The Dream of Regional Integration in Africa:Beyond  the Challenges of Abdourahamane Tchiani’s Coup


Bola A. Akinterinwa 

A bdourahamane Tchiani is the Army General that toppled the administration of  President  Mohammed Bazoum in the Republic of Niger on July 26, 2023. The coup offended the Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS), in particular, and the African Union (AU), in general. More importantly, the coup has the great potential to seriously taint Nigeria-Niger bilateral relations in the foreseeable future.

True, Nigeria initiated the establishment of the ECOWAS in collaboration with the Republic of Togo. Besides, Nigeria pays more than one-third of ECOWAS assessed dues. And perhaps most importantly, but also more disturbingly, the ECOWAS is currently chaired by Nigeria’s leader, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu (PBAT), hence at the time the General Abdourahamane Tchiani’s coup took place. PBAT was encouraged, at the instance of President Alassane Ouattara of the Côte d’Ivoire, to accept to chair the ECOWAS and quickly find an enduring solution to the imbroglio created by General Tchiani’s coup.

In other words, PBAT is required to enforce the release of President Bazoum, detained by General Tchiani, the Commander of the Presidential Brigade who led the coup against President Bazoum. Tchiani is considered an illegitimate successor to the ousted President Bazoum because of ECOWAS and AU’s non-acceptance of unconstitutional change of government in Africa. Malian and Burkinabé coups have been condoned. Niger is angered because it is being treated differently by the ECOWAS of which it is an original member.

More saddening, Niger is the only immediate neighbor of Nigeria with which there is no border dispute. Nigeria-Niger ties are without irritants. The two countries established the Nigeria-Niger Joint Commission for Cooperation in 1971. It is therefore considered unbelievably true that Nigeria is the one leading other ECOWAS countries to wage war on the people of Niger. Considering it unbelievable, the de facto government of Tchiani decided to refer the ECOWAS sanctions to the ECOWAS Court of Justice for possible review. It is against this background that the quest for regional and continental integration is being made difficult. 

ECOWAS and Nigeria’s Ties with Niger

ECOWAS relationship with the Republic of Niger, as a supranational authority, has been generally cordial since the time of independence. Niger Republic, along with other Member States of the ECOWAS were members of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the AU which laid the foundation for regional integration as a first step to take in the quest for continental integration. If the Tchiani coup in Niger is now threatening Nigeria-Niger ties, this cannot but be a resultant of some military mistreatments from which PBAT might have suffered in the past. Tinubu took active part in the struggle for true democracy and was forced into exile by General Sani Abacha in 1993. Consequently, he is likely to have reservations about military juntas.

PBAT also prefers an offensive-defensive strategy in relating with the Tchiani junta: offensive strategy in order to prevent new coups, or send notices of deterrence. This strategy is aimed at weakening the junta to the extent that any future coupists would think twice before contemplating another coup in the region. The adoption of a defensive-offensive strategy is to use the first offensive attacks on the junta, if successful, as a means of further strengthening self-defence in preparation for future attacks. 

Besides, PBAT needs regional support and recognition as the new legitimate leader of Nigeria, especially in light of the many court cases challenging his academic qualifications and eligibility to contest the presidential election. Probably in his thinking, nothing should be wrong with seeking the use of foreign environment to address his domestic challenges in Nigeria. And perhaps more interestingly, if the PBAT-led ECOWAS could succeed in Niger Republic, the likelihood of the use of the same ECOWAS cannot be ruled out in dealing with the many internal contradictions and struggles for separation in Nigeria. Thus PBAT’s prompt interest in giving one week ultimatum to the junta to return to democratic rule and release President Bazoum is quite understandable. He wants to be seen as an action president but this does not resolve the problem of national and regional unity and solidarity needed in an ECOWAS already divided against itself.  

And true enough again, the dream of African unity dates back to the time of the Conference of Independent African States in the late 1950s and particularly to 1963 when the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was established. Since the advent of the OAU, efforts have been consistently made to unite Africa and promote economic cooperation. OAU resolutions and declarations adopted in Algiers in September 1968, in Addis Ababa in August 1970 and May 1973 all provided that ‘the economic integration of the Continent is a pre-requisite for the realization of the objectives of the OAU.’ No wonder therefore that, in July 1977, the OAU Council of Ministers endorsed the Kinshasa Declaration on the establishment of an African Economic Community.

Additionally, the OAU considered the Monrovia Declaration of Commitment on the Guidelines and Measures for National and Collective Self-reliance in Economic and Social Development for the Establishment of a New International Order which called for the creation of an African Common Market as a prelude to the African Economic Community. This was the background to the making of the African Economic Community. This was also why the OAU considered ‘the various factors which hinder the development of the Continent and seriously jeopardise the future of its people,’ in finally deciding to have an Economic Community as a catalytic instrument of continental growth and development in Africa.

And true enough again, for the purposes of the continental integration, the June 3rd, 1991 Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community, which entered into force in May 1994, divided the whole of Africa into five regions contrarily to the United Nations’ definition of the whole of Africa as a region. Article 1(d) of the Treaty stipulates that a ‘Region shall mean an OAU region as defined by Resolution CM/Res.464 (XXVI) of the OAU Council of Ministers concerning the Division of Africa into five (5) regions namely North Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa. In this regard, a ‘Sub-region shall mean at least three (3) States of one or more regions as defined in paragraph 1(d).’ 

As such, West Africa as a region, and not as a sub-region in the eyes of the United Nations, necessarily encompasses the Republic of Niger which is therefore pretty bound to comply with the supranational obligations arising from Niger’s membership of the ECOWAS. The problem is not that Niger Republic is contesting the supranational authority of the ECOWAS. The problem is that the ECOWAS and the AU, by insisting on non-acceptance of unconstitutional changes of government in Africa, have limited their considerations to coups-making by the military. They ignore constitutional manoeuvres that enable sit-tight presidents. They also ignore people-involved coups and the atrocities committed by elected presidents under the pretext of protection of liberal democracy. It is precisely this act of ignorance that has prompted the Malian people and the Burkinabé to revolt against France and their elected leaders who the AU and the ECOWAS are seeking to protect, but to the detriment of the interests of the people.

Without any whiff of doubt, the purpose of the 1980 Lagos Plan of Action, officially referred to as the Lagos Plan of Action for the Economic Development of Africa, 1980-2000, is to create an African common market and improve intra-African trade at the national and regional levels. More important, the Plan identified lack of resource development as a major obstacle to economic development. This partly explains why the Plan wanted to integrate the youth into agriculture and, why it also, as from 1980 through 1985, wanted to lay the ‘foundation of self-sufficiency’ and embark on the ‘immediate improvement in the food situation’: reducing food waste, increasing food security, increasing and diversifying food supply, etc. The belief is that economic development has become a desideratum. The Plan was to further consolidate the 1963 OAU objectives by promoting self-reliancism and minimizing ‘Africa’s links with Western countries by maximizing Africa’s own resources,’ especially in the areas of agricultural, industrial, human resources planning, trade and energy, sectors.  

Even though the cardinal objective of the OAU-AU is to promote continental political unity and economic cooperation, the truth remains that the unity is increasingly only taking the format of a manu militari. Even at that, great achievements have been recorded: establishment of an AU on 26 May, 2001 in Addis Ababa and launching on 9 July 2002 in Durban, South Africa; the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), which was adopted at the 37th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the AU in Lusaka, Zambia in July 2001. However, the main objective of the OAU, which is to enhance economic cooperation and integration and evolve continental unity, is yet to be accomplished. It is only integration of leaders, and not that of peoples, that has been attained. 

There is the achievement of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) which held its inaugural session in March 2004. There are also the 2018 Pan-African Institute for Statistics (STATAFRIC) in Tunis, Tunisia and the Pan-African Statistical Training Centre (PANASTAT) in Yamoussoukro in Côte d’Ivoire whose headquarters’ negotiations are still ongoing. The establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) in 2018 is similarly noteworthy. In light of the foregoing, is unity and integration in Africa a myth?

The Dream and the Challenge

The dream of the OAU, as noted above, is unity as instrument to achieve continental development. As provided in the OAU Charter, promotion of unity, solidarity of African States, coordination and intensification of their efforts and cooperation, safeguarding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Member States, as well as ridding Africa of the remaining vestiges of colonization and apartheid are the declared main objectives of the OAU.

With all the aforesaid achievements, however, how do we explain the fact that the ECOWAS would want to declare war on another African state because of democracy or a so-called elected president that the people do not want? Is African unity or African integration not a myth? Will the Tchiani coup in Niger not serve as a major setback on the path to continental unity? From the list of achievements, it can be rightly posited that AU’s efforts at continental unity and integration is to a great extent a reality. If we consider the increasing discontent of the many peoples of Africa in reaction to the liberal democracy-driven political governance in many parts of Africa, the objectives of continental unity and integration appear to tilt towards a myth. Several issues point to this observation.

First is the issue of non-interference as a principle. The OAU adopted in its Charter the principle of non-interference in the domestic affairs of other Member States of the organization. Non-interference in this case included non-intervention as provided in Article 2(7) of the United Nations Charter. Normally, the notion of non-interference does not imply the use of force like non-intervention does. It is when force is applied that the word, intervention, is used to differentiate it from interference in which there is no use of force. 

The truth, however, is that, following the transformation of the OAU to AU, the Constitutive Act of the AU explicitly provides for possible intervention in the domestic affairs of any Member State of the AU. The use of non-interference was jettisoned. As such, the provision is consistent with the objective of continental integration in the sense that the international borders separating countries are no longer there, as the AU now has free hands to interfere and intervene whenever it is necessary. It is supposed to be an Africa without international borders.

The immediate implication of this is that the Niger Republic cannot rightly object to the planned intervention of the ECOWAS or to its sanctionary measures. In other words, intervention by the ECOWAS is lawful and permissible with the AU’s right of intervention in the domestic affairs of the Member States, with or without invitation. The main problem of intervention, however, arises when an incumbent government wants an intervention and the people are opposed to it. There cannot but be serious implications whenever the people are hostile to the intervention. In the context of the Niger coup, Nigeriens are very hostile to the Nigeria-led anti-Niger war of sanctions. Nigerians in Niger Republic are also vehemently opposed to the ECOWAS intervention. 

