bildt114_AFP via Getty Images_Nigercoup AFP via Getty Images

The Growing Sahel Crisis

The military coup in Niger last month was not an isolated, one-off event that the rest of the world can afford to ignore. West Africa is now at greater risk of a breakdown in governance, a development that would open the door to further expansion of extremist jihadist movements across the region.

STOCKHOLM – In recent years, domestic developments in Niger – indeed, across North Africa’s Sahel region – scarcely attracted attention from the wider world, except in Paris, where French policymakers still took an interest in Francophone Africa. But the military coup in Niger on July 26 has changed everything.

Previously relatively stable and democratic, Niger was seen as the last bulwark against the spread of violence and political turmoil across the region, much of it incited by jihadist movements tied to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Owing partly to the civil war in Libya, these groups managed to take over northern Mali in early 2012, thus forcing France to intervene militarily to prevent the capital, Bamako, from falling into the hands of extremist insurgents.

That episode inaugurated a decade of international military engagement to contain the jihadist threat and stabilize the region. Military operations conducted by France, the European Union, the United States, and African governments followed one after another. The largest, a United Nations mission deployed to Mali in 2013, marshaled some 15,000 peacekeepers.