The situation in Niger is still tense. The military government now running Niger has refused to relinquish power, as an ultimatum set by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) expired on Sunday. The coup leaders have vowed to rid Niger of colonial influence.
The U.S. and EU have imposed sanctions on Niger following the coup, and France has declared that it backs ECOWAS’ efforts to bring Bazoum – an ally of Paris – back into power.
Without giving details the military government warned on Sunday that “a foreign superpower” was preparing to intervene in Niger, according to Al Jazeera.
The military government has warned both the West and ECOWAS that any military intervention will be met with deadly force. “All aggression or attempt at aggression against the state of Niger will see an immediate response,” the military government spokesman Colonel Amadou Abdramane, said on Friday.
Abdourahamane Tchiani, formerly the chief of Niger’s presidential guard, declared himself head of the transitional government two days after his forces overthrew Bazoum’s administration.
Media reports said:
Niger’s military government has promised “a vigorous and instantaneous response” to any violation of the country airspace as it braces for a potential military intervention after the deadline, set by the ECOWAS to reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum to power, expired on Sunday.
“Faced with the threat of intervention which is becoming clearer from neighboring countries, Niger’s airspace is closed from this day on Sunday until further notice,” the military government announced on Sunday night.
The National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland, which assumed power in a military coup last month, claimed that hostile regional forces have already conducted “pre-deployment in preparation for the intervention” in two unnamed countries of Central Africa.
“Any state involved will be considered co-belligerent,” it added.
ECOWAS imposed harsh sanctions and issued a one-week ultimatum to the military leaders last week, threatening to send troops into Niger unless General Abdourahamane Tchiani and his cabinet of generals step down and reinstate President Bazoum.
The deadline passed unheeded. Although the militaries of several ECOWAS members agreed on a plan for potential military intervention in a meeting on Friday, the bloc needs “more time” to prepare for the invasion, according to the Wall Street Journal.
“For the moment, we need to build up the strength of our units before taking part in such a military action,” a senior commander from one of the ECOWAS countries told the paper.
The coup leaders enjoy considerable public support and are backed by the governments of Mali and Burkina Faso, both of which seized power in a recent wave of anti-French unrest.
The ousted President Bazoum has called for a Western intervention, claiming that unless the U.S. and ECOWAS help him regain power, Wagner will have an “open invitation” into the region and all of central Sahel “could fall to Russian influence.”
Other media reports said:
Thousands of Nigeriens defied the ECOWAS deadline for the return to power of the ousted president to rally in support of the rebel military in the national capital of Niamey.
Curse Of Colonial France
One X (earlier, twitter) account wrote:
“WHAT you are looking at is the 30,000 capacity Niamey stadium in the capital of Niger Republic, filled to overflowing with defiant and jubilant citizens who cheered and praised the new military leadership of that country as “saviors” who delivered them from the CURSE of colonial France! So, rather than military intervention, what happened in Niger today, upon the expiration of ECOWAS’ ultimatum can best be described as “Independence Carnival” – a new independence that celebrated a new partnership with RUSSIA – one in which Africa potentially feels like a partner and not a slave, evident in the number of Russian and Nigerien flags present at the epochal event. Again, France has been played and left out in the cold, on the continent of AFRICA. If France has not been able to read the handwriting on the wall in AFRICA at this time, it should consult an oracle. I think it’s over. Not just for France but for the highly exploitative colonial west, in AFRICA. It’s really over. Only a matter of time before the rest of the old house comes crumbling.”
Media reports said:
Crowds of Nigeriens appeared undaunted on Sunday night as the deadline was set to run out.
Demonstrators chanted slogans in support of Abdourahmane Tchian, and waved Nigerien and Russian flags.
The ECOWAS ultimatum passed unheeded. “We will all stand and fight as one people,” senior junta official Gen. Mohamed Toumba told a rally of supporters in the Nigerien capital Niamey on Sunday afternoon. “We are asking you to stay mobilized.”
The Nigerien junta has sacked the country’s ambassadors to the U.S., France, Togo and Nigeria.
Algeria Opposes Military Intervention In Niger
Earlier media reports including a report by Reuters said:
Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune has warned that a potential intervention to reverse the coup in Niger could have significant ramifications for regional stability.
“A military intervention could ignite the whole Sahel region and Algeria will not use force with its neighbors,” Tabboune said in a late Saturday interview with Ennahar TV, according to Reuters.
Algiers has confirmed via its Foreign Ministry in recent days its commitment to support “a return to constitutional order in Niger” and said it “gladly welcomes” diplomatic methods to end the crisis in the country, with which it shares a 950 km border.
Tabboune’s comments were delivered in advance of a Sunday deadline imposed by the ECOWAS.
An ECOWAS delegation left the Nigerien capital of Niamey on Thursday, saying it was unable to secure an “amicable resolution” with the junta leaders.
The July 26 coup has been led by former presidential guard Chief Abdourahamane Tchiani, who soon after declared himself as leader of the transitional government. Tchiani has moved to distance Niger from France since seizing power, including informing Emmanuel Macron’s government of its intention to formally withdraw from military cooperation agreements.
Chad Will Never Intervene Militarily In Niger
Chad, a country that borders Niger but is not one of the 15 members of ECOWAS, said on Friday that it will “never intervene by military means” amid concerns that military action could further destabilize the situation in one of the world’s poorest countries.
