YAOUNDÈ, Cameroon – Following the July 26 coup in Niger, Catholic Bishops of the Burkina-Niger Episcopal Conference have expressed concern that a military intervention in the African nation could unravel the fragile security situation in the Sahel, leading to a further spread in jihadism.
In an August 4 release signed by the President of the Episcopal Conference, Bishop Laurent Birfuoré Dabiré of Dori in Burkina Faso, the bishops expressed concern that an attack on Niger in attempts to restore constitutional order would lead to “a second Libya.”
The reference was to a 2011 NATO-led intervention in Libya that resulted in the overthrow of the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, which many analysts blame for plunging the nation and surrounding region into chaos.
On July 26, Niger’s democratically-elected President, Mohamed Bazoum, was overthrown, and the commander of the presidential guard declared himself to be in charge in a televised address.
General Abdourahmane Tchiani declared: “We have decided to intervene and seize our responsibilities” in order to assert authority over the nation.
That announcement met with jubilation across the streets of Niger, with citizens chanting anti-French rhetoric and tearing down French flags, reflecting popular impressions that the ousted leader was a French stooge.
In response, the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, threatened that it would take military action if Bazoum wasn’t reinstated within a week. The chair of the regional body, Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, said that its members “shall not waiver or flinch in our resolve to defend and preserve constitutional order.”
Abdel-Fatau Musah, the Ecowas commissioner for political affairs, peace and security said the details of a military intervention already have been hashed out, awaiting only the decision of heads of state.
“All the elements that will go into any eventual intervention have been worked out here, including the resources needed, the how and when we are going to deploy the force,” he said at the end of a three-day meeting in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.
He said the military option would only come as a last resort, but the organization, he insisted, must be “prepared for this eventuality.”
“The military option is the very last option on the table, the last resort, but we must be prepared for this eventuality,” said the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commissioner for Political Affairs and Security, Abdulfatar Musa.
The threat of war has met with a strong reply from the leaders of Burkina Faso and Mali, two countries whose current leaders also came to power through coups.
In a joint statement, the two governments warned that “any military intervention against Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali”. They further warned of the “disastrous consequences of a military intervention in Niger,” adding that it “could destabilize the entire region”.
The two leaders also said they “refuse to apply” the “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane sanctions against the people and authorities of Niger”.
Burkina Faso’s expert on geo-strategy, Kalifara Séré, told Lefaso.net that the ECOWAS threat should not be taken lightly.
“From a strictly tactical point of view, ECOWAS has the means to intervene in Niger because Nigeria alone outnumbers all other armies in terms of manpower, firepower and so on. From this point of view, Nigeria alone has the capacity to carry out a reprisal operation against one of the member states. Nigeria alone accounts for 68 percent of the GDP of the entire ECOWAS zone.”
The boiling tensions has the episcopal conference that brings together bishops from Burkina Faso and Niger worried.
“Following the coup d’état of July 26, and the various reactions that followed, it is with great concern that we, the brother bishops of the Episcopal Conference that unites our two countries, are following the course of events,” the bishops said in their Aug. 4 statement.
“How can we not be concerned when the specter of war appears in the solutions envisaged to get out of the crisis, making us think of a possible second Libya, even though the disastrous consequences of the destabilization of this country continue to make the population of the Sahel suffer terribly,” they said.
“This is why we do not believe at all in the solution of force, to which we clearly say no,” the bishops declared.
Président Mohamed Bazoum, 63, came to power in 2021 in what went down in history as Niger’s first-ever peaceful transfer of power. He took over one of the world’s poorest and most unstable countries, which had been plagued by four coups since its independence from France in 1960. After escaping two attempted coups, Bazoum was finally overthrown by members of his own guard on July 26.
The Burkina-Niger bishops have expressed “fraternal support and ecclesial solidarity” with the people of Niger “by assuring you of our prayers for you and for the entire Nigerian people in these difficult times you are going through.”
“May the powerful intercession of the Virgin Mary, Queen of Peace, and of Saint Joseph, protector of the universal Church, obtain for Niger and the Sahel, the grace of a lasting peace and a peaceful end to the crisis,” they said.