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confidentially speaking

The Africa Confidential Blog

  • 3rd August 2023

Sahel crisis needs fast political rethink

Blue Lines

Niger's putsch of 26 July ousted the last but one elected president in the Sahel region. Only Mauritania retains an elected leader, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani. All the other countries are run by military governments and are at war. The junta in Mali has lost control of much territory on the border with Niger and Burkina Faso, an area now under control of Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).

This latest power grab in Niamey may have been born out of frustration over security but also to protect the interests of senior officers under investigation. The junta leaders say they want more arms to defeat the insurgents and Russia's Wagner Group is eager to replace trainers and suppliers from the European Union.

A purely military approach isn't working in Mali and Burkina Faso and creates more recruits for the jihadists. Niger is being assailed from two sides, both by branches of Islamic State/Da'ish: one branch on the border with Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon and ISGS on the Mali/Burkina Faso border.

Niger was the last of the Sahelian nations doing counter-insurgency the 'western' way. Supporters of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum insist it was working and Niger was defending its territory more effectively that Mali and Burkina Faso, suffering fewer casualties than its neighbours. Should the putsch presage a total break with western militaries and Wagner move into the vacuum, Nigériens could see more human rights abuses and more recruits for the jihadists.