Russia has warned that military intervention in Niger would lead to a “protracted confrontation” after regional bloc Ecowas said it would assemble a standby force with regional defence chiefs set to meet in Ghana to finetune their war plan.Thank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
Such an intervention would destabilise the Sahel region as a whole, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported the Russian foreign ministry as warning on Friday.
On Friday, coup supporters, some waving Russian flags, protested at a French military base near the capital NIamey, some chanting “down with France, down with Ecowas”.
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Meanwhile, West African defence chiefs will meet in the coming days in Ghana to prepare plans for a possible military intervention in Niger, a spokesperson for the regional bloc said on Friday, Reuters reported.
The ECOWAS bloc ordered the activation of a standby force on Thursday, two weeks after generals ousted President Mohamed Bazoum in the seventh coup in West and Central Africa in three years.
The chiefs of staff meeting indicates that West African nations are stepping up preparations to commit troops for a possible action to reverse the coup.
“One (meeting) is being planned for next week,” the ECOWAS spokesperson said. A Nigerian official and an Ivory Coast army source said the meeting would be held on Saturday in Ghana.
It is not yet clear how big the force will be, how long it will take to assemble, and if it will actually invade Niger.
But the proposed mission has raised the spectre of deepening conflict in a strategically important region where Western powers have lost sway during the spate of coups and where Russian influence appears on the rise.
ECOWAS – the Economic Community of West African States – said all options were on the table and it still hoped for a peaceful resolution to the Niger crisis.
Security analysts said an ECOWAS force could take weeks or longer to assemble, potentially leaving room for negotiations.
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Ivory Coast is the only country so far to specify how many troops it would send. President Alassane Ouattara on Thursday promised a battalion of 850 troops.
Benin’s army spokesman said on Friday it would contribute troops but did not say how many. Senegal said last week it would contribute troops if there were an intervention.
Most other ECOWAS countries – including regional heavyweight Nigeria, which holds its rotating presidency – have so far declined to comment.
Gambia’s defence minister Sering Modou Njie, and Liberia’s minister of information, Ledgerhood Rennie, told Reuters on Friday they had not yet taken a decision to send troops.
Military governments in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso, both ECOWAS members, have said they will defend the junta in Niger.
The junta has yet to react to ECOWAS’ decision although it has given no indication that it might relinquish power.
Meanwhile, the African Union, the European Union and the United States all said they were increasingly worried about Bazoum’s detention conditions.
The African Union called on the international community to rally to “save the moral and physical integrity of” Bazoum and end what it called the “worryingly poor conditions” of his detention.
Human Rights Watch said it had spoken to Bazoum this week and that he had told them that his family’s treatment in custody was “inhuman and cruel”.
“My son is sick, has a serious heart condition, and needs to see a doctor,” HRW quoted Bazoum as telling them.
Bazoum’s daughter, Zazia Bazoum, who is in France, told Britain’s Guardian newspaper the junta was keeping him in deplorable conditions to try to pressure him to sign a resignation letter. Reuters said it could not independently confirm the conditions of his detention.
Niamey calm on Friday, residents angry with ECOWAS
The capital Niamey was calm on Friday morning, but residents were angered by the threat of military intervention.
“Deep down inside, I’m not afraid, I’m going about my business. I think this is just blackmail,” Balla Souleymane, said of ECOWAS’ decisions.
Since the coup, many Nigeriens have turned up at junta-organised rallies to show support for the generals, criticising Western powers and lauding Russia, mirroring reactions following recent coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, whose military juntas kicked out French forces after taking power.
The embassy of former colonial power France has been the target of protests in Niamey.
France said it fully backed all the conclusions of the ECOWAS emergency summit held on Thursday. But it stayed clear of outlining any concrete support it could give to any potential intervention.
Why and how the coup was planned
The coup was triggered by internal politics but has repercussions far beyond its borders. It was the culmination of months of acrimony between President Mohamed Bazoum and his chief guard over the leader’s attempts to emerge from the shadow of his predecessor, people familiar with the matter have told Reuters.
