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INTERNATIONAL POLITICS

Better Reform ECOWAS Than Embark on Military Adventures in West Africa

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By Kester Kenn Klomegah

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the 15-member West Africa’s main regional bloc, is seemingly loosing its decades-old credibility in attempts to reinstate Niger’s ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum. The overarching combined narratives of the growing crisis, mass demonstrations in support for the military and the uncoordinated plan for military intervention are explicit signs of weaknesses on the side of ECOWAS.

Several narratives further pointed to the fundamental facts that the crisis has the potential to escalate into either a conflict across West Africa, and Niger, situated in the Sahel region, occupies a pivotal position not only in terms of terrorism and violent extremism within western Africa but also within a continent that has emerged as a global focal point for terrorist activities and Islamic extremist violence.

Narratives further described ECOWAS poor knowledge and acceptance of the main objectives of and reasons for the military’s appearance in political scene in the Republic of Niger, a West African States controlled by the United States and France. Ultimate failure to comprehend the neocolonial goals of foreign powers has deep created cracks in ECOWAS.

Abdulsalami Abubakar headed the regional bloc and travelled to Niamey for diplomatic talks to resolve the crisis amicably, but was unsuccessful, but only reiterated it could resort to military intervention as a last resort. Subsequently, Niger has now severed ties with Nigeria, Togo, France, its coloniser, and the United States.

Within the context of the changing political situation, the emerging new order or appropriately the taking just a glimpse of the evolutionary processes and trends, many external leaders have called of modern forms of resolving the crisis, but through military intervention. Besides that, in the academic circles, political scenes and civil society organizations have together strongly condemns ECOWAS’ belligerence in the region.

In the spectrum of Africa’s population,  and of course are still talking the restoring the democracy, about returning civilian head government, about constitution that stipulates the governing principles. These groups of political thoughts have simultaneously condemned the Abdourahamane Tchiani-led coup d’état in Niger that toppled the constitutionally-elected government under the leadership of President Mohamed Bazoum.

Throughout these several years ECOWAS has failed the entire West African region. It is manipulated by external powers and ordered by Washington and what is more executing instructions and directives from imperialists-minded powers who have, so far, imposed their own rules. Instead of waging and further deepening conflicts, the executive leadership of ECOWAS has to focus on its original and core mandate of economic development, regional integration and poverty eradication in West Africa. The region needs sustainable peace, social and economic development and stability.

The West African regional bloc has imposed stringent sanctions, finding a peaceful solution to the deepening crisis, yielded little with no clarity on the next steps. Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali, supported by Algeria, though mot a member of regional bloc, stand defiantly against any military moves to restore the previous government. France, the United States and other European nations have poured hundreds of millions of dollars into shoring up Niger’s army and the coup has been seen as a major setback.

“ECOWAS and the rest of the international community want to restore President Bazoum and the junta is not on this agenda,” said Seidik Abba, a Nigerien researcher and Sahel specialist and president of the International Center for Reflection for Studies On the Sahel, a think tank based in Paris, France. “The next step will be military confrontation … What we don’t know is when this confrontation will take place, how it will go, and what the consequences will be,” he said.

An in-depth analysis show us that the interim leader Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani and newly appointed Prime Minister  Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine have put forward the proposal to administer Niger for the next three years, a period within which to deal with urgent pressing issues, and possibly do some ‘house-cleaning’ and adequately prepared for handling over. It was, abruptly and fiercely rejected by the ECOWAS.

In a televised address to the nation, General Abdourahamane Tiani re-indicated absolute openness to dialogue, would consult on a transition back to democracy within three years, echoing lengthy timelines proposed by other coup leaders, such as Burkina Faso and Mali, in the Sahel region.

In connection with above points, experts are discussing, offering their view points. Transitions for Niger’s multiple previous coups were shorter, so a three-year timeline is unprecedented said Aneliese Bernard, a former U.S. State Department official who specializes in African affairs and is now director of Strategic Stabilization Advisors, a risk advisory group. “What we’re seeing in the region is the emergence of trends just to military rule,” she said.

“Democracy is what we stand for and it’s what we encourage,” Nigeria’s Chief of Defence Staff, General Christopher Gwabin Musa said at the start of the two-day meeting in Accra. “The focus of our gathering is not simply to react to events, but to proactively chart a course that results in peace and promotes stability.”

