Who is in charge here? : Coups in West Africa complicate UN diplomacy

by MMC
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The heads of state of Niger and Gabon were initially scheduled to speak to the General Assembly on Thursday – with no clarity on who would deliver those speeches. But their slots were ignored entirely, before Gabon’s interim Prime Minister, Raymond Ndong Sima, appointed by the junta, was put back on Friday’s schedule.

Meanwhile, Gabonese UN personnel have not changed since before the coup. And it is not clear who represents Niger: both the junta and the deposed president Mohamed Bazoum were fight over who gets a seat in the Assembly hall.

For many U.N. critics, the confusion over Niger and Gabon’s participation is just another example of how the consortium of world governments — meant to maintain peace and security across borders – often lacks teeth or consensus to achieve this. It often struggles to decide how to handle sudden and violent changes in member state control – and if it has responded, the messages have varied widely.

When the army took power in Chad in 2021, for example, “there was no serious reprimand against Chad from anywhere,” he said. Salomon Deresso, Chairman of the African Union Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In many other cases, “the UN simply recognizes de facto authority,” Deresso said.

Military coups in Mali and Burkina Faso were further suppressed in 2021 and 2022 respectively, and the coup in Niger sparked public outcry. The UN The Security Council issued a statement in July condemning the putsch in Niger and calling for the release of Bazoum, who has been under house arrest and refusing to resign since the army took power in July.

The Security Council has so far made no statement on Gabon, where the armed forces launched a coup just minutes after the Gabonese Electoral Commission announced Ali Bongo’s victory in the elections on 30 august. The Bongo family ruled the country for almost 60 years. Sima, the interim prime minister, said the military government aims to return to civilian rule in two years.

Regional groups like the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States have also failed to provide coherent responses to the military takeovers. This raises doubts about the capacity of ECOWAS to follow through on the threat of military intervention in Niger.

“Obviously, an inconsistency will cast serious doubt on the legitimacy (of the military intervention),” Deresso said.

Recent coups also make it harder for African countries to combat the old narrative that they are part of a continent rife with insecurity rather than one filled with potential trading partners and whose economies deserve to be invested.

African countries have made progress in this area in recent years, securing trade and infrastructure deals from China, Russia and the West – often benefit from global rivalries. But at global summits and gatherings, many still say they feel they are either treated like pawns or pushed aside when it suits them.

“Failure in good governance has hampered Africa. But broken promises, unfair treatment and outright exploitation from abroad have also taken a heavy toll on our ability to progress,” said newly elected Nigerian President Bola Tinubu. declared in his speech to the Assembly.

Yet the military has overthrown governments in seven sub-Saharan African countries over the past two years. Many of these coups have similar themes: economic unrest, government corruption, anti-Western sentiment, and pro-Russian tendencies.

Many democracies on the continent see their stability threatened.

“In Africa, the resurgence of coups remains a matter of grave concern,” Senegalese President Macky Sall said during his speech to the General Assembly. He faces protests in New York this week amid political crisis and contested elections in our country. Other leaders, notably those of Ghana and Sierra Leone, have spoken of the region’s instability.

Viewers notice a trend.

“This is something that creates a new reality,” Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavský said of the series of coups in Africa. “We are witnessing democratic backsliding in many countries. »

Many African delegates at the meeting would prefer not to directly address the recent military takeovers in Niger or Gabon. POLITICO contacted all 54 U.N. African missions and none were willing to discuss the coups with a reporter.

Tinubu, who is also President of ECOWAS, was nevertheless singled out in his speech.

“We must affirm democratic governance as the best guarantor of the sovereign will and well-being of the people,” Tinubu said. “Military coups are wrong,” he said, adding that his government was negotiating with Niger’s military rulers.

Meanwhile, some long-standing pillars of democracy in the region may struggle to maintain it. Earlier this week, the Ghana Armed Forces assured the public that there would be no coupin response to concerns about military takeovers in the region.

Various African authorities also disagree on how to manage Niger. ECOWAS said it had “D-day” to intervene if diplomatic efforts did not lead to a transition to civilian government, although it did not reveal when that might happen. The group rejected the junta’s proposal a three-year transition to civilian rule as a provocation. Nigeria has taken a bold step by cutting off most of Niger’s electricity supply.

The African Union has attempted to find common ground – although it would not approve of ECOWAS’ threat of military intervention, nor did it completely exclude this possibility.

For his part, Deresso argued that if an ECOWAS military intervention succeeds, it will create new problems. “You risk Niger being invaded by terrorist groups,” he said. “You end up with another Libya. »

The UN, often criticized as a place for discussion, is unlikely to be the place where consensus can be reached – especially as other crises currently capture the world’s attention.

“There is a very strong feeling that Ukraine tends to distract from international discussions,” said Sarah Cliffe, director of the Center for International Cooperation at New York University. “Some of these forgotten crises don’t get the same level of attention.”

Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.

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