Since taking over from his political godfather Mahamadou Issoufou in 2021, Bazoum had sought to stamp his authority on the West African country by sidelining a number of senior people in both the military and public administration.
When the head of his powerful presidential guard, General Abdourahamane Tiani, feared he was next for the chop, he turned on his boss, confident other military commanders would eventually fall in line, the people familiar with the matter said.
This account of how Niger’s coup unfolded is based on 15 interviews with Nigerien security officials, politicians, as well as current and former Western government officials.
Neither Tiani or Bazoum could be reached for comment. In his first address following the July 26 coup, Tiani said he had ousted the president for the good of the country.
Since coming to power, Bazoum had reinforced military cooperation with France and the United States, curbed the autonomy of Nigerien army commanders and launched anti-corruption programs that targeted some of Issoufou’s proteges, notably in the oil sector, making enemies in the process.
Tiani, who was head of Issoufou’s guard for a decade and helped thwart a coup days before Bazoum took over, stayed on in his role under the new president, commanding the most powerful and best-equipped force based in the capital Niamey.
But in recent months, Bazoum had curtailed the size of the presidential guard, which was about 700-strong at the time of the coup, and started to scrutinize its budget.
Keen to save his own skin, Tiani, a man who had worked his way up through the ranks and was named general by Issoufou, had sounded out a select few commanders about his coup plans to ensure other branches of the military would not oppose him, two people with knowledge of the coup plotter’s thinking said.
Reuters was unable to determine which commanders had been briefed by Tiani.
Tiani also waited until large numbers of troops had been dispatched from Niamey to Diffa, a 20-hour drive away on the southeastern fringes of Niger, to participate in Independence Day celebrations scheduled for Aug. 3, the two people said.
Indeed, on July 27, a day after Tiani’s presidential guard sequestered Bazoum at his residence, Niger’s army command said it had rallied behind the coup to avoid a deadly confrontation between different forces.
Spokespeople for the junta and the army command did not reply to messages seeking comment.
Any lingering internal resistance to Tiani becoming head of state fizzled, though the country’s new administration is still on a collision course with the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
The fifth coup in Niger in the past 50 years is a blow to former colonial ruler France and the United States, which together have more than 2,000 troops in the country and use it as a base to launch attacks on jihadists in the vast and volatile Sahel.
It follows military takeovers in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso over the last three years that have forced France to pull out thousands of troops – some had been repositioned to Niger – and let Russia increase its influence in the region.
It was unclear from the Reuters interviews whether Tiani had discussed his plans with Issoufou, a towering political figure in West Africa who retains enormous influence in Niger.
Issoufou was elected in 2011, a year after a previous military coup. He won plaudits for stepping aside in 2021 after two terms, paving the way for the first democratic transition to a new leader in Niger since independence.
Speculation that Issoufou knew of Tiani’s intentions swirled around the capital after the coup because he remained silent for several days.
Issoufou had become increasingly frustrated with Bazoum’s efforts to chart his own course, several people familiar with the matter said. Two allies of Issoufou recalled hearing the former president complain about Bazoum’s unwillingness to take his suggestions on board for running the country, and its oil sector in particular.
Reuters said it was unable to reach Issoufou for comment. A person close to the former president said he initially refrained from talking publicly about the rebellion because he was trying to mediate between Tiani and Bazoum.
The person, who declined to be identified, denied Issoufou had anything to do with the coup and pointed to the junta’s decision to arrest his son, the oil and energy minister, on July 31, as evidence the former president did not collude with Tiani.
On July 30, four days into the coup, Issoufou broke his silence, saying in social media posts he was involved in a mediation effort, and calling for Bazoum to be reinstated.
Issoufou has not since provided any information about his efforts.
For Bazoum, July 26 started as a typical day. He had breakfast at his residence, which is inside the compound of the presidential guard in central Niamey, according to one of numerous current and former Western officials who spoke to the president by phone afterwards.
