"If the experience of the Niger junta prospers, all regimes in the sub-region will be on borrowed time" (Dr. Bakary Sambe) Spécial

As part of the Timbuktu Institute's weekly column in partnership with Medi1TV, Dr. Bakary Sambe looks back at the stakes involved in what he calls the "great return of ECOWAS" to the international diplomatic stage, and analyzes the risks and implications of a possible military intervention in a Sahelian context undermined by the harsh war of influence and the unprecedented interplay of alliances.

Dr. Sambe, you spoke of a "great return of ECOWAS to the diplomatic stage" after the communiqué issued at the Abuja Extraordinary Summit on Niger, which included heavy sanctions against the military who overthrew President Bazoum. Do you really think that this time, the sub-regional organization will have the means to back up its positions?

The ECOWAS approach, which combines tough diplomatic sanctions with military threats designed to give operational credibility to last year's move to set up a standby force to combat jihadism and coups d'état, represents a huge departure. For ECOWAS to threaten the implementation of coercive measures if its ultimatum is not respected, means that the measure is actually being considered. And this assumes that prior consultations have taken place with members of the Security Council (notably France and the USA). Especially since the communiqué mentions the possible participation of non-ECOWAS states and Western powers (presumably the USA and France). This might raise the question of a Russian veto. But it seems to me that Putin, who so badly needs the diplomatic support of the African bloc in his Ukrainian adventure, will not easily be able to oppose the interests of the African Union and ECOWAS.

In view of the situation and the short deadline of one week for the ultimatum, isn't ECOWAS's credibility at stake here?

If the scenario of an ECOWAS-AU-Western powers intervention, under a Security Council mandate, were to come to fruition, it would represent a paradigm shift in the approach to collective security in West Africa. This would undoubtedly be an indicator of the seriousness of Niger's swing towards Khaki rule (with the military, and possibly into the Russo-Wagnerian fold). This is a turning point/by-product in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel. Given the severity of the diplomatic sanctions imposed by ECOWAS and UEMOA (total embargo and freezing of Niger's financial assets), this poor, landlocked country in the central Sahel will not be able to hold out for long. The recipe for sanctions worked in Mali in 2012, following Captain Sanogo's coup d'état against Amadou Toumani Touré. But this time, it looks like we're heading for a khaki putschist alliance against ECOWAS, a tipping point in the organization's history. It's make or break! Tinubu's Nigeria won't want Wagner and putschist regimes in its backyard. If the Nigerian junta's experiment prospers, all the regimes in the sub-region will be on borrowed time.

Given the way the crisis in Niger is shaping up, and the acceleration in all directions that is being confirmed, could it be said that the stakes in this crisis have already gone beyond Niger, and even the Sahel, with a certain geostrategic dimension?

If sanctions and/or a coercive approach are effective, this could help restore ECOWAS's reputation for promoting governance and preventing coups d'état. A new scourge that is spreading in a worrying and contagious way in French-speaking West Africa. This intervention undoubtedly reflects the desire of NATO (France/USA) to thwart the Russo-Wagnerian advance in a country/partner/key to their global anti-terrorist strategy, in the Sahel. We are witnessing a new and unprecedented form of conflict: an interstate war between a tripartite coalition of rebel member states and the sub-regional organization seeking to restore its image. This crisis, which has only just begun, marks the eventful return to the scene of ECOWAS, which in recent years has been relegated to the background by international partners in favor of the moribund G5 Sahel. The sub-regional organization had even been relatively dispossessed of the security issue, to the point of weakening it without international partners being able to provide all the necessary assistance to the G5 Sahel. ECOWAS's comeback comes at a crucial time for the organization, but also for peace and security in the region.