On Saturday evening, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune expressed, in clear terms, his country’s position on the ultimatum issued by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) against the new military junta in Niger.
“We categorically reject any military intervention,” he said in a TV interview.
Any external military action in Niger would be “a direct threat to Algeria,” Tebboune said, speaking just a few hours before the ultimatum expired. In the event of an intervention, “the entire Sahel will go up in flames,” he warned.
“We are the main ones affected. Algeria shares an almost thousand-kilometer border with Niger,” he added. Algeria would not use force against its neighbors, he said, but there would be “no solution” without Algeria either.
A few days earlier, the Algerian government had condemned the coup in Niger. It was necessary to “put an immediate end to the unacceptable attack on the constitutional order […],” sources in government circles said, adding that the legitimate president of the country was Mohamed Bazoum.
“Algeria faces a dilemma that is reflected in its attitude toward a possible ECOWAS intervention,” Hager Ali, a political scientist who researches authoritarian systems and the effects of military coups at the German Institute for Global and Area Studies, told DW.
In terms of foreign policy, she said, Tebboune continued to back the country’s traditionally non-aligned course, which keeps it at a distance from both Russia and the US. The full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, however, was making it difficult to maintain this course, according to Ali.
That was because “the Russian attack has changed Algeria’s role: It has become an important Western energy supplier,” Ali told DW. Algeria’s main export partners, she said, are EU countries, along with the US and Canada.
This situation has led to the state-owned oil and gas company Sonatrach achieving unprecedented export revenues of around $60 billion (€54.7 billion) in 2022, according to the business information service Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI).
“Implementing the principle of non-alignment under these circumstances, as other ECOWAS countries do, is difficult,” Ali said.
At the same time, agreeing to ECOWAS’s threatened intervention would strain relations with Russia. Although the new military government in Niger has not yet made its course regarding Moscow clear, the Russian flags sometimes seen at rallies in the country indicate at least a certain affinity with Moscow.
Algeria can ill afford a strained relationship with Russia because its ties are close, Ali told DW. For a start, more than two-thirds of Algeria’s weapons come from Russia, she said. In addition, Russia is the Algerian military’s most important training partner.
“However, the decision against an ECOWAS intervention also carries the risk of strained relations with the West,” said Hager Ali. “The safest course for Algeria at the moment, therefore, is to condemn the junta but then also draw a line at participating in a major military operation.”
Concern over political culture in the Sahel
The relationship with the West is further complicated by the fact that Algeria’s stance places it in at least relative proximity to governments that openly support the coup.
Two of Niger’s neighbors, Mali and Burkina Faso, have clearly sided with the organizers. The government of Guinea-Bissau has also declared its willingness to support them.
All three countries are under the rule of military governments that have come to power since 2021. In this respect, the democratic development of the Sahel region is also currently at stake.
The German government had previously supported Niger as one of the few democratically governed countries in the region. Algeria’s stance is thus likely to be closely watched by EU nations, especially since the human rights situation in the North African country has itself recently significantly deteriorated.
Jihadism and organized crime
The issues of Algerian non-alignment on the one hand, and the political culture of the Sahel on the other, are not the only challenges Algeria faces.
The Algerian government is watching with concern as, with Niger, yet another neighboring country risks plunging into insecurity and instability after Libya and Mali have already done so, according to an analysis by Jeune Afrique magazine. It says that the Algerian army and security services are already facing additional pressure from smugglers and jihadi groups.
Algeria is also struggling with illegal immigration networks. According to the NGO Alarm Phone Sahara, Algeria sent more than 11,000 people back to Niger between January and April 2023. These deportations are taking place under a security cooperation agreement signed in October 2021, which provides for joint action against jihadism and cross-border crime.
If an intervention were to occur, the already precarious security situation in the Sahel would be exacerbated. “The consequences of an intervention would be incalculable,” Hager Ali told DW.
An intervention could also have implications for the construction of the planned Nigeria-Niger-Algeria Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline (NIGAL). NIGAL is also intended to guarantee supplies to Europe across the Sahel.
Costing $13 billion, and 4,100 kilometers long when completed, the network is expected to be able to transport up to 30 billion cubic meters of gas per year. A worsening security situation would have unforeseeable consequences for the construction of NIGAL, according to Jeune Afrique.
President Tebboune is also under enormous domestic political pressure. Although the government is subsidizing higher food prices with revenues from the gas business, it has been able to do little to relieve the hardship for many of its citizens.
For this reason, Tebboune is trying to improve the country’s economic situation. “But an intervention in Niger could get in the way of that objective,” Ali said.
“That’s not necessarily the best political scenario for Tebboune with an eye to the 2024 presidential elections.”
Source : DW