Bazoum was about to head to his nearby office when he noticed something was off: Tiani’s soldiers had surrounded his house. The president hurried to the residence’s safe room, equipped with secure communications, the person said.
After several hours, when it became clear no one was coming to rescue him, Bazoum rejoined his family in the main part of the residence, which was still surrounded, the person said.
Shortly after detaining Bazoum, Tiani instructed Salifou Mody, a general who had been stripped of his role as chief of staff of the Niger Armed Forces by the president in April, to liaise with other branches of the security services and secure their support, four people familiar with the matter said.
Mody was named Niger’s envoy to the United Arab Emirates in June, an appointment widely seen as a demotion, though he never left Niger to take up his new role.
It was not clear whether Mody, who is listed as a deputy to Tiani on the junta’s organigram, was among the very few commanders briefed ahead of the coup. Reuters was unable to reach Mody for comment.
The same morning, as news of the putsch spread across Niamey, former president Issoufou contacted Tiani, offering to serve as a mediator, two people familiar with the matter said.
He then met with Bazoum and shared his impression that Tiani had succumbed to a “mood swing”, something he could help resolve, the person close to Issoufou said.
Meantime, with Niger’s prime minister out of the country, Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou took the lead in trying to free Bazoum, people familiar with the matter said. He did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Around noon on July 26, a post on a social media account of the Nigerien presidency said Bazoum and his family were well – and that the army and national guard were ready to attack the rebellious soliders if they didn’t stand down.
Soon after, several hundred supporters of Bazoum gathered at a square in central Niamey and later marched towards the presidential palace. The protesters called for the mutineers to release the president and return to their barracks.
Later that day, National Guard troops took up positions around the compound where Bazoum was held.
But at about 9 p.m., the mutineers released a video on state television. Wearing a blue military jacket and flanked by nine officers, a little-known colonel, Amadou Abdramane, said Bazoum had been removed from power, all institutions of the republic suspended and Niger’s borders closed.
Almost all the different branches of Niger’s security apparatus had a member in the group, including the police, army, air force and presidential guard. Ahmad Sidien, second-in-command of the National Guard, was also present.
The following day, the Nigerien military command announced it was siding with the junta and the National Guard dropped its siege of the presidential guard compound – as Tiani had hoped would happen.
Tiani, who had chosen to remain in the background until he had secured public support from the other commanders, according to the two people with knowledge of the plot, appeared on television on July 28.
In a short address, he said the junta’s motivation was to safeguard the homeland, blaming Niger’s government for failing to address security problems.
But with ECOWAS threatening to unleash military action if the coup is not overturned Tiani may soon face an altogether different threat.
Closure of air space
Niger closed its airspace on Sunday until further notice, citing the threat of military intervention from the West African regional bloc.
Earlier, thousands of junta supporters flocked to a stadium in Niamey, the capital, cheering the decision not to cave in to external pressure to stand down by Sunday following the July 26 power grab.
The coup has rocked the Sahel region, one of the poorest in the world. Given its uranium and oil riches and its pivotal role in a war with Islamist militants, Niger holds importance for the U.S., Europe, China and Russia.
“In the face of the threat of intervention that is becoming more apparent … Nigerien airspace is closed effective from today,” a junta representative said in a statement on national television on Sunday evening.
He said there had been a pre-deployment of forces in two Central African countries in preparation for an intervention, but did not give details.
“Niger’s armed forces and all our defence and security forces, backed by the unfailing support of our people, are ready to defend the integrity of our territory,” he said.
Blasting military tunes and tooting vuvuzela horns, over 100 junta supporters a few days ago set up a picket near an air base in Niamey – part of a citizen movement to offer non-violent resistance in support of the junta if needed.
As organisers led chants of “Vive Niger,” much of the emotion appeared directed against ECOWAS as well as former colonial power France, which said last Saturday it would support regional efforts to overturn the coup, without specifying if that included military assistance.
