African Union vs Military Politics: Good Governance, Economic Policies Drive Growth and Progress

Across French-speaking African countries, the military leaders are seemingly misinterpreting the stark reality. Most of them have increasingly acknowledged widespread terrorism and insurgency jihadist attacks as key reasons for the removal of their civilian governments. 

In addition, the military leaders have raised multiple compliants over the dominance of neo-colonial tendencies, particularly against France for exploitation of natural resources, for their gross under-development and the abject economic poverty these several years after political independence. 

After gaining political independence from colonial administration, what have these African countries achieved despite the huge natural and human resources? The system is fraught with poor, unrefined and opaque governance system, economic policies are beyond description, state institutions are weak and, worse is deep-seated corruption.

A military coup in Niger, a land-locked former French colony, marked the 13th attempt − 10 of them successful − to overthrow a government in Africa since 2020, according to researchers. Experts said it’s difficult to concisely explain the large volume of coups in Africa’s Sahel region. Some point to the presence of extremist militant groups, corruption and poverty that can be linked to France’s colonial legacy.

Until all these roadblocks are removed, there would not be any visible development progress. Africans have to blame themselves for the current state of development. With vast expanse of land, water resources and human capital, these African countries have gained highly degrees of import-dependence. And have received shambolic degrees of honour.

Ultimately, civil society organizations, media platforms, and individuals have a crucial role in raising awareness about these issues, advocating for peace, and holding those in power accountable. It is important to shed light on the negative impact of coups and chaos, while highlighting successful examples of peaceful transitions and democratic consolidation in Africa.

Across West Africa region, Nigeria and a few other English-speaking countries, but have not overthrown their governments. Both local and foreign experts say, it is only happening in French-speaking countries due to the fact that an external player is looking to extend its military business into the region.

At best in order to maintain political discipline, African Union – the continental organization – has to strictly ensure that its fifty-five members adhere to the principles of their constitutions. The African Union (AU) has to re-enforce its “Silence-the-Guns” across Africa. It has also to impose the toughest stringent sanctions on military rulers’ refusal to observe the guidelines stipulated in their constitutions.

The African Union’s Peace and Security Council asked “military personnel to immediately and unconditionally return to their barracks and restore constitutional authority, within a maximum period of fifteen (15) days,” after a meeting Friday on the coup.

It condemned the coup in “the strongest terms possible” and expressed deep concern over the “alarming resurgence” of military overthrows in Africa.

The African Union (AU) and the regional bloc ECOWAS have take collective ‘herculian’ measures that Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali and Niger (these West African countries) return to constitutional democracy ‘within the shortest possible time’ and conduct democratic elections. It is indeed disheartening to witness the recurring cycles of  coup d’état in French-speaking West African countries. The African Unity and ECOWAS and the international community to let Niger’s coup leaders reinstate civilian administration.

Acknowledging the fact that the ECOWAS leaders have held an emergency meeting under the chairmanship of the newly elected Nigerian President President Bola Tinubu, and a few measures were seriously adopted. Niger has been widely condemned. Further, the regional block has given the coup plotters 15 days to relinquish power.

A successful coup in Niger and the sanctions in the aftermath could cause more hardship for millions of poor and hungry people in West Africa and could further threaten international relations with the region, which is seeing a resurgence of coups in recent years, according to Idayat Hassan, senior Africa program fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“A non-reversal of the coup also means that we are defining a new world order in West Africa in particular as you are pitching the west and other countries against few military regimes which may be backed by Russia,” said Hassan.

“In the event the authority’s demands are not met within one week, (the bloc will) take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger. Such measures may include the use of force,” according to the official statement.

The bloc also imposted strict sanctions, including suspending all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS member states and Niger and freezing of assets in regional central banks. 

Economic sanctions could have a deep impact on Nigeriens, who live in the third-poorest country in the world, according to the latest U.N. data. The country relies on imports from Nigeria for up to 90% of its power, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

The sanctions could be disastrous and Niger needs to find a solution to avoid them, the country’s Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou told French media outlet Radio France Internationale.

“When people say there’s an embargo, land borders are closed, air borders are closed, it’s extremely difficult for people … Niger is a country that relies heavily on the international community,” Mahamadou said.

The 15-nation ECOWAS bloc has unsuccessfully tried to restore democracies where the military took power in recent years. Four countries are run by military governments in West and Central Africa, where there have been nine successful or attempted coups since 2020.

In the 1990s, ECOWAS intervened in Liberia during its civil war. In 2017, it intervened in Gambia to prevent the new president’s predecessor, Yahya Jammeh, from disrupting the handover of power. Around 7,000 troops from Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal entered, according to the Global Observatory, which provides analysis on peace and security issues.

