Niger crisis, like previous coups, threatens gains from trade under AfCFTA

General Abdourahmane Tchiani (second from right), and other army coup leaders in Niger. PHOTO | Anadolu Agency

The recent military coup in Niger has not only undermined democratic governance but also threaten to reverse intra-continental trade gains under African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) now in second year of implementation.

On July 26, 2023, President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger was ousted by a military junta, sparking a political crisis that has been widely condemned by regional and international actors.

Some of them are considering imposing sanctions that could isolate Niger from the rest of the world in a scenario similar to what happened in Sudan, Mali and Burkina Faso in recent past, prompting their suspension from either the African Union (AU) or regional economic communities in the wider vision of deterring similar occurences from happening elsewhere on the continent.

As it stands, Niger faces the risk of suspension from regional bodies such as Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The latter issued a stern warning and threatened to use of force if its demands to restore President Mohamed Bazoum rule are not met.

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ECOWAS indicated it could close land and air borders between Niger and its regional peers, suspend of all commercial and financial transactions between ECOWAS member states and Niger, as well as freeze of service transactions and assets of the Republic of Niger and its state enterprises and parastatals in commercial banks.

The AU could follow suit. So far, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat, has sent a note calling on the people of Niger, all their brothers in Africa and around the world to join their voices in unanimous condemnation of the coup attempt, and for the immediate and unconditional return of the felon soldiers to their barracks.

It remains to be seen whether coup perpetrators will bow to the pressure. Meanwhile, the crisis in Niger will further  weigh down trade, free movement of people, goods and services in this Western part of the continent which has experienced about seven military coups in recent past.

Toll on trade

In particular, what’s happening in Niger could take a heavy toll on the little gains achieved in the quest to integrate African markets under AfCFTA, a protocol ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, and his predecessor Mahamadou Issoufou — who is official champion of the treaty on behalf of the AU — are key supporters. 

Also read: AfCFTA story good, but hard to sell without free movement

Mahamadou Issoufou capitalised on successor’s backing to carry intensive lobbying at the highest level, effectively garnering one of the highest ratifications of a continental treaty in a short time, and similar efforts were deployed to implementation.

Current state of affairs and subsequent sanctions could hinder Niger’s central role in pushing for  and negotiating  trade liberalization frameworks, let alone benefiting from them.

Do sanctions work?

While sanctions send a strong message against military coups plotters, the consequences of the former on affected nations are far-reaching to the extent of inducing economic hardships, potentially leading to increased poverty and political instability.

In most cases where sanctions were applied, the military junta remained in power, and this highlights the limitations of sanctions in certain contexts. The effectiveness of sanctions in addressing military coups depends on various factors and requires a comprehensive approach tailored to each situation.

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It is also essential to consider unintended consequences of sanctions on the citizens of the sanctioned countries.

There is also need to consider the plight of people elsewhere in parts of the continent, which may not have experienced military coups like South Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but bear the brunt of unending conflicts that foment barriers to trade activity and hinder economic progress.

Overall, the volatile security situations on the continent continue to create an environment of uncertainty for businesses and investors, leading to a decline in trade activity with a spill over effect to relatively stable regions and countries.

Niger’s political turmoil, for instance, not only affects its own economic development but also creates a ripple effect across the region.

Going forward, the successful implementation of the AfCFTA will be dependent on the extent to which political stability and good governance can be guaranted across parts of the continent. The AU, ECOWAS, and other regional bodies must work together to address the underlying causes of political instability and promote democratic governance.

~ The author is a rising Regional Trade and Integration enthusiast and expert. He is the co-founder of Zimbabwe Institute of African Integration

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