- Coup casts shadow over transformative scheme to channel Nigerian gas to energy-hungry Europe –
- Political instability and a rise in extremist attacks are the latest setbacks to the grand economic vision.
Niamey (Agencies): Amid the many challenges facing the African continent, one ambitious project has both raised hopes and triggered doubts for decades: the Trans-Saharan gas pipeline.
The $13 billion venture seeks to channel Nigerian gas to Europe, an endeavor that promises to fuel both energy-hungry nations and economic growth along its 4,000 km path.
However, the recent coup in Niger has cast a shadow over this grand vision, sparking a power struggle that could potentially derail the pipeline’s progress. Rekindled rivalry between pro-democracy and pro-Russia factions in Niger has left the project facing growing uncertainty. Could the coup be the final straw, or will it serve as a catalyst for the re-evaluation and reinforcement of the project’s strategic importance?
Experts say that construction of the pipeline would transform the region, which lacks infrastructure, leading to job creation in sectors related to construction, engineering and logistics. “This infusion of economic activity would catalyze local development and skill-building efforts,” Efem Nkam Ubi, an associate professor at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, told Arab News.
A feasibility study in September 2006 confirmed the technical and economic viability of the pipeline, but progress on the project remained slow. However, a new agreement signed in 2022 has revitalized its prospects. Beatrice Bianchi, a political analyst and Sahel expert at Med-Or Foundation, an Italian think tank, told Arab News that the pipeline project, first conceived in the 1970s, was intended to bridge continents. “But it has always been marred by setbacks, delays and security concerns due to Tuareg rebellions, and problems within both Niger and Nigeria,” she said. Now, destabilization caused by the coup and a rise in extremist attacks in Niger threaten the future of all infrastructure projects. The coup took place on July 26, 2023 when the country’s presidential guard ousted president Mohamed Bazoum. Shortly afterwards Gen. Omar Tchiani, the presidential guard commander, proclaimed himself leader. The 15-member Economic Community of West African States has imposed sanctions on the junta and is demanding the reinstatement of democracy. Nigeria’s response to the coup is telling. Rather than relying solely on the politically delicate Trans-Saharan pipeline, it has diverted its attention to the Nigeria-Morocco pipeline.
This alternative route, endorsed by the Moroccan monarchy, the Nigerian presidency and ECOWAS, promises a more secure path for energy transportation. “Should sanctions result in a prolonged economic blockade against Niger, the resulting consequences would reverberate across the nation’s key sectors,” Kai Xue, a Beijing-based lawyer, told Arab News.
Another pipeline project due to be completed by the end of 2023 is also likely to be affected. The project, backed by PetroChina, is intended to connect Niger’s Agadem oilfield to Cotonou port in Benin, boosting oil production in the country from 20,000 barrels to 110,000 barrels per day, and catalyzing economic growth and infrastructure development. “It is important that the countries that are part of the pipeline project try to look at ways to remedy the Niger crisis diplomatically and, much more importantly, through dialogue and not military solutions,” Ubi, the Nigerian associate professor, added.