“The Nigerien people have understood that these imperialists want to bring about our demise. And God willing, they will be the ones to suffer for it,” said pensioner Amadou Adamou.
Niger last week revoked military cooperation agreements with France, which has between 1,000 and 1,500 troops in the country.
Sunday’s television broadcasts included a roundtable debate on encouraging solidarity in the face of ECOWAS sanctions, which have led to power cuts and soaring food prices.
The bloc’s military threat has triggered fears of further conflict in a region already battling the deadly Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and forced millions to flee.
Any military intervention could be complicated by a promise from juntas in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso to come to Niger’s defence if needed.
Bazoum’s prime minister, Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou, said on Saturday in Paris that the ousted regime still believed a last-minute agreement was possible.
On Sunday, Italy said it had reduced its troop numbers in Niger to make room in its military base for Italian civilians who may need protection if security deteriorates.
Niger’s regional and Western allies have announced a series of sanctions against the country following the July 26 coup. Niger is the world’s seventh-biggest producer of uranium, the radioactive metal widely used for nuclear energy and treating cancer. It is also one of the world’s poorest countries, receiving close to $2 billion a year in development assistance.
According to 2023 budget projections, of Niger’s total budget of 3,245 billion CFA francs ($5.53 billion) for the fiscal year, around 342.44 billion francs was expected to come from external budget support and loans.
Another 978.47 billion francs was supposed to come from project grants and loans from external partners. In total, more than $2.2 billion, or around 40% of its budget, was expected to came from external partners.
West Africa regional bloc
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the West African Monetary and Economic Union have imposed some of the most stringent sanctions on Niger so far since the coup.
With immediate effect, the bloc has suspended all commercial transactions with Niger, frozen its state assets in the regional central bank, frozen assets of the state and state enterprises in commercial banks, and suspended all financial assistance with regional development banks.
The financial sanctions could lead to a default on Niger’s debt repayments.
A planned 30 billion CFA francs ($51 million) bond issuance by Niger in the West African regional debt market was cancelled by the regional central bank following the imposition of sanctions. Niger had planned to raise 490 billion CFA francs ($834 million) from the regional debt market in 2023.
The ECOWAS sanctions also meant Nigeria cut power supply to the country on the 80 megawatt Birnin-Kebbi line, while Ivory Coast suspended imports and exports of Nigerien goods.
West Africa’s regional central bank, the BCEAO, shut down its branches in Niger, citing risks to operations.
The European Union, one of Niger’s biggest contributors, has suspended its financial support and cooperation on security with Niger with immediate effect.
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The EU allocated 503 million euros ($554 million) from its budget to improve governance, education and sustainable growth in Niger over 2021-2024, according to its website.
France, another major partner of its former colony, suspended development aid and budget support with immediate effect, demanding a prompt return to constitutional order. French development aid for Niger was at around 120 million euros ($130 million) in 2022, and expected to be slightly higher this year.
France also has around 1,500 troops in Niger. It relied on Niger after it withdrew its counter insurgency troops from neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso in 2021 and 2022, respectively.
The Dutch government, which was supporting development and security programmes in Niger, temporarily suspended its direct cooperation with the government following the coup.
The United States, a major provider of humanitarian and security aid, paused assistance programmes to Niger valued at more than $100 million over the military takeover, pressing the junta to reinstate the elected government.
The U.S. has previously warned that the coup could lead to the suspension of all cooperation.
So far in fiscal 2023, it has provided nearly $138 million in humanitarian assistance. There are about 1,100 U.S. troops in Niger, where the U.S. military operates from two bases.
Canada suspended direct development assistance and expressed support for ECOWAS’ mediation efforts for Niger to return to constitutional order.
The World Bank suspended disbursements until further notice, except for private-sector partnerships which it said will continue with caution.
Niger has one of the largest World Bank portfolios in Africa, amounting to $4.5 billion, and it has also received $600 million in direct budget support from the bank between 2022 and 2023.