As the deadline draws near, pressure on the Niger coup leaders grows

The approaching ECOWAS deadline for the military to cede control or face potential armed intervention increased the pressure on the coup leaders in Niger on Sunday.

France, a former colonial power that the junta severed military links with after seizing control on July 26, declared that it would “firmly” support whatever course of action ECOWAS chose once the Sunday deadline had passed.

After meeting with Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou, the prime minister of Niger, in Paris, Catherine Colonna’s office declared that “the future of Niger and the stability of the entire region are at risk.”

The latest of numerous coups that have rocked Africa’s Sahel area since 2020, the ECOWAS military chiefs of staff have decided on a strategy for a potential intervention in response to the situation.

“We want diplomacy to work, and we want this message to be clearly transmitted to them (the junta) that we are giving them every opportunity to reverse what they have done,” ECOWAS commissioner Abdel-Fatau Musah said on Friday.

The use of force, as well as how and when it would be used, were among the “elements that will go into any eventual intervention,” he cautioned.

With France and the United States stationing roughly 1,500 and 1,000 troops there, respectively, Niger has played a significant role in Western attempts to battle jihadist insurgencies that have plagued the Sahel since 2012.

However, Russian participation, frequently via the Wagner mercenary group, has increased while anti-French sentiment in the area is on the rise. Moscow has issued a caution against outside military action in Niger.

Sebastien Lecornu, minister of the French armed forces, told AFP in an interview on Saturday that the coup “is an error of judgment that totally goes against the interests of the country.”

“This coup will weaken the fight against terrorism in the Sahel, where activity by armed terrorist groups is resurgent, particularly taking advantage of some failed states like Mali,” he claimed.

He noted that Niger, one of the world’s poorest nations, depends largely on international funding, which could be halted if President Mohamed Bazoum is not restored to his position as head of state.

According to the junta, force will be met with force.

Abdelmadjid Tebboune, the president of Algeria, spoke out against any military action in the neighboring Niger.

“We categorically refuse any military intervention,” he said in a television interview Saturday evening, adding that such action would be “a direct threat to Algeria”.

He stressed “there will be no solution without us (Algeria). We are the first people affected”.

“Algeria shares nearly a thousand kilometres” of border with Niger, he said.

“What is the situation today in countries that have experienced military intervention?,” he said, pointing to Libya and Syria.

Any regional engagement would amount to a “declaration of war” against Mali and Burkina Faso, where military juntas have been in power since 2020.

Since July 26, Bazoum, 63, and his family have been detained by the coup plotters in their official Niamey mansion.

Bazoum warned a successful putsch would “have devastating consequences for our country, our region, and the entire world” in a column published in The Washington Post on Thursday. It was his first lengthy remark following his detention.

Bazoum, who in 2021 won an election that ushered in Niger’s first-ever transfer of power from one civilian government to another, urged “the US government and the entire international community to help us restore our constitutional order”.

In addition to closing the borders of the huge Sahel nation, Nigeria has cut off energy supplies to its neighbor Niger, raising concerns for the humanitarian situation and making it more difficult to distribute food.

President Bola Tinubu has been encouraged by senior Nigerian lawmakers to reevaluate the threatening military intervention.

According to Senate President Godswill Akpabio, “The Senate calls on the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to further encourage other leaders of ECOWAS to strengthen the political and diplomatic options.”

Senators from the seven northern Nigerian states that border Niger on a total of about 1,500 kilometers (900 miles) have already warned against intervening until all other possibilities have been explored.

On Thursday, Tinubu personally encouraged ECOWAS to take “whatever it takes” to bring about a “amicable resolution” to the issue in Niger.

Read also: Military chiefs in West Africa agree on a plan for a potential Niger incursion

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