A West African delegation failed to secure the return to power of Niger’s elected government on Friday despite proposals to resolve the crisis as the junta curtailed military cooperation with former colonial power France.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc’s team arrived on Thursday, August 4, in the capital Niamey “but did not spend the night” as scheduled, nor meet with coup leader Abdourahamane Tiani or detained President Mohamed Bazoum, a delegation member said Friday.
But they have agreed on a plan for a possible intervention in Niger as a deadline nears for the country’s junta to restore civilian rule, an official from the regional bloc said on Friday. “All the elements that will go into any eventual intervention have been worked out, including the resources needed, and including the how and when we are going deploy the force,” said ECOWAS commissioner Abdel-Fatau Musah. “We want diplomacy to work, and we want this message clearly transmitted to them that we are giving them every opportunity to reverse what they have done,” he added.
Regional powerhouse Nigeria holds the rotating presidency of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which imposed sanctions and on Sunday gave the putschists a week to restore Bazoum to power or risk possible armed intervention. But Niger’s government newspaper Le Sahel reported that the visiting delegation had met junta representatives at the airport and discussed “proposals to resolve the crisis.”
Nigerian President Bola Tinubu said the bloc would do its best to resolve the crisis amicably but ECOWAS said it could resort to military intervention as a last resort. Russia, which has increased its footprint across the Sahel in recent years, warned that foreign intervention would not resolve the crisis. “It is unlikely that the intervention of any extra-regional force can change the situation for the better,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists.
The junta also announced that it was scrapping military pacts between Niger and France, citing the former ruler’s “careless attitude and its reaction to the situation.” France rejected the coup leaders’ severing of military ties, insisting only the “legitimate” government could decide, while Niger’s ambassador to France said she did not recognise her sacking by the putschists and was loyal to Bazoum.
Niger has had a key role in Western strategies to combat a jihadist insurgency that has plagued the Sahel since 2012, with France and the United States stationing around 1,500 and 1,000 troops in the country, respectively.
Regional military chiefs are in Nigeria’s capital Abuja to discuss the possibility of such an intervention as Benin which neighbors Niger said diplomacy must remain the preferred solution. Niger’s junta warned it would meet force with force. The juntas in Burkina Faso and Mali have warned any military intervention in Niger would be tantamount to a “declaration of war.”
Bazoum, who has been held by the coup plotters with his family since his ouster, said Thursday that if the putsch proved successful, “it will have devastating consequences for our country, our region and the entire world.”
In a column in The Washington Post – his first lengthy statement since his detention – he called on “the US government and the entire international community to help us restore our constitutional order.”
Across Niger on Thursday, thousands of people rallied to back the coup leaders on the anniversary of the country’s 1960 independence, some waving giant Russian flags and chanting anti-French slogans. Anti-French sentiment in the region is on the rise, while Russian activity, often through the Wagner mercenary group, has grown.
The European Union on Friday “strongly” condemned the blocking of French media broadcasts in Niger, where last week’s coup sparked protests against the country’s former colonial ruler. “This step is a serious violation of the right to information and freedom of expression. The EU strongly condemns these violations of fundamental freedoms,” EU spokesperson Nabila Massrali said on Twitter.
Bazoum has warned that Niger’s neighbors had increasingly invited in “criminal Russian mercenaries such as the Wagner Group at the expense of their people’s rights and dignity.” “The entire Sahel region,” he said, “could fall to Russian influence via the Wagner Group, whose brutal terrorism has been on full display in Ukraine.”
In a sign of normality returning in the aftermath of the coup, the putschists on Friday lifted a curfew in force since the July 26 takeover.
The Netherlands said it was suspending development aid and direct cooperation with Niger’s authorities. The United States has chartered a plane to evacuate non-essential personnel and American citizens wishing to leave the country, the State Department said.
France has evacuated 1,079 people from the country, more than half of them its nationals. On Friday, a Spanish Air Force plane landed in Niamey to evacuate Spanish nationals – estimated to number around 70, according to the Spanish Ministry of Defence.