Analysis: Can Niger become the main Western ally in the Sahel? | Armed Groups

As France and its European allies go away Mali in a dramatic divorce as a result of coups and rising anti-French sentiment, Niger is turning into the most recent hub for Western militaries struggling to deal with the decade-long battle within the Sahel area.

Final month, the Nigerien parliament authorized a invoice paving the way in which for the redeployment of two French-led counterterrorism missions, Operation Barkhane and the European Process Power Takuba from Mali to the nation.

Yacine Ben Mohamed, a member of the ruling coalition which voted in favour of the invoice, mentioned “Niger alone can’t lead the conflict towards terrorism” and wanted companions. “So we’ve made our alternative, France,” the lawmaker mentioned.

About 2,400 French troopers and 900 particular forces personnel within the French-led Takuba forces are anticipated to go away Mali within the coming months as a result of deteriorating relations with the navy authorities there.

Since 2012, when insurgent teams in Mali started preventing towards the state, the marketing campaign of terror has unfold to different international locations throughout the Sahel, together with Niger.

Numerous armed teams linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) have exploited native dissatisfaction, intercommunal tensions and the absence of governance to seize territories in giant swaths of ungoverned areas and shake the political institutions within the Sahel capitals.

Over time, the border space the place central Mali, northern Burkina Faso and western Niger converge has turn into the epicentre of brutal battle within the Sahel.

The area where central Mali, northern Burkina Faso and western Niger converge, has become the epicentre of conflict in the Sahel region.
The realm the place central Mali, northern Burkina Faso and western Niger converge, has turn into the epicentre of battle within the Sahel area. (Al Jazeera)

Oasis of stability

For eager watchers of the area, the result of the vote was not shocking.

During the last decade, Niger has offered itself as an oasis of stability within the troubled area and a dependable accomplice for Western international locations who’re nervous that the unfold of violence would harm their financial pursuits and additional exacerbate the African migration to Europe. On the flipside, that has helped it use Western help to spice up its navy power.

In February, Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum publicly endorsed France’s choice to maneuver its troops from Mali amid a breakdown in ties between Paris and Bamako. Moreover, events within the ruling coalition threw their unwavering assist behind the concept of incoming international forces, final March.

That call to host European forces is “the newest episode in over a 10-year-old coverage that has remained fixed all through”, Rahmane Idrissa, a senior researcher on the Africa Research Centre of Leiden College, instructed Al Jazeera.

“Given the chaos that adopted the autumn of Libya’s Gaddafi in 2011, the evaluation in Niamey was that the safety scenario will deteriorate very significantly within the area,” Idirssa mentioned. “From that time on, the federal government referred to as for Western assist, each French and American.”

Nigerien troops have turn into an integral a part of France’s counterterrorism mission Operation Barkhane and the US’s Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Partnership, internet hosting a French navy base and a US airbase inside its territory.

In Niamey, Germany runs a logistics outpost and like Italy and Canada, is concerned within the coaching of Nigerien particular forces.

In 2015, the West African nation handed a controversial anti-smuggling legislation criminalising the transport of migrants all through West Africa in change for European help and growth help.

It was a major transfer coming because the European Union was overwhelmed with Africans reaching its southern shores and provided that the northern metropolis of Agadez is a key hub alongside the trans-Saharan migration route.

Though the variety of refugee crossings has since drastically decreased, the plan had been criticised for damaging fragile native dynamics and exacerbating insecurity within the area.

Niger’s constructive picture was additional solidified when Issoufu introduced he wouldn’t revise the constitutionally mandated two-term presidential restrict, not like another African leaders. It was a calculated transfer meant to keep away from a doable navy coup at house. That led to international headlines celebrating the “first peaceable transition of energy in Niger’s historical past” at a time navy coups had been re-emerging as a development in West Africa.

“Issoufou knew that he solely needed to clear a minimal bar to look like a democrat,” mentioned Alex Thurston, assistant professor of Political Science on the College of Cincinnati.

Bazoum, a former inside minister and candidate from Issofou’s Nigerien Celebration for Democracy and Socialism, was elected president within the February 2021 election. French President Emmanuel Macron welcomed the “peaceable switch of energy”, regardless of widespread accusations of fraud by the opposition.

“The West appeared the opposite method as authorities leveraged the legislation to constrain the ambitions of Hama Amadou [Issoufou’s rival has been imprisoned and barred from running as an opposition candidate in the last election],” Thurston instructed Al Jazeera. “Western governments additionally didn’t scrutinize the 2016 and 2020/2021 elections, each of which had irregularities.”

A ‘clean cheque’

Specialists say Bazoum is however additionally taking a dangerous wager that the advantages of the French presence outweigh the dangers of fuelling anti-French sentiment amongst residents.

Already, parliament’s choice to host extra European forces has been met with widespread criticism from opposition events, civil society teams and the broader public, all more and more sceptical about France’s position within the area.

Soumana Sanda, a member of the opposition Moden Fa Lumana get together, mentioned they weren’t allowed to see and analyse the phrases of the settlement, which he described as the federal government’s “clean cheque”.

Civil society teams have rejected the plan as they are saying it could not serve the pursuits of Nigeriens.

“Similar causes produce the identical results,” Amadou Arouna Maiga, the top of Tillaberi Union Committee for Peace and Safety instructed Al Jazeera. “The insecurity in Mali has hardly modified, it has even worsened. So their presence won’t make distinction in Niger … as the previous French President Charles de Gaulle mentioned France has no mates, solely pursuits.”

It’s a perspective being echoed by Maikoul Zodi, Niamey-based nationwide coordinator of Pan-African democratic advocacy group Tournons La Web page, who says international forces have been proved to be ineffective regardless of a decade of operation within the Sahel.

“We want helpful partnerships for the event of our nation,” Zodi mentioned. “The cooperation with Europe and France as its chief is unbalanced and doesn’t take note of the pursuits of the individuals of Niger.”

There are substantial dangers to such a partnership, Thurston warns, as a result of “if the cycle of safety pressure abuses, civilian distrust, and jihadist assaults intensifies … the French and Bazoum will take the majority of the blame.”

And that chain response as seen elsewhere within the area might set off the same final result within the seat of energy.

In March, following Bazoum’s victory, there was a foiled coup. Inside the military, numerous factions nonetheless linger and there are fears that there could also be different makes an attempt to seize the ability by benefiting from rising anti-French sentiment and the latest wave of navy takeovers within the area.

“It’s a vicious circle,” Idrissa mentioned.

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