African leaders gave the junta in Niger a week on Sunday to hand over power or face the possible use of violence and at the same time imposed financial sanctions against the rebel leaders. The latest coup in the jihadist-infested Sahel region has flashed danger lights on the continent and in the West.
In a third coup over a period of time in the Sahel, Niger’s elected president and Western ally, Mohamed Bazoum, has been detained by the army since Wednesday.
General Abdourahamane Tiani, head of the powerful presidential force, declared himself leader.
Bazoum is one of a shrinking group of elected presidents and pro-Western leaders in the Sahel, where a jihadist insurgency has staged coups in Mali and Burkina Faso since 2020.
The former colonial power France and the European Union (EU) suspended security cooperation and financial aid to Niger after the coup, while the US warns that its emergency aid also hangs in the balance.
At an emergency summit in Nigeria, the 15 members of the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) demanded that Bazoum be reinstated within a week. If not, Ecowas will introduce “all measures” to restore constitutional order.
“Such measures may include the use of force,” the group said in a statement, adding that Ecowas defense chiefs are meeting on Sunday.
It was not immediately clear how Ecowas would be able to intervene. The bloc agreed last year to set up a regional security force to fight jihadists and prevent coups, but details about the force and how it will be financed are unclear.
Ecowas also imposed financial sanctions against the junta leaders and the country, freezing all “commercial and financial transactions” between member states and Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries.
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In a statement broadcast live on TV on Saturday evening, junta member Amadou Abdramane says the summit’s objective is to approve a “plan of aggression against Niger, in the form of an imminent military intervention in Niamey”.
The intervention “will be in collaboration with African countries that are not members of the regional body, as well as certain Western countries”, he said.
In the capital Niamey, thousands of people waved Russian and Niger flags outside the parliament building on Sunday in support of the junta.
They then moved to the French embassy, where chants such as “long live Putin” and “away with France” echoed. Soldiers dispersed the crowd with tear gas. Some people tried to storm the embassy, but were also stopped with tear gas.
A number of protests then aimed at the American embassy.
France condemned the attack on its embassy and warned that it would act if its citizens or interests were targeted. The country also says it will support all regional initiatives to restore order in Niger.
“Should anyone attack French citizens, the army, diplomats and French interests, France will act immediately and aggressively,” the French presidency said.
Niger’s neighbors and former French colonies – Mali and Burkina Faso – have also been plagued by military coups since 2020. It is fueled by anger over civilian authorities’ failure to stop jihadist groups with links to the Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda.
Tiani says uprising in Niger was a response to the “deterioration of the security situation which is connected with jihadist bloodshed, as well as corruption and economic adversity”.
Turbulent political history
After a wave of condemnations of the coup, punitive measures have already been introduced in the West.
France, which has 1,500 soldiers in Niger, said on Saturday it was suspending development and budget aid to the country in West Africa. The country asked for an “immediate return to constitutional order” and the reinstatement of pres. Bazoum.
Meanwhile, the EU’s diplomatic chief, Josep Borrell, said the group of countries would not recognize the leadership. All security cooperation with Niger was immediately suspended and all budget aid was stopped.
Borrell says the EU is ready to support Ecowas’ future decision, which “includes the acceptance of sanctions”.
The US, with about 1,000 troops in Niger, confirmed Washington’s support for Bazoum and warned those holding him that they were “threatening years of successful cooperation and hundreds of millions of dollars in aid”.
The African Union (AU) has given the army in Niger two weeks to restore “constitutional authority”. The AU condemned the coup in the “strongest terms imaginable” and expressed its deep dismay at the alarming incidence of coups in Africa.
Despite large uranium deposits, Niger usually ranks last on the United Nations’ human development index. The country has had a turbulent political history since independence in 1960, with four successful coups – including two against Bazoum – already behind it.