If the regional bloc uses force, it could trigger violence not only between Niger and ECOWAS forces but also civilians supporting the coup and those against it, Niger analysts say.

“While this remains to be a threat and unlikely action, the consequences on civilians of such an approach if putschists chose confrontation would be catastrophic,” said Rida Lyammouri, senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank.

Lyammouri also said he does not see a “military intervention happening because of the violence that could trigger.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken commended ECOWAS’ leadership Sunday to “defend constitutional order in Niger” after the sanctions announcement, and joined the bloc in calling for the immediate release of Bazoum and his family.

The military junta, which seized power on Wednesday when members of the presidential guard surrounded Bazoum’s house and detained him, is already cracking down on the government and civil liberties.

The same night, junta spokesman Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane said on state television that all government cars need to be returned and banned the use of social media to diffuse messages against state security. He also claimed that Bazoum’s government had authorized the French to carry out strikes to free Bazoum. 

In anticipation of the ECOWAS decision Sunday, thousands of pro-junta supporters took to the streets in the capital, Niamey, denouncing its former colonial ruler, France, waving Russian flags and telling the international community to stay away.

Demonstrators in Niger are openly resentful of France, and Russia is seen by some as a powerful alternative. The nature of Moscow’s involvement in the rallies, if any, isn’t clear, but some protesters have carried Russian flags, along with signs reading “Down with France” and supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“The situation of this country is not good … It’s time for change, and change has arrived,” said Moussa Seydou, a protester. “What we want from the putschists – all they have to do is improve social conditions so that Nigeriens can live better in this country and bring peace,” he said.

Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, a researcher with the International Crisis Group, said that “we can expect better relations and cooperation between the neighbouring countries.” But Niger’s new rulers risked losing support from the West.

French President Emmanuel Macron chaired a meeting of his Defence and National Security Council on the coup, reports from the presidency said. France has 1,500 soldiers in Niger, while the United States has around 1,000 troops there.

France’s foreign ministry said it was suspending development aid and budgetary support to Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, while calling for “an immediate return to constitutional order” and Bazoum’s reinstatement.

The EU’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell meanwhile said the bloc would not recognise the putschists and announced the indefinite suspension of security cooperation with Niger with immediate effect as well as budgetary aid.

Bazoum “remains the only legitimate president of Niger,” the EU statement said, calling for his immediate release and holding the coup leaders to account for the safety of the president and his family. Borrell said the EU was ready to support future decisions taken by West Africa’s regional bloc, “including the adoption of sanctions.”

White House National Security Spokesman John Kirby told a special briefing that U.S. cooperation with the government of the African state was at risk, while adding there was still room for infra-African diplomacy.

“We remain deeply concerned about the unfolding developments … the United States condemns in the strongest terms, any effort to seize power by force. A military takeover may cause the United States to cease security and other cooperation with the government of Niger, jeopardizing existing security and non security partnerships,” said Kirby.

On the same note, Secretary of State Antony Blinken also offered Niger’s ousted leader Washington’s steadfast support and warned those detaining him that they were “threatening years of successful cooperation and hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance.”

He estimated America’s economic and security partnership with Niger at hundreds of millions of dollars and said its continuity depends on “the continuation of the democratic governance and constitutional order.”

“So that assistance, that support, is in clear jeopardy as a result of these actions, which is another reason why they need to be immediately reversed,” Blinken said.

Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, receiving close to $2 billion a year in official development assistance, according to the World Bank. It is also a security partner of former colonial power France and the United States, which both use it as a base to fight an Islamist insurgency in West and Central Africa’s wider Sahel region.

Landlocked Niger often ranks last in the UN’s Human Development Index, despite vast deposits of uranium. Impoverished populations often make for fertile breeding grounds for extremists and Niger is one of the world’s poorest. It has had a turbulent political history since gaining independence in 1960, with four coups as well as numerous other attempts — including two previously against Bazoum.

President Mohamed Bazoum, the 63-year-old has been one of a dwindling group of elected presidents and pro-Western leaders in the Sahel as juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso turn away from traditional allies and towards Russia.

Niger’s neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso have both undergone two military coups since 2020, fuelled by anger at a failure to quash long-running insurgencies by jihadists linked to the Islamic State group and Al-Qaeda. 

Like Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso are impoverished former French colonies that gained independence in 1960. Niger’s  economy centers on subsistence crops, livestock, and some of the world’s largest uranium deposits. Niger (located in West Africa located along the border between the Sahara and Sub-Saharan regions) is still described as one of the poorest countries in the world. (With news agency reports)

Kester Kenn Klomegah
Kester Kenn Klomegah
MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.