The Tug-Of-War Between Niger's New Junta And The World Has Begun
Just days after the military seized power in Niger last week, the new junta has already been the target of sanctions by Brussels and Washington. What that means for the 1,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Niger, among other things, remains unclear.
PARIS — The tug-of-war is on between Niger's new junta and their neighbors, as well as the Western allies of one of Africa's poorest countries.
After the military announced on July 26 that it had overthrown and detained President Mohamed Bazoum, the 15 member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECWAS) held a special summit in Abuja on Sunday.
On July 30, they ordered an economic blockade of Niger, decided on the "immediate" suspension of "all commercial and financial transactions" with the country, and set a one-week ultimatum for the junta to restore constitutional order. They said they could not rule out "recourse of force", a rare statement from the ECWAS which s hows the seriousness with which this coup d'état is being taken, which now poses a risk of spiraling out of control in the region.
The African Union (AU), for its part, gave the military two weeks to re-establish "constitutional authority", without giving any further details on future sanctions.
France announced on Saturday, at the end of a Defense Council chaired by President Emmanuel Macron, the suspension, with immediate effect, of all economic and security cooperation with Niger, as well as all development aid. At the same time, the head of U.S. diplomacy, Antony Blinken, warned that the coup was jeopardizing the relationship between Niger and his country.
Demonstration at the French embassy in Niamey
The European Union "does not and will not recognize the authorities resulting from the coup", declared the EU's head of diplomacy, Josep Borrell. All budgetary aid and cooperation is suspended with immediate effect, he added.
But African and Western economic and diplomatic sanctions have never convinced the region's putschists to give up. Niger's neighbors include Algeria, Mali and Burkina Faso, all of which are either anti-Western or military-led.
Paris made it clear that it would react immediately and decisively.
The streets of Niamey were relatively calm on Sunday, with residents resuming their activities and the military deployed in large numbers. The junta, which includes representatives of the army, gendarmerie and police, has suspended institutions, closed land and air borders, and introduced a curfew from midnight to 5 a.m. Thousands of demonstrators supported the junta and threatened the French embassy on Sunday, before being dispersed by the military. Paris made it clear that it would react immediately and decisively if its nationals or any of its interests were threatened.
General Tchiani, close to the previous president, Mahamadou Issoufou, who appointed him head of the presidential guard in 2011, justified the coup by the regime's failures in the face of al-Qaeda and Boko Haram jihadists.
Police officers on the sidelines of a march in support of the coup in Niamey on July 30
The end of the road for French and American soldiers?
Until now, Niamey has been a key ally of Paris and Washington in the fight against jihadists in the Sahel region. Nearly 1,500 French soldiers are deployed in what was just a transit base for operations in Mali, before the Barkhane force withdrew last year on the orders of the local junta. And 1,000 Americans serve at their country's main drone base in Africa, in Agadez, Niger's fifth largest city.
No Wagner involvement, but a dream come true for Moscow.
While the head of the junta has promised to honor the country's international commitments, and has asked his country's "valued partners", "France and the United States", to have confidence in him, the question of whether the French and American contingents will remain inevitably arises. If only because they would have to operate on good terms with the military of a regime deemed illegitimate and subjected to sanctions by Paris and Washington.
No visible traces of Wagner
There was no indication of any involvement in the coup, or even of the presence in the country of Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group — even though the ousting of Paris and Washington from the region would be a dream come true for Moscow.
At the heart of the Sahara desert, Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world. It has few resources, apart from uranium deposits, of which it is the world's fourth-largest producer, accounting for 6% of the world total. With a fertility rate of 6.7 children per woman, unrivaled anywhere in the world, its population (currently 21 million) is expected to reach 100 million by the end of the century.
Niger is the third Sahel country to experience a coup d'état since 2020, after the military took power in Mali and Burkina Faso. This coup now makes it possible to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea without crossing a single country under civilian rule.
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