“We are ready to go any time the order is given,” Abdel-Fatau Musah, Сommissioner for Political Affairs and Security at the ECOWAS Secretariat, said on August 18 after the military chiefs’ meeting in Accra, capital of the Republic of Ghana in West Africa. Abdel-Fatau Musah also said 11 of its 15 member states have agreed to commit troops to a military deployment, saying they were ‘ready to go’ whenever the order was given.

Russia and the United States have urged a diplomatic solution to the crisis. The regional bloc has already applied trade and financial sanctions while France, Germany and the United States have suspended aid programmes. The regional bloc’s troops have previously intervened in other emergencies since 1990 including in wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. We have mentioned that Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria are expected to contribute troops, but little detail has emerged over a potential Niger operation.

Notwithstanding all that, Burkina Faso has joined voices with Mali and claimed that any intervention in Niger would be a declaration of war on Mali and Burkina Faso. In light of Russia’s increasing influence in west Africa, it is worth noting that Burkina Faso itself had a coup in January 2022 and since then has requested France to fully withdraw its troops while hailing Russia as a strategic ally, thus increasing speculations about Russian presence and influence. In the same vein, Algeria, known for its strong loyalty to Russia, announced its opposition to any intervention in Niger.

In another related development, Mali’s military leader Assimi Goita had spoken on the phone to Russian President Vladimir Putin about the situation in Niger. Putin stressed “the importance of a peaceful resolution of the situation for a more stable Sahel,” according to transcript posted to Kremlin’s website.

Foreign Affairs Ministry’s website says “ECOWAS takes steps to restore constitutional order in Niger through a political and diplomatic dialogue with the new Nigerien authorities. That a military approach to settling the crisis in Niger risks leading to a protracted standoff in the African country and a sharp destabilization of the situation in the Sahara-Sahel region as a whole.”

Putin has called for a return to constitutional order in Niger, while Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin welcomed the coup. Prigozhin looks to strike business there as massive support for Russia has appeared to surge in Niger since July 26 coup, with junta supporters waving Russian flags at several rallies.

The Kremlin has used the Wagner Group since 2014 as a tool to expand Russia’s presence in Africa. A video in July apparently showed Prigozhin in Belarus but he was photographed on the sidelines during the second Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg. While difficult to verify the authenticity of reports, foreign media and Russian social media channels said Prigozhin was recruiting for Africa and also inviting investors from Russia to put money through its cultural affiliate Russian House.

With reference to Russia’s position as indicated above, some experts still pointed to this complexities: while the United States and Europe particularly support the restoration of the democratic government, Russia carries its anti-Western position and anti-imperialist stand and fiercely encouraging military infiltration into politics in Africa.

With Russia’s support for the emerging military power in the region, Burkina Faso and Mali showing the leeway and offer noticeable sign of encouragement for other to follow such steps aim at kicking out France. In the Russia-Africa summit joint declaration, Russia indicated, as one of its strategic objectives, unreserved and unflinching support for African States to deal drastically with growing United States and Western/European political influence and dominance across Africa.

The African Union’s Peace and Security Council, so far backed sanctions but it rejects the use of force, maintain the position that there are few grounds under which ECOWAS could claim legal justification. Under the circumstances, the main challenges facing Niger and for the matter the entire West African region, and also presents useful lessons for Africa are in two specific areas: politics and economics.

Consider politics in the sense that democracy is threatened, and economics as Niger and other African States have to protect exploitation of resources. The latest flash-points in the struggle by the imperialist powers. Across the West African region, it is a battle between between the Anglophone and the Francophone. But then, there is also the controversial question concerning the construction of the Trans-Saharan pipeline from Nigeria through the region to Europe. Besides that Niger is a landlocked but well known to be a major uranium producer and has 80% impoverished population.

John P. Ruehl, an Australian-American journalist living in Washington, and a Contributing Editor to Strategic Policy, argues in his article titled “Private Military Companies Continue To Expand In Africa” that in the wake of the July 26 coup in Niger, the world’s spotlight has once again turned to the expansion of private military and security companies (PMSCs) across Africa.

As the Sahel region continues to grapple with instability and conflict, the strengthening of PMSCs, both domestic and foreign, will continue to reshape Africa’s security in profound and unpredictable ways. Russia has found an unconventional and effective way to assert influence in Africa’s security landscape, he wrote in the article.

