Sanctions must not punish Niger’s population. If they do, it will only make the new regime stronger, writes Abubakar Usman.
After Niger’s military coup, ECOWAS has diligently pursued a diplomatic solution following the initial rejection, both by the populace and the elite, of its threat to deploy military intervention. At the forefront of negotiations is General Abdulsalami Abubakar, former military head of state for Nigeria.
During an interview with BBC Hausa, General Abubakar revealed the Niger junta have pleaded for medical provisions and sustenance to be allowed into the country. Since the military coup on 26 July, a series of sanctions have been imposed on Niger by a range of international entities, including ECOWAS, the European Union, and the World Bank.
ECOWAS has imposed a comprehensive set of measures on Niger, including the suspension of all commercial transactions and the freezing of state assets held in local banks. Further actions involve the cessation of financial aid from regional development banks, the cutting off of the power supply by Nigeria, and the annulment of a £40 million bond issuance in the regional debt market—a step that could potentially trigger Niger’s default on debt repayment.
The European Union has suspended its annual financial support of £440 million, as well as its security cooperation with Niger. France has ceased its development aid and budgetary support amounting to £103 million. The Netherlands has suspended security collaboration, while the United States has halted humanitarian and security aid (estimated at £79.4 million). The World Bank and other actors have similarly suspended development assistance and disbursements worth £3.6 billion.
While there is broad consensus on the illegitimacy of the military coup, the potential adverse effects of these measures on the populace of Niger require careful consideration. The calamitous aftermath of the Iraqi sanctions serves as a sobering reminder. UNICEF estimated that such sanctions led to the tragic deaths of around 500,000 children due to malnutrition and diseases, primarily affecting those under the age of five.
The devastating impact of the Iraqi sanctions prompted various organisations, including the United Nations, to explore alternative forms of economic sanctions that minimise harm to ordinary citizens. Consequently, the concept of “targeted sanctions” emerged as a preferred approach. These sanctions direct their impact towards the responsible individuals by freezing their assets, among other measures. While these targeted sanctions inflict greater consequences upon the implicated individuals, their impact on the general population is comparatively small.
Niger is home to one of the world’s most destitute and impoverished populations. The nation currently occupies the 188th position out of 191 countries on the Human Development Index, a composite measure encompassing three pivotal dimensions: a healthy and prolonged life, knowledge acquisition, and a respectable standard of living. Regrettably, Niger’s placement on this Human Development Index has seen little progress since the country gained independence in 1960. Niger’s ranking serves as a stark testament to the protracted suffering endured by its population, predating the present military coup.
In light of the country’s dire circumstances and the long-standing challenges faced by its populace, the implications of the broad range of sanctions currently facing this country are concerning. While the military leaders and their families may remain relatively unscathed in terms of their sustenance, ordinary people are poised to bear the overwhelming burden of destitution, pervasive darkness, and an absence of viable means of livelihood. Uninterrupted access to power and other essentials may likely persist for the former, while the latter grapple with relentless hardships.
There are compelling reasons to re-evaluate the sanctions placed upon Niger by ECOWAS and other stakeholders. The Nigerien population ranks among the most vulnerable on the continent. Disturbingly, statistics from 2022 reveal that a staggering 12 per cent of children in Niger grapple with acute malnutrition. The nation has documented approximately 381,928 internally displaced individuals, forced to flee for their lives. One can only imagine the amplified hardships these imposed sanctions might inflict upon these defenceless ordinary citizens.
The intention behind these sanctions is to reinstate democracy in Niger, thereby fostering freedom and the betterment of the lives of its people. Yet, it is paradoxical that in the pursuit of restoring democracy, the masses themselves become victims of punitive measures. It is crucial to recognise that historical evidence indicates that under the weight of sanctions, regimes often garner heightened popular support. A key factor in this phenomenon is the perception of victimhood, wherein the masses perceive themselves and their nation as the ultimate target.
The moral and ethical implications of economic sanctions have been extensively debated through various lenses, including Just War theory, International Law, Joy Gordon’s Utilitarianism, and Noam Zohar’s Clean Hands doctrine, among others. However, a point of consensus lies within the realm of international law, known as the Humanitarian Proviso. This term emphasises the imperative for economic sanctions to encompass provisions safeguarding fundamental human rights, such as access to food, medicine, and shelter.
It is paramount for both ECOWAS and the broader international community to critically assess the repercussions of the sanctions imposed on Niger, along with identifying the potential victims of these stringent measures. The UN holds a pivotal role in ensuring that ordinary Nigeriens do not face the grim fate of starvation and that vital medical supplies remain accessible. It is incumbent upon global entities to intervene before West Africa becomes engulfed in a harrowing humanitarian crisis.