warning against military intervention. He reassured that Niger would take necessary measures to avoid becoming “a new Libya,” according to a report by Niger’s state television.
The involvement of the Wagner group in this political crisis adds significant complexity to an already volatile situation. The Russian mercenary group has gained notoriety for its involvement in conflicts around the world, causing concern among Western powers. Their potential involvement in Niger suggests a growing trend wherein non-state actors, such as private military companies, are playing an increasingly influential role in international conflicts and political disputes.
Niger has long been viewed as the West’s last dependable ally in the fight against terrorism in a region plagued by frequent coups. However, recent events have called into question the reliability of this partnership. In a surprising turn of events, Niger’s military leaders have rejected their former colonial power, France, and instead turned towards Russia for support. This shift has raised concerns among experts and observers who fear the consequences of aligning with a controversial organisation like Russia’s Wagner Group.
Wagner Group has a chequered history in Africa, particularly in Mali, where its forces have been accused of human rights abuses by various rights groups. This has sparked widespread condemnation and calls for accountability. Yet, Niger’s military leaders seem undeterred by these allegations and are willing to align themselves with Russia and Wagner Group at the expense of constitutional order and legality.
Not everyone in Niger is on board with the military’s takeover and their new alliances. Some residents see it as a calculated move to maintain their grip on power, even if it means plunging the country into chaos. Amad Hassane Boubacar, a professor at the University of Niamey, called it a “sham” and accused the military leaders of hypocrisy for opposing foreign interference while willingly partnering with a group like Wagner Group.
Niger’s military rulers appear to be following the playbook of their counterparts in Mali and Burkina Faso, both of which are also under military governments. However, they are moving at a much faster pace to consolidate their power. This raises questions about how the international community will respond to their actions. When Wagner Group entered Mali in late 2021, the French military was soon expelled, signalling a significant shift in the balance of power. This time, the stakes are even higher, as the US and other international partners have invested significant resources in Niger’s fight against terrorism.
The potential involvement of Wagner Group has alarmed many, and there are concerns about the implications for regional stability and human rights. In response to Wagner’s presence in Mali, the United States designated the group as a “terrorist” organisation, suggesting that international partners could take a stronger stance against its involvement in Niger.
No details on possible intervention
In the aftermath of the military coup in Niger, there is a sense of uncertainty regarding the possibility of a regional intervention. The situation is further complicated by the lack of information regarding the specifics of such an intervention, including its nature, timing, and potential support from Western forces.
The military government in Niger has already begun taking precautionary measures, calling on the population to be vigilant and watch out for spies. Additionally, self-organised defence groups have taken to the streets at night to monitor cars and patrol the capital. These actions showcase the junta’s determination to hold on to power, further adding to the ambiguity surrounding any potential intervention.
A recent report by the Hudson Institute sheds light on the challenges that a regional intervention might face. It suggests that if the military junta where to solidify its position and rally public support, possibly even arming civilian militias, the intervention could evolve into a complex counterinsurgency operation. This, according to the report, would go beyond the capabilities of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), complicating any potential intervention.