Nonetheless, this raises questions about sovereignty, a recurring issue in a continent where it has consistently been violated since African countries won their independence. As the Nigerien government grapples with its situation, Wagner could again act as a Kremlin surrogate, safeguarding Russia’s interests by filling the security vacuum left by the ousted French military. But Prigozhin’s ongoing role in Africa suggests the Kremlin is relying on smoke and mirrors to obscure its true motivations, according to John Ruehl.

Through similiar microscopic glasses, M.K. Bhadrakumar, a former Indian diplomat writing in the Indian Punchline media, highlighted the deep-seated existing problems in the region and in Africa: while poor governance, rampant corruption, escalating poverty and insecurity have created conditions for the coups in Sahel region, a deeper factor is the geopolitics of resource access and control. Foreign powers are competing to explore and control the abundant mineral resources of West African nations.

Bhadrakumar wrote that the ascendant tensions in Niger and the wider subregion are no doubt exacerbated by the geopolitical and economic rivalry between the East and the West. The spectre that haunts West Africa is that the proxy war between Russia and the US can easily creep into Africa, where Russian mercenaries and Western Special Forces are already stationed for new assignments.

Dr. Scott N. Romaniuk, an International Newton Fellow at the University of South Wales’ Faculty of Life Sciences and Education  and Dr. János Besenyő, Professor at the Óbuda University, Donát Bánki Faculty of Mechanical and Safety Engineering (Hungary), and Head of the Africa Research Institute, both in an opinion article explained the worsening of existing security challenges, and the emergence of new internal and regional threats.

In the framework of what we see as a coup at the crossroads of a potential regional war, a nascent proxy conflict, and the neocolonial goals of foreign powers, at least five possible consequences of the coup and its accompanying events can be postulated.

These are: firstly, there is the possibility of a decline in democratic governance in the region, which is supported by divisions among ECOWAS members and a negative attitude towards the political and economic union of West African states, especially in Niamey, where Nigeriens denounce ECOWAS’ involvement.

Secondly, it is plausible that other governments within the central Sahel region may succumb to the influence of military juntas or experience state failure.

Thirdly, the socioeconomic repercussions of sanctions – a playbook from the Western strategy towards Russia in the wake of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine – are likely to have a significantly negative impact on the quality of life for those who live in Niger.

Fourthly, the present conditions may contribute to a schism between Nigeriens’ desire for change and those who would prefer to maintain the current military junta, both of which may manifest through military intervention and the involvement of external actors such as Wagner mercenaries and other foreign forces.

Fifthly, Niger, under the governance of a fragile military junta, might potentially become a breeding ground for extremist activities. This may occur either due to involvement by Western powers with neo-colonialist motives or, conversely, in the absence of Western troops if their absence is perceived as an opportunity to establish operational bases within the nation.

ECOWAS  sanctions will only bite ordinary impoverished millions. The African Union supports all that sharply divides the continent, moving forth and back without any suitable solutions. Both are watching their traditional external forces. Burkina Faso has also agreed to restore civilian rule next year, while Guinea shortened its transition timeline to 24 months. With a flurry of sanctions since the coup, it only goes piling economic pressure on one of the world’s poorest countries.

Niger shares distinctive borders with Burkina Faso and Mali, as well as Chad and Algeria in Sahel region. These States have pledged their support to Niger, as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) continually looks for mechanisms to resolve the crisis. The regional bloc has come under criticisms, it slackens on its primary responsibilities and some have called for staff changes attributing to inefficiency. The bloc’s reputation has been at stake, and most probably, needs new dynamic faces at the Secretariat in Abuja, Nigeria.

The military has been in power since July 26. Mohamed Bazoum’s election in 2021 was a landmark in Niger’s history, ushering in its first peaceful transfer of power since independence from France in 1960. Niger is a landlocked nation located in West Africa and well known to be a major uranium producer but has 80% impoverished population. Niger remains one of the poorest countries in the world, regularly ranking at the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index.

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics.


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INTERNATIONAL POLITICS

The Death of Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi

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By Patrick Wintour

The death of the Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, in a helicopter crash comes at a time when the country, faced by unprecedented external challenges, was already bracing itself for a change in regime with the expected demise in the next few years of its 85-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In the country’s hydra-headed leadership where power is spread in often opaque ways between clerics, politicians and army, it is the supreme leader, and not the president, that is ultimately decisive. Indeed, in some ways the posts of president, and prime minister – originally based on a model of the French constitution – became overwhelmed in the drafting of Iran’s constitution in 1979, leading to advocates of a more powerful presidency to claim the role was being subsumed in a form of autocracy created in the name of religion.

