Searching for a post-coup solution
Niger’s military junta stands firm amid international pressure to step down
Niger’s instability is fueling concerns of regional unrest as military leaders refuse to budge in the face of rising regional and international pressure.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on Sunday rejected a transition plan presented by the military junta in Niger to return to democracy in three years. Military leaders toppled the democratic government in late July, following a string of coups in nearby countries in recent years.
Junta leader Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani said the military would hash out details of the transition back to democracy over the next month, and he said he doesn’t expect the negotiations to take more than three years. He warned against military action by other countries.
“I also reaffirm our readiness to engage in any dialogue, as long as it takes into account the orientations desired by the proud and resilient people of Niger,” he said.
Mutinous soldiers from the presidential guard detained Western-leaning President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26. He remains under house arrest with his wife and son in the capital, Niamey. Last week, junta leaders said they have gathered enough evidence to try the ousted Bazoum with high treason.
ECOWAS earlier said most countries in its 15-member bloc, excluding the islands of Cape Verde and member countries under military rule, are ready to intervene in Niger.
“The earlier they give power back to civilians and concentrate on their primary responsibility, that is, defending the territorial integrity of Niger, the better for them,” said Amb. Abdel-Fatau Musah, political affairs commissioner with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Niger is the fourth West African country since 2020 to face a coup, after Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali. In a further challenge to regional stability, Burkina Faso’s and Mali’s military leaders warned they would defend Niger from outside military intervention. Both countries have deployed warplanes to Niger, and a Nigerien junta delegation visited military leaders in Guinea to thank them for their support.
“I would say [ECOWAS’] primary concern arises from this growing unease that we have seen with protracted transition periods, especially in West Africa,” said Olajumoke Ayandele, a research fellow at New York University’s Center for the Study of Africa and the African Diaspora. “This trend, especially if it’s left unchecked, could embolden and incentivize other future coup leaders.”
During pro-military protests in Niamey, demonstrators waved Russian flags and chanted “Down with France.” Similar sentiments have grown across other former French colonies. France still has some 1,500 soldiers in Niger, while the United States has 1,100 troops in the country.
“I am here to request the departure of the French forces,” protester Salamatou Hima told Reuters. “We are free and we have the right to demand what is beneficial for our country.”
But Moutaka, a farmer in the central city of Zinder, told the BBC he worries about what the coup will mean for Niger.
“I don’t support the arrival of Russians in this country because they are all Europeans, and nobody will help us,” he said. “I love my country and hope we can live in peace.”
Locals’ frustration could create more support for Russia’s growing influence in the region. The Russian paramilitary organization, Wagner Group, has deployed troops to Mali since its 2021 coup. After booting out French forces earlier this year, Burkina Faso’s military leader Ibrahim Traore said Russia had become a “strategic ally,” but denied support from Wagner mercenaries.
Wassim Nasr, a senior research fellow at The Soufan Center, a New York-based foreign policy research organization, said Niger’s junta has already reached out to a Wagner member in neighboring Mali.
“They need [Wagner] because they will become their guarantee to hold onto power,” he said.
On Monday, Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin posted a video, his first since his failed coup attempt in Russia in June. He said Wagner continues to make Africa “more free.” But on Wednesday, Russian authorities said Prigozhin died in a plane crash in Russian territory. Western analysts have said the plane was likely sabotaged. “There is not much that happens in Russia that Putin is not behind,” U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters Wednesday.
“This is really going to add a layer of complexity to the equation and possible repercussions for the security fabric, especially in West African host nations,” Ayandele said after hearing reports of Prigozhin’s death.
Niger continues to battle affiliates of Islamic State and al-Qaeda. Suspected insurgents ambushed soldiers near the Malian border last week, killing at least 17 soldiers.
Ayandele explained that ongoing regional instability before the coup first opened the door to international players, including France and the United Nations peacekeeping force.
“There is a need for African nations to really take on the mantle of responsibility, not just for their own security, but their own development,” Ayandele said.
ECOWAS has already imposed economic and travel restrictions on Niger. Neighboring Nigeria also cut off power supply to the country. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced earlier this month that the United States had paused some nonhumanitarian aid to the Nigerien government.
Niger’s military has already missed an Aug. 6 ECOWAS deadline to release Bazoum or face military intervention. The commission has not announced any next steps since the junta announced its three-year transition plan.
Olayinka Ajala, a politics and international relations senior lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, said ECOWAS now faces mounting pressure to respond. He noted any military intervention could have implications for the regional terrorism war and possibly spark a refugee crisis.
“I think the best option is to rule out military action and to negotiate a short transition period to restore democracy,” he said.
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