By Amos Oluwatoye, Secretary of the Research, Planning, and Communication Working Group, World BEYOND War – Nigeria, October 10, 2023
On the 26th of July 2023, Niger experienced a coup d’état which was the culmination of various challenges faced by the country including extreme poverty and bad governance. In the wake of the recent coup d’état, which emerged from a complex web of internal and external factors, we find ourselves at this critical time that demands a profound understanding of history’s lessons. The dynamics of global power politics, particularly in regions rife with conflict, have consistently shaped the course of events. The current situation in Niger serves as a poignant reminder of how global powers can influence and exploit regional conflict, often to the detriment of local populations. Drawing parallels from historical episodes like the Scramble for Africa and the Cold War era, where external interests exacerbated conflicts, we must heed the warnings from the past.
Learning from History
The study of history is an essential geo-political lesson. It gives us important information about how local conflicts and international forces interact. The current scenario in Niger, which might lead to an invasion by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), serves as a sharp reminder of the delicate dance that great countries have participated in throughout history. Throughout history, regional conflicts have been used by global powers to further their goals often at the expense of local communities.
A similar historical tendency may be seen in the late 19th and early 20th century Scramble for Africa. Motivated by imperial aspirations and the necessity for resources, European colonial powers partitioned the African continent with little regard for the cultural, ethnic, or political dynamics of the territories they acquired. The effects were disastrous: indigenes were subjected to violence, exploitation, and subjection for the sake of resource extraction and geo-political dominance.
In Niger today, we may still see traces of this historical pattern. The territory’s enormous natural resources, including oil and uranium reserves, attract foreign interest to the region. We must not discount the likelihood that resource exploitation may influence the decisions taken by outside parties, even though the ECOWAS action would appear to be driven by concerns about regional stability.
The Cold War era is another intriguing case study. Global powers competition at this time regularly fueled and exacerbated regional conflicts all over the world. Proxy wars, ideological disputes, and the pursuit of resources led to chronic suffering and instability in many countries. In a number of conflicts that occurred in Africa, competing groups were supported by global powers, increasing the suffering of the local population.
The Vietnam War (1955 to 1975) was greatly influenced by the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. They exemplified the concept of proxy war by significantly worsening the situation as a result of their engagement. The Soviet Union provided major military and economic support for the war effort in North Vietnam, while the United States stepped up its involvement by contributing tens of thousands of soldiers to South Vietnam. Up to 2,000,000 civilians, 58,000 U.S. military personnel, and 1,100,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops were among the staggering number of casualties. This conflict served as a stark example of the devastating geo-political and human costs incurred during the Cold War era as a result of superpower rivalry.
We can still see the effects of this historical dynamic today in Niger and the larger Sahel area. As both Russia and the United States seek to defend their social, economic, and political interests in this crucial part of the world, this situation also raises questions about the expanding influence of Russia in the area, which could turn Niger into a theater of conflict.
The global powers and their geo-political interests to compete for influence and access to lucrative resources have a growing impact on regional wars. It’s a concern because there is a chance that these confrontations will intensify and include several parties.
How the lessons learned can inform our response to the current situation in Niger
We need to keep an eye out for and be wary of what the superpowers are up to ensure that their involvement in regional disputes promotes stability and meets the needs of local populations rather than exacerbating conflict and exploiting the situation for their selfish purpose. The resource management needs to be transparent and responsible in order to prevent foreigners from plundering Africa’s wealth. Never should military action take precedence over diplomacy and nonviolent conflict resolution. Impartial and international mediation efforts are required.
Under the guidance of the United Nations and other international organizations, the international community should work together to prohibit the exploitation of regional crises for geo-political purposes. Effective processes for conflict prevention, peacebuilding, and humanitarian assistance should be in place to decrease the burden on vulnerable populations.
Global civil society organizations should raise awareness and oppose attempts to escalate regional disputes in West Africa with a focus on conflict avoidance through non-violent means. This proactive engagement will contribute to increasing worldwide awareness of the issue and pique the interest of forward-thinking individuals in conflict resolution in Niger and other African nations. A greater understanding of the nature of the war and its potential outcomes would result from this, which would eventually encourage domestic support for opposing the intentions of international powers in regional conflicts.
History serves as a sobering warning of the possible repercussions when global powers use regional wars to further their own agendas. We need to be guided by the lessons of the past as we negotiate the complex terrain of the ECOWAS-Niger conflict. By ensuring that international participation fosters peace, security, and prosperity for the people of Niger and the larger West African area, we have the chance to end the cycle of exploitation. The world’s superpowers must seize this chance for ethical involvement rather than exploitation.