Skip to main content

Since the coup in late July, the junta and ECOWAS have adopted dogmatic positions, prolonging the political standoff and the underlying risk of military action by regional countries opposed to the coup

This assessment was issued to clients of Dragonfly’s Security Intelligence & Analysis Service (SIAS) on 18 August 2023.

  • The new Nigerien junta is likely to remain in power for the rest of 2023 at least
  • We assess that the most likely scenario for the rest of the year is a negotiated end to the crisis, with the Nigerien junta committing to a transitional plan in exchange for sanctions relief

The new junta in Niger is likely to consolidate its power over the coming months. It took power in a coup on 26 July. We have seen little evidence so far that there are factions within the armed forces aligned with the former president able to effectively oppose the junta. The regional bloc, ECOWAS, also appears to have limited capabilities beyond sanctions to force the reinstatement of the former president. We anticipate that it will begin calling for a plan to restore broader democratic rule instead. Still, threats of a regional military intervention by ECOWAS will probably persist as a lever of pressure against the Nigerien junta.

Uncertain political trajectory

Protracted economic and political instability remains very likely in Niger over the coming months, in our assessment. Both the Nigerien junta and ECOWAS have been inconsistent in their rhetoric and actions. However, ECOWAS sanctions, border closures, the suspension of foreign aid, and the cutting of electricity supplies all seem likely to persist until either the former president is reinstated (improbable) or the new military junta starts negotiating with ECOWAS for a return to democratic rule (probable). The coming months are therefore likely to be characterised by a cycle of reward and punishment.

There is no clear pathway out of the currently fluid situation. This is because of the unpredictability of the new junta, but also ECOWAS disunity. The junta has strongly signalled that consolidating its power is its main objective, so it would probably settle for ECOWAS recognition of its legitimacy and the easing of sanctions. ECOWAS’ objectives, however, are less straightforward and seem to stem from wanting to make an example out of Niger to deter future coups in the region. The bloc has – unrealistically, in our view – called for the reinstatement of the former president.

To identify the most probable outcome of the crisis over the next six months, we have conducted a detailed scenario analysis. These include both indicators and key security and stability impacts to aid clients’ planning for a range of outcomes.

Negotiated end of the crisis (~55-75%)

We assess that the most likely scenario over the next six months is a negotiated end to the crisis. This is because neither the junta nor ECOWAS appears to have much choice to avoid a wider escalation, which both seem to view as being against their interests. Despite rhetoric from both sides of being prepared for military action, such a path would undermine the junta’s attempts to consolidate power and ECOWAS’ standing as a credible regional bloc, in our analysis. Both sides have also indicated in recent days that they are open to talks.

This scenario would probably involve the Nigerien junta and ECOWAS negotiating a transitional plan leading up to the elections. This is similar to the promises made by the Malian military after a coup there in 2021, and would probably be followed by the easing of some ECOWAS sanctions, particularly border closures and the resumption of foreign aid. But as is the case in Mali, we doubt that the military would honour any deadlines for a return to democratic rule, leading to further disputes into 2024 and beyond.

Indicators (in no particular order of likelihood) that this scenario is playing out:

  • ECOWAS says it would be open to direct talks with the Nigerien junta
  • The Nigerien junta unilaterally announces a transitional plan for elections
  • Former Nigerien president Mohamed Bazoum makes a public appearance, seemingly safe and in good health
  • ECOWAS begins to downplay its rhetoric regarding a military intervention
  • Hardship protests (by pro-coup and anti-coup supporters) against the impacts of sanctions occur more frequently, putting pressure on the new junta to end the crisis

The security and stability impacts of this scenario would include:

  • Negotiations between ECOWAS and Niger would last several months
  • The Nigerien junta would propose a plan for a return to democratic rule but would offer little detail and deadlines would very likely be missed
  • ECOWAS would keep some sanctions in place, but would probably reopen member-state borders and ask Nigeria to resume electricity supplies
  • Economic hardship and severe operational disruption would ease slightly, but still be problematic due to some regional sanctions remaining in place
  • Widespread civil unrest due to hardship would be unlikely, particularly if critical sanctions such as the cutting of electricity supplies and border closures are lifted
  • Military cooperation between Niger and Western partners would still diminish, almost certainly reducing the effectiveness of counter-terrorism operations