They are also opposed to the French, their colonial masters. The Nigeriens do not agree with the ECOWAS argument of unconstitutional change of government in their country. Even if the coup is considered to be unconstitutional, they still openly support the unconstitutional change. This is therefore a new major challenge for the ECOWAS and the AU. Put interrogatively, in whose interest is the protection of liberal democracy and unconstitutional change of government, the governed or the governor? Is the ECOWAS intervention to protect the ECOWAS Authority or the Community citizens? What future is there if unity and integration efforts are limited to that of presidents and regional bodies? Is it not the integration of people that should take precedence?  

The problem appears to have just started. On Tuesday, 20th November, 2023, the Abdourahamane Tchiani junta took the ECOWAS to the ECOWAS Court in Abuja in protest against the sanctions taken by the regional body against the Tchiani junta for engaging in an unconstitutional change of government. President Bazoum was ousted on July 26, 2023 and the ECOWAS responded in various ways to compel the junta to release President Bazoum from his house detention.

The sanctions include Nigeria’s decision to cut off electricity supply to Niger. Nigeria accounts for about 70% of Niger’s electricity, meaning that the people of Niger are allowed darkness to the tune of 70%. Niger will not have electricity and Nigeria will not earn any revenue for non-supply of electricity. The supply of electricity is contractual. 

In terms of financial resources, foreign aid accounts for about 50% of Niger’s total budget. This was also suspended. Not only were the country’s assets frozen in many foreign banks, the ECOWAS also suspended all financial transactions with Niger Republic. Even though countries like Mali and Burkina Faso still give active support to the Nigerien government, Niger’s lawyer, Younkaila Yaye, told the ECOWAS Court that ‘there is no sector of the Nigerien society that has not been affected by these sanction’ and therefore has prayed the court to quash the ECOWAS sanctions. The prayer clearly shows that the ECOWAS sanctions are biting. With the sanctions, does it really imply an end to coup-making in Africa? 

The ECOWAS ultimatum to the Tchiani junta has not removed the military junta but has only succeeded to sharply divide the Member States of the ECOWAS: Mali and Burkina Faso support the coupists in the ECOWAS region. Algeria from North Africa supports the Nigerien military junta, promising to replace Nigeria as electricity supplier. In fact, while many countries support the ECOWAS agenda, not many of the supporters show commitment to contributing troops to the ECOWAS force. For instance, Benin Republic, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire and Senegal support the ECOWAS understandably because they are all under democratic dispensations while Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Conakry and Niger Republic are against similarly because they are under military regimes.       

Apart from the situation of the ECOWAS being divided against itself, the intervention threat given to Niger has neither prevented the consolidation of power by the junta nor prevented another coup from taking place. The AU and ECOWAS rule of non-acceptance of unconstitutional changes of government has been in place for over two decades. However, on August 18, 2020 President Ibrahim Boubacar Keїta was overthrown Colonel Assimi Goїta in Mali. Again in Mali, on May 24, 2021 the same Goїta arrested the president of the transitional government and became the new president. 

In Guinea-Conakry, President Alpha Condé was ousted on September 5, 2021 and Colonel Mamady Doumbouya became the president on October 1, 2021. Apart from the case of Sudan which is not in the West African region but where General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane ousted the transitional civilian leaders on October 25, 2021, Burkina Faso witnessed two coups: the coup of January 24, 2022 removing President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and paving the way for Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandagogo Damiba. The Niger coup of Abdourahamane Tchiani took place last July 26. Can it not be argued that the ECOWAS now really want to say enough is enough and therefore not prepared to condone the coup in Niger?

Whatever is the case, the problem in the ECOWAS is more than the challenge of the Abdourahamane Tchiani coup. Al Jazeera has reported that ‘children are unable to return to school because of limited supplies. Businesses are shutting down because of rising costs.’ The Nigeriens see the ECOWAS as punishing them, especially in terms of financial transactions. Even though the Nigerien government wants the relaxation of the sanctions pending the final determination of the case, which has been fixed for December 7, 2023 for hearing, the ECOWAS lawyer, Mr. François Kanga-Penond opposed the request on the basis that the Tchiani junta does not have the power and mandate to institute any case in the court because it is not recognized under the ECOWAS protocols. The Court will rule on November 30, 2023 on the request of the ousted President, Mohammed Bazoum. The most critical challenge remains how to reconcile the request of the de jure President, Mr. Bazoum,  to return to power when Nigeriens are not only in support of the Tchiani junta, but also against France, on the one hand, and the de facto military junta, enjoying the people’s support. Tchiani is not likely to cede power to Bazoum. Tchiani has the potential to withdraw Niger’s membership from the ECOWAS, if not from the AU. In fact, he can open its doors more widely to the Sino-Russians if the court does not rule in its favour. How will the ECOWAS manage the crisis of conflict of interests?

Related Articles