France Refuses To Withdraw Its Troops From Niger
France has insisted on fulfilling five military cooperation agreements with Niger, because the accords were signed with the West African state’s ‘legitimate authorities,’ despite the former colony’s newly installed junta calling for the deals to be revoked.
“France recalls that the legal framework for its cooperation with Niger in the areas of defense is based on agreements that have been concluded with the legitimate Niger authorities. These are the only ones that France, and the entire international community, recognizes,” read a Friday statement from the French foreign ministry.
The statement follows a Thursday declaration from Amadou Abdramane, spokesperson for the military coup leaders, that the military rulers were unilaterally severing the military agreements with its former colonial rulers.
France said on Thursday that it condemns “in the strongest possible terms” Niger’s suspension of French news organizations France 24 and RFI. In a statement posted on its foreign ministry’s website, it added that the junta’s move to restrict French media in the country represented “authoritarian repression.”
France’s foreign ministry added on Saturday that it will provide support to the ECOWAS to ensure the military coup will fail.
French Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna said the coup leaders had until Sunday to hand back power, otherwise the threat of an ECOWAS military intervention in Niger must be taken “very seriously.”
But Catherine Colonna said France would not assist in the intervention.
The cessation of the military accords would require France to remove the 1,000 to 1,500 troops it has stationed in the African country. A small number of U.S. soldiers are also deployed in Niger, a territory viewed as geopolitically significant due to its rich mineral resources and borders with seven countries, including Libya, Chad and Nigeria.
Following the coup last week, several of Niger’s western benefactors have suspended aid programs. Foreign assistance accounts for around half of Niger’s annual budget.
U.S. Slashes Aid To Niger
The U.S. will halt some of its foreign assistance projects in Niger, with the U.S. State Department saying such aid depends on “democratic governance” in the African nation following an abrupt transfer of power there last month.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the move on Friday, noting that certain programs “benefiting the government of Niger” would be put on hold as U.S. officials review “the situation on the ground” given the recent bout of unrest.
Blinken reiterated a prior call for “the immediate restoration of Niger’s democratically elected government.”
The diplomat went on to say the decision would not affect humanitarian projects and U.S. food assistance to Niger, and that security operations and the protection of American personnel would also continue.
Blinken did not specify which programs would be paused.
Though Washington has yet to describe the situation in Niger as a “coup,” it has repeatedly condemned the military government.
Niger, one of the world’s poorest nations, has been the recipient of around $500 million of U.S. military aid, military gear and training between 2012 and 2021, the highest such figure of any country in the region.
U.S. currently maintains around 1,000 troops in Niger.
On Friday, the Netherlands became the latest western nation to back out of agreements made with Niger’s previous administration, saying in a statement that it did not wish to provide support to perpetrators of a coup.
The Hague said that it would instead divert aid to Niger through humanitarian operations orchestrated by the United Nations, or other international organizations.
Niger Military Rulers Turn To Wagner For Help
An AP report said:
One of the leaders of last week’s coup in Niger has reportedly sought the assistance of Russian defense contractor Wagner Group PMC, a Russian private military contractor.
General Salifou Moody allegedly made the request during a visit to Mali, where he met with a Wagner representative, the AP reported on Saturday, citing French journalist Wassim Nasr, a senior research fellow at the Soufan Center.
The meeting was first reported by France 24, and Nasr said he had confirmed the talks with a French diplomat and three people familiar with the matter in Mali.
Neither Wagner nor Russian government officials have commented on the military ruler’s alleged request for help from the contractor.
Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin has called the coup “a justified rebellion of the people against Western exploitation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said that the future of the contracts Wagner signed with various African countries is a matter for those client governments to decide. The firm’s troops have reportedly operated in such countries as Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Mozambique and the Central African Republic.
The Kremlin said on Friday that any interference in Niger from powers outside the region would be unlikely to improve the situation. “We continue to favor a swift return to constitutional normality without endangering human lives,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
Neighbors Finalize War Plans
Another media report said:
The militaries of several ECOWAS members have agreed on a plan for military intervention in Niger and are waiting for a final political decision, a senior official of the bloc said on Friday.
Even as Nigeria sent diplomats to its northern neighbor, its capital Abuja was hosting a planning meeting of ECOWAS chiefs of staff. Notably absent were Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Guinea.
“All the elements that will go into any eventual intervention have been worked out here, including the resources needed, the how and when we are going to deploy the force,” said Abdel-Fatau Musah, ECOWAS commissioner for political affairs, peace and security.
Musah added that the final decision will be made at the political level, but that ECOWAS will not telegraph when and where it will strike.
Intervention Would Mean Declaration Of War
In the first-ever joint communique on Monday, the military governments in Mali and Burkina Faso warned the West and other African states against intervening in neighboring Niger. Bamako and Ouagadougou would consider any such move as an attack on their own countries, they said.
“Any military intervention against Niger would amount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali,” said point four of the joint communique, which a Burkinabe military spokesman deliberately repeated three times during a state television broadcast.
In case of an intervention, the two countries would withdraw from the ECOWAS and “adopt self-defense measures in support of the armed forces and the people of Niger,” according to the statement.
A military intervention against Niger “could destabilize the entire region, as had the unilateral NATO intervention in Libya, which was at the root of the expansion of the terrorism in the Sahel and West Africa,” the two governments said.
The governments of Mali and Burkina Faso seized power amid a wave of anti-French unrest over the last two years. Having ejected French troops – who were engaged in a decade-long counterinsurgent operation – from their territories, both governments have promised to treat any ECOWAS invasion as a declaration of war against them.