Niger’s coup weakens regional fight against Boko Haram: four reasons why

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Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum was detained and deposed on 26 July by his military guard under the command of General Abdourahamane Tchiani.

The unconstitutional change of government has been widely condemned internationally. Ecowas, the regional group, also issued sanctions and threatened military intervention.

However, other military juntas in the region have been sympathetic to the cause of the coup leaders.

The Niger coup has changed the security priority of key actors in the Lake Chad region, from fighting Boko Haram to addressing the political crisis.

Boko Haram terrorism and insurgency emerged in Nigeria in 2009 and spread across the Lake Chad region: Cameroon, Chad and Niger. The group has directly or indirectly killed more than 300,000 children and displaced five million people in the region.

At its peak in early 2015, the insurgents controlled about 20,000 square miles (over 50,000km²) of Nigerian territory.

Early in the fight against Boko Haram, especially between 2010 and 2013, neighbouring states in the Lake Chad region displayed inadequate interest in cooperating with Nigeria.

Regional discord allowed the terrorists to attack targets in Nigeria and escape to neighbouring countries.

From around 2013, the region showed growing interest in the fight against Boko Haram, as terrorist attacks spread beyond Nigeria. The 2014 Paris and London conferences further encouraged common frontline and international support against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region.

Cameroon opened the second front against Boko Haram, deploying over 3,000 troops to its northern region in July 2014. Around the same time, Niger Republic granted the Nigerian military the right to pursue terrorists across the border.

Niger later declared a state of emergency and deployed 3,000 troops to the Differ region, threatened by Boko Haram, in February 2015.

Chad deployed 4,500 troops against the insurgents in early 2015. At the same time, Nigeria and Cameroon raised their forces to 25,000 and 7,000 respectively.

In July 2015, the Multinational Joint Task Force became operational against Boko Haram in the Lake Chad region. With headquarters in N’Djamena, Chad, the force established sectors in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. The force is made up of 10,000 troops drawn from the four frontline countries and Benin Republic.

To support them, France, the US, Belgium, Italy and Germany maintain varying degrees of military presence in Niger.

This coordinated response is now threatened by the shift in focus from fighting Boko Haram to removing the coup leaders in Niger.

I have researched Boko Haram and its operations in the Lake Chad region for the last 13 years. Based on my research and understanding of the region, I see four ways in which the events in Niger will make the regional fight against Boko Haram more difficult:

Ecowas’s attention is divided

Niger’s attention is diverted

the gaps in security may give Boko Haram the opportunity to regroup and restrategise

suspension of western aid to Niger could fuel poverty and drive recruitment into Boko Haram.

Niger’s coup and its benefits to Boko Haram

The member states of the Lake Chad security arrangement and their western partners have condemned the Niger coup, and become hostile to the junta.

Ecowas, led by Nigeria, has sanctioned Niger. Ecowas suspended financial and commercial relations, closed land borders and restricted flights to and from Niger. The regional bloc also threatened military intervention to restore constitutional order in the country.

This means the Nigerian military has been preoccupied with possible Ecowas intervention in Niger. Data extracted from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project as of 23 August shows that the last offensive operation against Boko Haram by the Nigerian military was on 25 July. Since then, four insurgent attacks have been recorded, where 12 civilians were killed and 15 were kidnapped in Nigeria.

The military priority of Niger has also shifted from fighting against Boko Haram and other violent extremist groups. Now it is regime security. Niger’s military is preoccupied with a potential Nigeria-led Ecowas military intervention.

The junta has thus prioritised defence of the national capital and south-western borders. This is to the detriment of south-eastern borders, where Boko Haram is a threat.

Boko Haram is already taking advantage of this shift. On 15 August, 17 Niger soldiers were killed in an attack by suspected jihadists near the country’s border with Mali. The attack was described as the first in over a year.

Many western countries have suspended critical development and security aid to Niger. This is to the detriment of the country’s counter-insurgency capacity.

Niger’s military junta is mobilising anti-colonial and anti-imperial sentiment. It has severed defence cooperation with France and is aligning with pro-Russian forces.

Boko Haram can exploit the Niger crisis to regroup and re-strategise. Terrorist movement from Sahel to the Lake Chad region was recently reported.

The humanitarian effects of Ecowas sanctions and suspension of western aid may also fuel terrorist recruitment and a new wave of insecurity in the region.

The anti-western mobilisation of the junta can advance Boko Haram’s agenda to end western influence and establish Islamic State in the Lake Chad region and beyond.

Written by Samuel Oyewole, Lecturer, Political Science, Federal University, Oye Ekiti.

Republished with permission from The Conversation. The original article can be found here.