Amid the global challenges to building international stability and peace, a crisis increasingly forcing itself to the foreground — even amid those of record human displacement, climate degradation and unresolved wars — is the plunge by six countries across Africa’s Sahel region into coups d’état and military rule. Eight coups since 2020 have left 150 million people under rule by their armed forces. The latest coup, in Niger, is drawing a heightened international response, and a key player, the 15-nation West African community, today that it will pursue a long campaign of economic and diplomatic pressure, and that it sees military force as a last resort.
Military officers in Niger are rushing to consolidate the power they seized 15 days ago, while West Africa’s elected governments and regional institutions are seeking ways to reverse the July 27 coup d’état. Niger’s coup seems a particular setback for democracy, completing a six-nation belt of military regimes across Africa’s Sahel region. Amid this uncertain power struggle, how can the world support Africans’ demonstrated demand for elected, democratic governance that meets their peoples’ needs? We should begin by hewing to several basic principles. One is to keep our responses to coups coherent — but not uniform. Niger’s coup is distinct; our response must be as well.
Three years of coups around Africa’s Sahel region — eight of them in six nations, from Guinea on the Atlantic to Sudan on the Red Sea — leave many African and other policymakers frustrated over how to respond. The Sahel’s crises have uprooted more than 4 million people and could add millions more to our record levels of global human migration as Africa’s population grows and its climate destabilizes. Yet the pattern of coups and other evidence — notably from USIP’s Sahel fieldwork, counter-coup research and bipartisan analysis teams — offer guidelines for effective responses by African, U.S. and international policymakers.
Ahead of the Biden administration’s Summit for Democracy, the U.S. Institute of Peace is convening a multi-part conversation about the dynamics driving four of the seven coups and coup attempts since the onset of the pandemic.
In May 2021, USIP created the Bipartisan Senior Study Group for the Sahel comprised of 12 current and former high-level U.S. officials, renowned academics and prominent Africa experts. The senior study group aims to generate new insights into the complex challenges facing the Sahel region, including food security, human rights, security assistance, private sector development and job creation — as well as great power competition. The senior study group will provide original recommendations to the U.S. government and governments in the Sahel region to improve foreign assistance, resolve conflict and support lasting peace.
USIP’s Women Preventing Violent Extremism (WPVE) program aims to shape national policies and community approaches to countering violent extremism in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel. USIP does this by empowering women-led organizations and building local capacity that fosters collaboration between community-level activists and national-level policymakers.