New African alliance bolsters military junta in Niger
In what could prove to be a major stumbling block to restoring democratic rule in Niger, on Saturday its ruling junta signed a mutual defense pact with the governments of neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso.
The three countries have all seen their governments toppled by military coups since 2020. Niger’s fell most recently in June with the ouster of President Mohamed Bazoum, who remains under arrest on charges of “high treason.”
The new Alliance of Sahel States, as it is known, obliges members to defend each other should any of them come under attack. Not coincidentally perhaps, the pact was signed a week after Niger accused France of plotting to invade the country to restore Bazoum’s presidency.
France refuses to recognize Niger’s new military government, which has asked Paris to withdraw its troops and ambassador. There is fierce opposition to the presence of the former colonial power in the region: French troops have been removed from Mali and Burkina Faso, and Mali has asked the United Nations peacekeeping mission MINUSMA to leave its territory as well.
The new pact also represents a challenge to the power of ECOWAS, a West African economic and political union, of which all three countries are also members. ECOWAS itself had initially threatened military intervention to restore Bazoum, but has since dropped the idea.
In addition to mutual defense, the Alliance obliges its members to jointly tackle armed rebellions. All three nations face the threat of Islamic insurgency within their borders, and both Mali and Burkina Faso have relied on Russian mercenaries to help fight jihadists. The Alliance may now make it easier for Russia to expand its influence to Niger, which had been in discussions with the Wagner Group prior to the death of founder Yevgeny Prigozhin in a plane crash on Aug. 23.