The ousted Nigerien president Mohamed Bazoum has asked for U.S. help to defeat the military junta that seized power last week. The Washington Post on Thursday evening published an op-ed purportedly written by Mohamed Bazoum in which the ousted President made the call for U.S. intervention.
“I write this as a hostage. Niger is under attack from a military junta that is trying to overthrow our democracy,” Bazoum said.
The coup “has no justification whatsoever” and is a “cynical effort to undermine the remarkable progress Niger has made under democracy,” he insisted.
The ousted President wrote: “I call on the U.S. government and the entire international community to help us restore our constitutional order. Fighting for our shared values, including democratic pluralism and respect for the rule of law, is the only way to make sustainable progress against poverty and terrorism.”
As a key argument, Bazoum brought up that earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Niger “a model of resilience, a model of democracy, a model of cooperation.”
Bazoum argued his government had made great progress in economic and social areas, partnering with the U.S. Indiana National Guard to reduce terrorist threats, while USAID shifted its focus from humanitarian work to “building sustainable energy, improving agricultural productivity and educating the next generation of Nigerian leaders.”
He revealed that foreign aid makes up 40% of the country’s budget, but is now blocked due to sanctions by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which Bazoum endorsed.
Bazoum criticized Mali and Burkina Faso for employing “criminal Russian mercenaries” such as the Wagner Group.
Unless the U.S. and the ECOWAS intervene, Wagner will have an “open invitation” into the region and all of central Sahel “could fall to Russian influence,” Bazoum wrote.
The ousted President did not make a single reference to uranium, Niger’s key export to former colonial master France.
Nigerien soldiers led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani ousted President Mohamed Bazoum last Wednesday, and has formed National Council for Safeguarding the Homeland (NCSH).
The coup leaders have justified their action as a means of safeguarding the country from a “deteriorating” security situation, as well as “poor economic and social governance.”
General Abdourahamane, the former head of Niger’s presidential guard, masterminded the country’s June 26 coup and has since detained President Mohamed Bazoum in the presidential palace.
On Monday, the junta leaders accused France of planning a military strike at the presidential palace to free the detained leader.
Niger’s Military Ties with France Scrapped
An AFP report said:
Niger’s NCSH on Thursday denounced the military pact with France and warned the neighboring African states not to intervene.
General Abdourahamane said that Niger will “immediately” suspend all military cooperation agreements with France, including the deal under which Paris has deployed around 1,500 troops in the Sahel country.
According to AFP, earlier in the day, on the 63rd anniversary of Niger’s independence from Paris, the junta blocked the signal of French broadcasters France 24 and Radio France Internationale (RFI).
The new military leader also condemned the ECOWAS sanctions and said his government will respond with force to any outside intervention. The junta “rejects all sanctions and refuses to yield to any threat, wherever it may come from,” the chief of the military government said in a televised speech on Wednesday. “If they pursue their destructive logic to the end, may Allah watch over Niger and ensure that this is the final great battle we will fight together for a true independence of our nation.”
He described the “illegal” sanctions imposed unilaterally by ECOWAS and the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) as “unjust and inhumane” acts against the people of Niger.
He claimed that the West African blocs acted under the influence of “certain” foreign powers, disregarding Niger’s sovereignty and the suffering of its population. He said: The CNSP rejects these sanctions as a whole and refuses to give to any threat wherever it comes from. We refuse any interference in the internal affairs of Niger.
Uranium, Gold, Slaves
On Sunday, the new military government of Niger announced it would suspend the export of uranium and gold to France, to the accolades of some of the local population.
“We have uranium, diamonds, gold, oil, and we live like slaves? We do not need the French to keep us safe,” one pro-government demonstrator told the local news portal Wazobia Reporters.
Landlocked Niger is the world’s seventh-largest producer of uranium, accounting for 4% of the global output. A French company controls about two-thirds of the country’s output.
The ECOWAS has condemned the coup and issued an ultimatum for the junta to reinstate Bazoum within seven days. If its demands are not met, the body has threatened to “take all measures to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger,” including the use of force.
The African Union denounced the coup on Friday and gave the junta in Niamey 15 days to stand down or face “punitive measures.”
Algeria and Libya have signaled support for the new government in Niger.
Niger’s southern neighbor Nigeria has already begun mustering troops on the border, according to local media.
A Nigerian delegation flew into capital Niamey on Thursday for talks with the junta. It was led by Abdulsalami Abubakar, a retired general who headed Nigeria’s own military government in 1998-99.
Another delegation was dispatched for talks with Algeria and Libya, both of which have signaled support for the new government in Niamey.
Nigerian President Bola Tinubu issued a statement that he instructed both delegations to do “whatever it takes to ensure a conclusive and amicable resolution of the situation in Niger.”
Senegal announced on Thursday that it would join an ECOWAS intervention against Niamey.
U.S. President Joe Biden called for Bazoum’s immediate release on Thursday, the first time the U.S. leader has spoken out about the situation in Niger.
In a statement congratulating the former French colony on its independence day, Biden said Niger faces a “grave challenge to its democracy.”
Russia has denounced the coup in Niger as an “anti-constitutional act,” and the Russian Foreign Ministry called on all parties to refrain from using force.
Intervention In Niger Would Mean Declaration Of War, Say Burkina Faso And Mali
The military governments in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso have warned the West and other African countries not to intervene in Niger.
Mali and Burkina Faso said in a joint statement on Monday that any such move would be considered an attack on their respective countries.
Bamako and Ouagadougou would consider any such move as an attack on their own countries, the two countries said.
“Any military intervention against Niger would amount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali,” said 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.
The joint communique said: 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.”
Mali and Burkina Faso condemned the sanctions ECOWAS announced on Saturday as “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane.”