The presidency, however loyal to the supreme leader – and Raisi was considered very loyal to Khamenei – is often cast in the role as a useful scapegoat helping the supreme leader to avoid criticism. That certainly became the fate of Raisi’s predecessor, Hassan Rouhani, who became a punchbag for decisions taken elsewhere. In recent months Raisi, elected president in 2021 but in practice handpicked by the supreme leader, had been mentioned as a possible successor to Khamenei. His death instead clears a thorny path for Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei.

The choice is made by an 88-strong “assembly of experts”, and Raisi’s departure certainly increases the chances of a hereditary succession in Iran, something many clerics oppose as alien to Iran’s revolutionary principles. Raisi’s death will add to the sense of a country already in political transition. A new hardline parliament was only just elected on 1 March in which turnout for some of the elections fell below 10%, and was overall presented as reaching a nationwide turnout of only 41% – a record low.

Reformist or moderate politicians were either disqualified or soundly beaten, leaving a new and, as yet, untested division in parliament between traditional hardliners and an ultra-conservative group known as Paydari or the Steadfastness Front. The effective exclusion of reformists from political participation in parliament for the first time since 1979 adds to the sense of a country in uncharted waters.

The cumulative disruption also comes at a time when Iran can ill afford such uncertainty as it faces western challenges over its nuclear programme, a dire economy and tense relations with other Middle Eastern states, especially with regard to relations with Israel and the US.

The loss of Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the foreign affairs minister, in the helicopter crash only adds to a sense of instability for a country that prided itself on control and predictability. His most likely successor is his deputy, Ali Bagheri, but hardliners may regard him as too willing to negotiate with the west over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Although Iran has not lost a president in office since the revolution in 1979, the country has a clear formal system for succession in which the first vice-president – currently Mohammad Mokhber – takes charge. Few regard Mokhber, a banker and former deputy governor of the Khuzestan province, as presidential material. A new president should be elected within 50 days, giving the supreme leader and his entourage relatively little time to select someone that will not only become president at such a critical time, but also will be in a strong position succeed Khamenei himself. The immediate challenge of any new leader will be to control not just internal dissent, but the factional demands within the country to take a tougher line with the west and draw closer to Russia and China.

With the sudden death of President Ebrahim Raisi, the Iranian regime unexpectedly finds itself faced with having to hold elections to appoint a successor. The choice for Tehran is whether to allow the vote to be semi-democratic and contested, or risk nothing by ensuring no candidate with any organisation or following stands against the hardliner likely to be chosen as the regime’s preferred candidate. It is not likely to be a long discussion.

Recent experience suggests the regime will opt for the safety of an election in which its chosen candidate has no serious rival, even if this leads to a lower turnout and a disillusioned electorate. With so much external and internal pressure on the regime, central to which is the inevitable and looming need to replace the 85-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the regime is not likely to leave much to chance. This is a critical moment, Khamenei and his allies will believe, for continuity and security.

Such a decision comes with risks. Iran has a long and well-known history of filtering out potential political leaders from elections. All candidates have to be deemed qualified by an elite body known as the Guardian Council, and are interviewed to ensure their worthiness for high office.

In most cases, shunned candidates shrug their shoulders and walk away. Many do not even put their names forward, knowing they will be rejected. The less the process is challenged, the less its methods are scrutinised.

Over the last month, however, a public row about the process has developed between the former president Hassan Rouhani and the Khamenei-appointed Guardian Council which has gone to the heart of the arguments about the president’s role and legitimacy. The dispute stems from Rouhani, who was presidentfrom 2013-21, having been banned from standing this year for the Assembly of Experts, an 88-strong body that selects the supreme leader.

Rouhani, already bruised by the way he was treated as president, had refused to acquiesce on the matter. Last week, he wrote a scathing open letter that he said was written not out of personal ambition, but in defence of the republic, and insisting he would not be silent in the face of his attempted sidelining.

He revealed in correspondence with the Guardian Council that he had failed the qualification test on the grounds of insulting the judiciary and the council, lacking political vision and lacking commitment to the constitution – accusations he insisted were an attempt to usurp the authority of the president. He argued that if the Guardian Council could disqualify from future public office leaders with whom they had political, not religious, differences, the president is no longer answerable to the people, but to an unelected body.

Recalling the number of times he had been elected with the support of millions of votes, Rouhani asked: “Do the jurists of the Guardian Council with the least political, security and diplomatic experience have the expertise to disqualify candidates because of what they call political knowledge and insight? You who accuse the candidates of not knowing the people, how many times and in which competitive elections have you exposed yourself to the people’s vote?”

In the withering assessment of his treatment, he said he had been found guilty on the basis of evidence compiled by “agents whose files are a mixture of factional analysis and intercepted and mostly illegal wiretapping, and whose reports turn into vague and general letters with obvious purpose”.

He further warned: “Future presidents (if such an office and institution remains) should know that with this indictment, even they no longer have political freedom and will be unable to perform their legal duties, and instead of the constitution, they should be subject to the Guardian Council, Otherwise, do not doubt that the position of president at the end of the term of office (or even halfway) will be the ceiling and the last responsibility for which they are qualified.”

Referring to specific criticisms of his time in office, Rouhani defended his role in negotiating the landmark 2015 nuclear deal with the US under the Obama administration. Referring to Donald Trump’s subsequent withdrawal from the deal in 2018, he said: “My government is proud that it was not only a government of negotiations, but also became a government of resistance when Trump’s unconventional government appeared in the United States.” The agreement had been endorsed by the supreme leader.

Equally, he said, a president had a right to speak about the judiciary’s flaws. And crucially, he argued, criticising others, as he did as president, was not unIslamic. “Freedom of speech is a right, although someone may use this right to say something wrong,” he wrote.

The cumulative effect of the Guardian Council’s actions, he said, would be to reduce voter participation.

Rouhani’s criticisms, written at a time when Iran was not expecting elections, will resonate with many, but the chances of his warnings being heeded and the supreme leader allowing an open field seem slim.

Recent experience suggests the regime will opt for the safety of an election in which its chosen candidate has no serious rival, even if this leads to a lower turnout and a disillusioned electorate. With so much external and internal pressure on the regime, central to which is the inevitable and looming need to replace the 85-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the regime is not likely to leave much to chance. This is a critical moment, Khamenei and his allies will believe, for continuity and security.

The perennial challenge to Iran remains relations with Israel, which reached a new pitch of danger in April when the two countries exchanged fire, sparked by an Israeli attack on the Iranian consulate in Damascus, and more broadly by Iran’s support for proxy groups willing to fight Israel, including Hamas and Hezbollah.

But any new president will have to make big decisions over Iran’s nuclear programme. On 9 May, Kamal Kharrazi, the supreme leader’s foreign policy advisor and former Iranian foreign minister, said Iran would consider a doctrinal shift to nuclear deterrence if Israel attacked what Iran said were civilian nuclear sites.

Rafael Grossi, the head of the UN nuclear inspectorate the IAEA, warned Iran to end the loose talk about developing a nuclear weapon, saying it was disturbing. Opponents of the regime, still powerful through civil resistance, will not mourn Raisi’s death due to his role in repressing the “woman, life, freedom” protests.

Older Iranians revile Raisi for his role as deputy prosecutor in Tehran in 1988 when, at the age of 28, he played a prominent role in a movement that killed as many as 30,000 political prisoners, mostly members of the People’s Mujahedin Organisation in Iran (MEK).

In 2019 he was chosen as head of the judiciary by Khamenei, a role he used to increase state hostage-taking and continue domestic repression through revolutionary courts.

Patrick Wintour is the Diplomatic Editor of the Guardian

Courtesy: The Guardian, London


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INTERNATIONAL POLITICS

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi Dies in Helicopter Crash

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The hardline Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi, has died in a helicopter crash in foggy weather in the mountains near the border with Azerbaijan. The charred wreckage of the aircraft, which crashed on Sunday carrying Raisi, as well as the foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and six other passengers and crew, was found early on Monday after an overnight search in blizzard conditions.

Fears had been growing for Raisi, a 63-year-old ultraconservative, after contact was lost with the helicopter on Sunday as it navigated fog-covered mountains in north-west Iran.

The helicopter carrying Ebrahim Raisi takes off near the border with Azerbaijan on Sunday. Photograph: Ali Hamed Haghdoust/AP

The country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – who holds ultimate power with a final say on foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear programme – said the country’s first vice-president, Mohammad Mokhber, would take over as interim president. The deputy foreign minister, Ali Bagheri Kani, was appointed as acting foreign minister.

