West African military chiefs debate intervention in Niger

Aug 17, 2023, 9:17am EDT
REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
Jenna Moon/

The West African defense bloc ECOWAS started talks on Wednesday over a potential intervention in Niger following last month’s military coup. The organization approved a “standby force” at a meeting last week, but has not yet deployed it.

The coup in Niger is part of a growing crisis in the vast Sahel region, which stretches from the east to the west of Africa, directly beneath the Sahara Desert. The region has seen several crises in recent years, but Niger was largely regarded as stable. "A gradual breakdown of governance in West Africa would open the door for a further expansion of Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates, and these groups’ influence would give rise to humanitarian, security, and migration challenges," Carl Bildt, co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote.1


Project Syndicate: The Growing Sahel Crisis

Niger is strategically important to West Africa. The country serves as a a center for foreign troops who have come to the region to combat religious insurgents. It is also a hotbed of uranium and oil reserves:2 Niger is the seventh-largest uranium producer in the world, and produced 5% of the world's uranium mining output in 2022.3

ECOWAS would intervene to stop what the bloc describes as a "contagion" in the Sahel. Abdel-Fatau Musah, ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs, told The Africa Report that there have been seven coups in the region in the last three years. "This is the fourth successful coup. It is important to stop the contagion and we feel that this is the right time with Niger, after all the warnings."4