Targeted military operation (~25-35%)

Albeit plausible, a military intervention by ECOWAS or member states still appears unlikely in our assessment. The bloc has threatened such actions on a number of occasions, and on 10 August approved the deployment of a standby force. But we have not yet seen any evidence of regional armies deploying, including along the Niger/Nigeria border. Regional support for such an operation appears limited; the African Union also refused to back it on 15 August. The prospect of Burkina Faso and Mali supporting Niger militarily (and that of a regional conflict) is also probably deterring ECOWAS from taking action.

However, should this scenario play out, we anticipate it would most probably involve a targeted military operation (similar to events in Gambia in 2017) rather than a full ground invasion. It would aim to release former president Bazoum rather than reinstate him, and would very probably be in coordination with French forces stationed in Niamey because of their knowledge of the presidential palace (where Bazoum is being held). Additionally, to enhance the credibility of military action, we doubt that ECOWAS would conduct such an operation without coordination with anti-coup factions within the Nigerien army.

Indicators (in no particular order of likelihood) that this scenario is playing out:

  • ECOWAS and regional armies deploy along the Nigerien border
  • Nigerian senate approves a military operation
  • The African Union shows some support for a targeted military operation
  • The Nigerien junta sentences president Bazoum to death sentence after a military trial
  • Burkina Faso and Mali send substantive material support to Niger
  • Protesters in Niamey attack the French base there and stage a sit-in for more than several days

The impacts of this scenario would include:

  • The junta would be very likely to begin cracking down on any anti-coup dissent within the army, and anti-coup protesters as well as local and foreign journalists critical of the junta
  • The Nigerien junta would almost certainly call for the full expulsion of all foreign (Western) forces and businesses in Niger
  • Foreign nationals, including those from African countries involved in the operation, would probably be advised by their governments to evacuate
  • This would probably also prompt Burkina Faso and Mali (supporters of the coup) to send the Nigerien junta materiel support, and accelerate the deployment of the Wagner Group there
  • The following months would then be characterised by economic hardship amid regional sanctions and isolation, and ineffective diplomacy between Niger and ECOWAS

This scenario also serves as a key indicator for our third scenario (widespread armed fighting) becoming more likely.

Widespread armed fighting (~15-25%)

Our least likely scenario has the potential to occur independently but is mostly likely to happen as a result of an ECOWAS military intervention. This scenario is unlikely at the moment due to the lack of domestic opposition facing the new junta, and the seemingly high level of public support for it. Although we have little doubt that there will be anti-coup factions within the Nigerien army, they seem to have little appetite for an armed confrontation, particularly in light of Burkina Faso and Mali’s pledges to support the Nigerien junta against attempts to remove it from power.

Still, any prolonged armed fighting would mostly be between the Nigerien junta and anti-coup factions within the armed forces. The fighting would likely be contained to the capital but could last several weeks. This would depend on the level of support each side would receive from their allies. Fighting would also have the potential to escalate into a civil conflict if ECOWAS and French forces become involved (plausible) by supporting anti-coup factions on the ground or in the air.

Indicators (in no particular order of likelihood) that this scenario is playing out:

  • ECOWAS conducts a targeted military operation to release the former president (scenario two)
  • ECOWAS meets with anti-coup groups within Niger
  • Mali and Burkina Faso deploy some soldiers to Niger
  • The Nigerien junta reports an attempted counter-coup
  • France accuses the Nigerien junta of an armed attack on its base in the capital

The impacts of this scenario would include:

  • A significant deterioration of security in Niger
  • Burkina Faso and Mali would probably send material support to Niger
  • The Wagner Group would deploy to Niger to support the junta leaders
  • This would also probably prompt mass evacuations of foreign nationals
  • The Nigerien airspace would be closed or extremely dangerous for the rest of the year at least
  • Sanctions on aid, energy supplies, and border closures would very likely remain in place

Image: Supporters of Niger’s National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP) gather at Place de la Concertation in Niamey on 20 August 2023. Photo by AFP via Getty Images.