“I announce five days of public mourning and offer my condolences to the dear people of Iran,” Khamenei said. Mokhber, like Raisi, is seen as close to Khamenei. Under Iran’s constitution, a new presidential election must be held within 50 days.

Iranian state media blamed bad weather for the crash and said it was complicating rescue efforts. Raisi’s convoy had included three helicopters, and the other two had “reached their destination safely”, Tasnim news agency reported.

The incident happened near Jolfa, a city on the border with Azerbaijan, about 375 miles (600km) north-west of the Iranian capital, Tehran. The president had been travelling in Iran’s East Azerbaijan province.

The state-run IRNA news agency broadcast footage of an Iranian Red Crescent team walking up a slope in thick fog, as well as live footage of crowds of worshippers reciting prayers in the holy shrine of Imam Reza in the city of Mashhad, Raisi’s home town.

Rescue team members work at the crash site of a helicopter carrying Raisi in Varzaghan, in north-west Iran Photograph: Azin Haghighi/MOJ News Agency/AFP/Getty Images

More than 70 rescue teams using search dogs and drones were sent to the site, the Red Crescent said, and the chief of staff of Iran’s army ordered all the resources of the army and the elite Revolutionary Guards to be deployed.

Iran owns a number of helicopters but international sanctions make it difficult to obtain parts for them. Most of its military air fleet predates the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Countries in the region sent their well-wishes and offers of support, including Iraq and Qatar, but also Saudi Arabia, which has long been a regional foe. The Saudi foreign ministry was following reports about the crash with “great concern”, the country’s state news agency reported.

The US president, Joe Biden, had been briefed on the crash, an American official said on condition of anonymity.NThe Turkish president said he was saddened to hear of the crash. “I convey my best wishes to our neighbour, friend and brother Iranian people and government, and I hope to receive good news from Mr Raisi and his delegation as soon as possible,” Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a post on the social media platform X.

The Iran-backed militant group Hamas, fighting Israeli forces in Gaza with Tehran’s support, issued a statement expressing sympathy to the Iranian people for “this immense loss”. Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group and the Houthi rebels in Yemen also issued statements praising Raisi and mourning his death.

Raisi was a hardliner who formerly led the country’s judiciary. He was viewed as a protege of Khamenei, and some analysts had suggested that he could replace the 85-year-old leader.

He won Iran’s 2021 presidential election, for which the turnout was the lowest in the Islamic Republic’s history. Raisi was under sanctions by the US in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 at the end of the Iran-Iraq war.

Under Raisi, Iran enriched uranium at nearly weapons-grade levels and hampered international inspections. Iran has supplied arms to Russia in its war on Ukraine, and launched a substantial drone and missile attack on Israel. It continues to arm proxy groups in the Middle East, such as the Houthi rebels and Hezbollah.

Mass protests in the country have raged for years. The most recent involved the death in 2022 of Mahsa Amini, a woman who had been detained for allegedly not wearing a hijab to the liking of authorities.

The months-long security crackdown that followed the demonstrations killed more than 500 people and more than 22,000 were detained.

Reuters contributed to this report


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INTERNATIONAL POLITICS

Red Notice: Putin is Nearby

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By Dr Chidi Amuta

Putin is nearby. Precisely, Russia’s ambitious global influencer of illiberal  order has docked next door. In Niger Republic to be exact. At the end of April, the military junta in Niger kicked out the American military advisers and tiny troop contingent from their country. Earlier, they had forced the U.S drone and surveillance base in Agadez to shut down. As part of a halfhearted diplomatic move to repair military relations with Niger, an American delegation went to hold talks with the regime in Niamey.

Almost on the same day, officials of the junta were reportedly showing a Russian military advance party around what used to be the American military base. The intent was obvious. The Russians were in the process of being handed the keys of what used to be a US base or at least preparing the grounds for an active security relationship with Moscow. Though the janitors are yet to hand over the keys of the former US base to the Russians, the signals are clear.

Earlier on, the military junta in Niger had chased away the French ambassador to the country, thus ending centuries of French influence in the country. Of course, the military dictators were towing the same line as their colleagues in Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea. A rushed end to French presence and influence in these former French colonies has since become the central foreign policy doctrine of the new autocrats in what used to be Francophone West Africa.

Official Moscow is still predictably silent on its intentions. But what is clear is Moscow’s preparations to replace the West, specifically the United State and France as the strategic influence in Niger Republic and its environs. And with the exit of both French and American military presence in Niger, the door has been thrown wide open for their replacement by Russia. Of course Russia’s interest in Africa especially West and Central Africa has never been disguised in recent times.

Prior to the demise of the bullish Yevgeny Prigozyn and the decline of his Wagner mercenary force, Russian commercial and security presence in these parts of Africa had been quite pronounced but diplomatically muted. Now what began as an expeditionary mercenary commercial interest is about to graduate into a full blown strategic military and security presence and interest from Moscow.

The presence of US troops and the drone base coupled with the presence of a French protection force in West Africa remained  for a long time part of the international arrangement to keep jihadist terrorists from drifting towards the south of West Africa. Countries like Nigeria were prime beneficiaries of the US presence in Niger. It was more importantly part of an international strategic engagement to barricade the region from a rampaging Jihadist onslaught from the Sahel.

This logic of containment and protection remained the major plank of Western influence remained valid until the rapid reduction of French presence and influence in the region by new military regimes. It all began with Mali which had earlier evicted French diplomats from Bamako. This was followed by the withdrawal of French protection troops from Mali and subsequently the other major West African former French territories now under military dictatorship: Mali, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Niger and possibly Chad.

There a historical context to Russia’s residual appeal in parts  of Africa. Instructively, in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the world was gripped by anxiety. On March 2nd, the UN General Assembly voted on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Of the 54 African member states, 28 voted against Russia while 17 abstained and 8 refused to show up. Towards Russia or more precisely the old Soviet Union, some nostalgia among an ageing generation of elite.

Many of these older African elite recall the days of the Cold War and the old USSR’s identification with Africa’s causes especially anti colonialism and anti Apartheid. Ideological nostalgia towards the Red Empire is strongest in places like Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa where political parties that pioneered the independence and anti racist struggles were backed by the old Soviet Union.

At the present time, Russian influence in Africa remains sporadic and uncoordinated but cannot be ignored as a significant part of the strategic future of the continent. In 2019, the inaugural Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi was attended by 43 African countries. It was a forum for Mr. Putin to critique the West’s policies towards Africa.

Nonetheless, Russia’s trade with Africa is only 2% of Africa’s goods trade with the rest of the world. A Russian bank VEB now under Western sanctions is a shareholder in the African Development Bank. Even then, Russia’s economic and military interest and roles in some African fragile states remains considerable. Russia is the largest arms supplier to African countries, a net extractor of mineral and other resources and a prop for fragile even if unpopular regimes. But with all its noisy presence in world affairs, Russia remains an unlikely agent of economic benefit for African countries.

The Russian economy is about the size of that of Italy. So, Russia is not in a position to act as an attractive agent of development in Africa. Russia is still a relatively poor country. Its companies playing in the African economic theatre are most extractive industry interlopers and state sponsored thieving entities. Russian infrastructure companies are still not interested in contracts in African countries. African tourist and business travel interests in Russia is next to zero. So, by and large any renewed Russian interest in parts of Africa will remain a matter of limited mutual convenience. Security assistance in return for opportunities for Russian rogue companies to come in and make some quick cash while the Russian state increases its foothold  and authoritarian leverage against the Western liberal order.

For Nigeria, the implications of the exit of two major Western powers from our immediate northern frontier are many and far reaching. Nigeria’s exposure in this regard are threefold. First, the security safe corridor  against jihadist terrorist expansion from the Sahel is instantly closed. Without American drones, intelligence and French troops on the ground, Nigeria is exposed. Our national security is further compromised. The jihadists are now free to roam free from centres in Niger into the troubled northern parts of Nigeria.

Secondly, the military presence of Russia in Niger and other parts of what used to be French West Africa immediately signals a decline of Western influence in the region and its replacement with an antithetical Russian influence. Russian security presence and strategic influence in an area now under military dictatorship effectively means the shrinking of the frontiers of freedom and democratic rule and its replacement with an authoritarian influence. Russian is not known to be a patron of democracy and freedom anywhere in the world. It cannot possibly export what it does not have at home.

Hidden under the above two meanings is a clear and present threat to Western influence in West Africa. The timing of this development in world history is fortuitous. We are in an era where the Cold War has been replaced by an increasing hemispheric war of nerves and rhetoric between Western democracies as we have come to know them and a rising authoritarian counter force. The counter force is being guaranteed by the growing influence and fortunes of China.  Russia, North Korea, Iran and other client states of the same ilk are taking shelter under China’s bloated bank accounts to keep the West uncomfortable.

Nigeria’s political response to the developments in Niger have shown little of an enlightened national self interest. At the time the coupists toppled Niger’s democratic government, Nigeria was in a position to prevent the coup and its nasty consequences. Former president Buhari had a close personal relationship with the democratic leadership in Niger.

Even after Buhari’s tenure, his successor Mr. Tinubu woefully failed to use his position as the new Chairman of ECOWAS to neutralize the coup in Niger. Nigeria was in an eminent position to use its economic and military preponderance in the region to stifle the Niger coupists. We failed.

A few tepid diplomatic threats and fickle sanctions failed to deter the dictatorship in Niamey. The junta got stronger, compared notes with those in Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea. They got stronger together and became a threat to ECOWAS from which they threatened a pullout. ECOWAS solidarity was broken. The bloc buckled. Its military weakness was on open display as they could neither effect an ultimatum to use force if necessary. Individual member nations reached out to the Niger and other dictators and made individual deals.

Nigeria’s resolve was broken. We shamefully restored electricity supply to Niger, lifted our limited and effete sanctions. And now the Niger junta has dug in and has admitted a potential destabilizing force into our immediate northern frontier. By creating room for the exit of the West from Niger and the tacit admission of Russian influence into the region, Nigeria has shot itself in the foot.

There is something more frightening in our political response to this development. The possibility that the United States and France could decide to pitch tent in Nigeria by negotiating military basing footholds here is far fetched. But even then, it is being opposed vehemently by some politicians instead of being welcomed enthusiastically.

In Nigerian political circles, the debate has been as to whether Nigeria should allow France and the United States to establish military bases in its territory. As is typical in our lazy politics of sectarianism, regionalism and divisiveness, the most eloquent voices of opposition to possible Western military bases in Nigeria have come from northern political voices. This is not only sad but also not backed by any iota of strategic insight and knowledge of basic national interests.

Ironically, the North is the region immediately exposed to the consequences of the withdrawal of Western forces from Niger. It has become the epicenter of national insecurity and instability of the kind associated with increasing jihadist activities. It is the home base of banditry. It is a free market for the spread of small and medium arms from the theatres of trouble in the Sahel, Northern Africa and the Middle East. It is the area where schools are being sacked and farming disrupted. It is the source of herdsmen turned into killers, armed robbers and kidnappers.

More pointedly, there is nothing that says that should Nigeria consider it strategically wise, Western military bases in the country must be located in any particular zone of the country. Such bases can be located anywhere in the country. And they often have collateral economic benefits to the host communities as in places like Djibouti, South Korea and Germany where US military bases are part of the local economic life.

In the world of modern technology, possible Western military bases can be located anywhere in the country. Advanced intelligence gathering and surveillance systems now allow major world powers to gather intelligence, order operations and manage military outcomes from virtually anywhere. The drones that decimated Al Queda in Afghanistan and Pakistan emanated from drone command bases in the deserts of far away Nevada. Donald Trump ordered the drone assassination of Iran’s General Soliman at Baghdad airport from the comfort of the Oval Office in far away Washington.

The long term strategic and overall national interest of Nigeria are better served if we rise above petty regional narrow views of the developments unfolding in our Northern frontier. First, we need to protect the nation from the spread of jihadist insurgency and terrorism. We need to remain enlisted in the international effort to defeat Jihadist terrorism decisively. We need to protect freedom and democratic rule as a heritage after more than four decades of military dictatorship in our history. Consequentially, we need to act in concert with the rest of the free world to discourage Russia’s active promotion and tacit marketing of authoritarianism and anti democratic ideas around the world.

Incidentally, among the salesmen of authoritarianism in the world, Russia is handicapped. Unlike China, Russia is neither an agent of economic development nor a model of cultural inclusiveness and universalism. Few free and happy people want to make Moscow their preferred holiday or business travel destination.

Dr. Amuta, a Nigerian journalist, intellectual and literary critic, was previously a senior lecturer in literature and communications at the universities of Ife and Port Harcourt.


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