Military chiefs from the West African bloc ECOWAS are holding talks in Nigeria Wednesday about last week’s coup in Niger. Earlier this week, the regional economic bloc set a deadline for junta leaders to restore ousted president Mohamed Bazoum or face a possible military intervention. The warning prompted a sharp counter-warning from two of Niger’s neighbors who also have leaders that came to power in coups.
With four days left until a deadline to return power to Niger’s democratically-elected president Mohamed Bazoum, and Niger’s neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso warning against any military intervention, tensions couldn’t be higher in the Sahel this week.
Nassirou Seydou is the head of the Voice of the Voiceless, a human rights organization. Speaking to VOA from Niger’s capital, Niamey, he said he doesn’t think ECOWAS will intervene militarily because they didn’t do it in Burkina Faso or Mali during recent coups.
He said dialogue should take center stage in situations like these. The security concerns the new [coup] leaders gave as reasons… in the zones of Tillaberi, Diffa and other places where they believe the Bazoum government has not been very effective …that’s the reason,” he said, “why the military in Burkina Faso and Mali are also convinced that the security situation in the Liptako-gourma could only be improved with the combined efforts of those three armies.”
The Liptako-gourma is an area in the central Sahel region that falls in eastern Burkina Faso, southwestern Niger, and a portion of southeast central Mali.
In 2021, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sounded the alarm about a crisis there caused by increasing competition for resources, climatic disruption, high levels of poverty and violence caused by organized crime networks and non-state armed groups.
But given tensions with Niger’s current partners like France and the United States, Seydou said, the new military leaders might turn to other powers for help in that region.
With the high tensions between Niger and France, between the military and the French presidency, the situation is not favorable for continued relations, he said, “especially when it comes to France and its allies helping Niger get out of the situation. So, he says, he Niger military doesn’t have a choice but look elsewhere.”
France and the European Union suspended aid to Niger after last week's coup. France, whose embassy was attacked recently by coup supporters, has started evacuating some of its citizens and the citizens of other nations out of Niger.
ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, also imposed sanctions. But Guinea, whose leader Mamady Doumbouya recently came to power through a coup, denounced that measure.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he spoke to Niger President Bazoum late Tuesday and reiterated the United States’ and its partners’ support for democratic governance.
The U.S. recently granted $504 million to finance an infrastructure regional project connecting Niamey and the Benin port city of Cotonou. That, along with other projects, could be affected, said Michael Shurkin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and the director of global programs at 14 North strategies, an Africa-focused business advisory group.
“The truth remains that Tchiani, the coup leader is putting all of this in jeopardy. He’s put all the U.S. aid in jeopardy. He’s already lost the French’s budget support. The French have cut their aid, the U.S. might eventually cut its aid, U.S. probably will cut security assistance.”
While some say the international community’s responses to the coup are highly appropriate, Shurkin said the cutoff in aid might have other consequences.
“Six months from now, if the French are gone out of the area, the Americans are packing up, the E.U. is packing up, realistically, and the economy is tanking, I see the Nigerien leader will play populous politics, step up the anti-French rhetoric and reach out to the Russians, this all seems very plausible to me.”
For now, all eyes are on Niger as the deadline to return power to Bazoum draws near.