The two countries also expressed “fraternal solidarity” with the Nigerien people, “who have decided to take destiny into their own hands and to assume before history the fullness of their sovereignty,” according to their joint communique.
The military governments of the two former French colonies have sought to sever their ties to Paris and rebuild their statehood with Russian assistance.
French And U.S. Bases In Niger
France currently has 1,500 troops and a drone base in Niger, while the US has 1,100 troops and two drone bases, according to the Financial Times.
Coup Supporters Protest Inhumane Sanctions
Supporters of Niger’s new ruling junta gathered in the capital, Niamey, on Thursday to protest sanctions imposed on the country in the aftermath of last week’s coup, as well as to oppose foreign meddling.
The mass rally was taking place as the country marks 63 years of independence, in response to a joint call by junta leader General Abdourahamane and a coalition of civil society groups.
One participant was reportedly seen carrying a sign that read “Long Live Niger, Russia, Mali, and Burkina Faso. Down With France, ECOWAS, and the EU.”
One of the protesters was quoted by Reuters as saying: “We are going to do a demonstration against all the countries of ECOWAS and all who are taking inhumane and unpopular measures toward Niger.”
A protester told Al Jazeera that Niger’s main priority was security, regardless of whether it is provided by “Russia, China, or Turkey.”
No Evidence Russia Involved In Coup, Says Italian FM
The government in Rome has no evidence of Moscow’s involvement in the military coup in Niamey, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani told the daily La Repubblica on Thursday. The turmoil in Niger took both the U.S. and France by surprise, he also revealed.
“We have no information of Russia’s involvement in the Nigerien events, or the preparation of the coup, Tajani told the outlet when asked whether Moscow was playing some kind of game in the Sahel nation. He dismissed the Nigerien protesters carrying photos of Russian President Vladimir Putin as “more anti-French than anything else.”
“Many, perhaps all in Europe, have been taken by surprise” by the coup, Tajani said. “Nobody knew about it, neither the U.S. nor France.”
There are 350 Italian soldiers currently in Niger, and they are keeping to their barracks for now, the foreign minister said.
The Nigerien authorities were also blindsided, Tajani added, noting that the Nigerien PM Uhumudu Mahamadou was in Rome for a UN food summit.
When pressed about the Russian role in the region, he said that the alleged presence of Wagner Group members was “another matter” and that Russia has “infiltrated that region skillfully for years.”
Tajani told La Repubblica: We have always been against the proposal of any European military intervention.”
He added that his French counterpart Catherine Colonna “never” broached the subject of intervention with him.
Wagner Group head Yevgeny Prigozhin has described the events in Niger as a justified rebellion of the people against Western exploitation, citing the example of uranium shipped to France. He argued the Nigeriens have been “kept in fear for decades” by the gangs of terrorists backed by the West, and that their presence was then cited to justify the deployment of troops to the West African country.
Sanctions Could Force Niger Into Default, Says Moody’s
Economic and financial sanctions imposed on Niger by its regional and Western partners following the military coup could result in the country defaulting on its debt, ratings agency Moody’s has warned.
The ECOWAS and the WAEMU imposed restrictions on the government of Niger, including the suspension of all commercial and financial transactions, and the freezing of Niger’s assets in ECOWAS central banks and commercial lenders. All financial assistance from regional development banks was also suspended.
International donors, including the EU and France, suspended financial support and security cooperation. The U.S. and the African Union threatened to follow suit if constitutional order is not restored soon.
The restrictions prompted Moody’s to downgrade Niger’s long-term foreign and local currency issuer ratings on Wednesday from B3 (judged to have speculative elements and a significant credit risk) to Caa2 (rated as poor quality and very high credit risk) and place them under review for further downgrade.
In a press release announcing the downgrade, Moody’s warned that if maintained, the sanctions “will likely prevent Niger from making upcoming principal or interest payment to creditors outside the country which would constitute a default under Moody’s definition.”
About 80% of Niger’s outstanding local currency debt is held by other West African countries.
Niger, a landlocked country in West Africa, is one of the world’s poorest nations, receiving close to $2 billion a year in development aid.
Niger also has a critical stock of natural resources, including uranium, coal, gold, iron ore, petroleum, molybdenum, and salt. It is the world’s seventh-biggest producer of uranium.
U.S. Evacuates Embassy Staff From Niger
The U.S. State Department has ordered a partial pullout for diplomatic workers stationed in Niger, amid ongoing unrest following a recent coup in the African nation.
Officials announced the decision on Wednesday, outlining that non-emergency personnel and family members were ordered to leave the US Embassy in Niamey.
A number of other Western states have announced their own evacuations. Spain and Germany have issued notices for citizens to leave, warning of a deteriorating security situation in the wake of the coup.
Though Washington has so far declined to describe the abrupt transfer of power as a “coup,” U.S. officials continue to recognize Bazoum as Niger’s legitimate leader. Secretary of State Antony Blinken claimed on Wednesday he had spoken with the deposed president, and called for the “restoration of the democratically-elected government.”
France And Italy Evacuate Citizens
France will begin evacuating its nationals from Niger on Tuesday following the military coup and subsequent attacks on the French embassy in Niamey, the Foreign Ministry in Paris has said.
In a statement on Tuesday, the French authorities also announced that it was helping move citizens of other European countries out of Niger.
Anti-French protests were held outside France’s embassy in Niamey on Sunday following the coup.
France has condemned the putsch and maintained that it recognizes Bazoum as the only legitimate power in the country.
French Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna replied that the “accusations that have been made since are false and shocking.”
The Italian government also announced on Tuesday that it would repatriate citizens from Niamey.
The Italian government will arrange a “special flight” for the evacuation mission, according to Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani.