In the Sahel, the various putsches in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger upset the fight against armed jihadist groups in the Sahel. Faced with the advance of terrorists in these countries, the juntas have taken precedence over democracies deemed ineffective and corrupt by part of the population. The soldiers who have, in fact, taken power in Niger have already announced a new strategic orientation.
“The current security approach has not made it possible to secure the country despite the heavy sacrifices made by Nigeriens,” General Tiani said in his first speech, read on national television on Thursday.
Niger and its president from the ballot box, the main ally of Western countries in the Sahel, had until then been an exception in a Sahelian band swept away by the violence of armed groups and by a wave of authoritarianism tinged with Russophile sovereignty.
The Malian junta turned to Wagner’s Russian mercenaries to fight against jihadist groups, causing the departure of French troops in 2022. The authorities in Ouagadougou opted for the mobilization of armed citizens, and demanded the withdrawal of French special forces in the country.
Mohamed Bazoum, he had chosen to maintain the presence of 1,500 French soldiers on his territory, at the risk of being involved in the divorce between Paris and the Sahelian juntas.
These juntas “naturally tend to place the responsibility for security deterioration on the allies of the regimes they overthrew. These coups are supported by a section of the population which has already shown a hostile attitude towards the French or Western presence in the Sahel,” explains Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, researcher for the International Crisis Group.
From his first speech, General Tiani preferred to reach out to his Sahelian counterparts, questioning “the meaning and scope of a security approach to the fight against terrorism which excludes any real collaboration with Burkina Faso and Mali” in the area known as the three borders.
Due to diplomatic tensions, the Nigerien and French military cannot operate freely against the bases of the Islamic State on the other side of the Malian border, where the organization carries out attacks on Nigerien territory. “This crisis could not be resolved without cooperation with Mali, in one way or another”, assures Tatiana Smirnova, researcher at the Center Franco Paix in conflict resolution.
“We can anticipate an improved relationship and increased cooperation between neighboring countries,” said Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim.
Niger at the center of chaos
On the side of Western partners, the outlook is bleaker. The European Union has announced the suspension of all budgetary aid and cooperation actions in the security field.
International sanctions could hit the regime as in neighboring Mali. A possible departure of French and American forces would leave a vacuum in a particularly troubled region, according to analysts.
Niger “is bordered by the Libyan chaos, Nigeria with Boko Haram and ISWAP, the north of Benin very strongly affected by jihadism and obviously Mali and Burkina Faso. It was a center of stability despite security problems on the territory, ”recalls Alain Antil, director of the sub-Saharan Africa center at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI).