Nigeria’s new-in-the-saddle President, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, was appointed Chairman of the Economic Community of African States (ECOWAS) Authority of Heads of State and Government at the Sixty-Third Ordinary Session of the Authority held on July 09, 2023, in Bissau, Guinea-Bissau.
This makes him head among equals in the comity of member heads of state. It is an unfamiliar role for one not versed in diplomatic fencing, as it is tedium for one already juggling more than a handful of balls.
It is a big brother role. The assignment is a diplomatic game of chess requiring patience, consulting, networking, deep thought, value estimation, subterfuge, timing, even stooping and a lot more.
So, a challenge arises – Mohamed Bazoum, President of the Republic of Niger, an ECOWAS member, is toppled in a coup d’état carried out by his presidential guard and abducted for good measure.
Tinubu as head of ECOWAS responds by giving the coupists seven days to reinstate President Bazoum, threatening to use force if need be.
That seemed rather a knee-jerk reaction.
The world has changed. We now live in a geopolitical environment dictated by sharp competition between powerful countries – primarily the US and its allies against rivals such as China and Russia.
This environment means that African states now have other “options” to choose, for good and for bad.
African states increasingly use the Wagner Group for security rather than Western assistance, while China has also become a strong and looming counter influence on the continent.
The Transitional Governments of Burkina Faso and Mali have expressed their solidarity with the people of Niger and the new coup leaders in the face of sanctions and the threat of armed force by ECOWAS.
French and other European and American military forces are being expelled from the continent or are pulling out or downsizing on account of political sentiment in their home countries.
The Wagner force is growing bigger, engaging more and gaining patronage in Africa and they carry out enforcement for Russia.
The contest for global influence and patronage is shifting to Africa.
Apart from occupying prime position for a strategic military base for foreign super powers, Niger has prized natural assets which the superpowers lust after and will go a long way to covet.
Niger has uranium, coal, gold, iron ore, tin, phosphates, petroleum, molybdenum, salt, and gypsum. Remember uranium is the essence of nuclear military capability.
Russia and China will not let off easily. Caution is needed. Diplomacy is needed. In international diplomacy, you hold the big, bright, juicy carrot upfront, flash a charming toothy smile and sing romantic songs.
Leave your adversary to guess that you might have an AK-47 and a handful of grenades under your tunic.
The threat of war is a bad card when there are milder options, when the cost is high in every way and especially when you are merely bluffing and can’t successfully pull it off.
And if you don’t make good on your threat, your word tomorrow will be considered a mere puff of wind, something to laugh off. You would have lost face and lost respect.
And then again, big brother (ECOWAS) supports, counsels and admonishes little brother. Differences are resolved around a table and with a little guile, a little craft.
ECOWAS must not feed arms dealers. ECOWAS must not provide a firing range for mercenaries on our homeland.
Big brother embraces.