Niger coup leader gets support on the streets, with Russian flags waving, and from other post-coup regimes


Johannesburg — Hundreds of people joined demonstrations in Niger’s capital city of Niamey on Thursday, protesting against sanctions imposed on the country by many of its neighbors in the wake of a military takeover. Amid concern that Russia could seek to expand its already-growing regional influence, some coup supporters were seen brandishing Russian flags.

Anti-Western sentiment — particularly aimed at former colonial power France — has served as a backdrop for the events in Niamey since the sudden detention on July 26 of the country’s elected president by the commander of his own elite guard.

Niger Coup Defenders
Nigeriens, some holding Russian flags, participate in a march called by supporters of coup leader Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani in Niamey, Niger, July 30, 2023.

Sam Mednick/AP

Thursday’s protests came hours after the State Department ordered the evacuation of non-essential U.S. embassy staff and family members from Niger, a move that came a couple days after France and other European nations started evacuating their citizens.

“Given ongoing developments in Niger and out of an abundance of caution, the Department of State is ordering the temporary departure of non-emergency U.S. government personnel and eligible family members from the U.S. embassy in Niamey,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.

The embassy remained open for limited emergency services. Kathleen FitzGibbon, recently confirmed as the new U.S. Ambassador to Niger, was not yet in the country.

The Pentagon has suspended security cooperation with Nigerien military forces since the soldiers’ seizure of power, but the U.S. has not called the dramatic upheaval a coup, with the White House referring to it instead as an “attempted power grab.”

Pressure from abroad on a key U.S. partner nation

Niger has become an important U.S. partner in a tumultuous region of Africa. Labeling what has happened there a coup would, under U.S. law, require a review of all American assistance to the country, and likely a complete cutting of those ties. 

There was no indication that the nearly 1,100 U.S. soldiers in Niger were due to leave the country.

“There are no changes to the U.S. military force posture in Niger during the Department of State-led ordered departure,” Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said Thursday in a statement, adding that the State Department had not requested any U.S. military “personnel or equipment as part of the ordered departure.”

Niger’s elected President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been held under effective house arrest for more than a week by the commander of his own elite guard unit, and Niger have been seen as a key ally in the Sahel — a vast region across North Africa plagued by terrorism. It is also a region where Russia has managed to increase its influence in recent years, including through the deployment of Wagner Group mercenaries in Mali, which borders Niger.

How Russia’s Wagner group exploits Africa to fund the Ukraine war


On Sunday, four days after the coup, crowds of protesters attacked the French embassy in Niamey, prompting France to begin evacuation flights. France, the former colonial power in Niger which still has about 1,500 troops based in the country, working in partnership with Niger’s forces, has been accused of failing to protect the Nigerien people from Islamist extremism.

Thursday was Independence Day in Niger, marking the country’s 1960 independence from France. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Bazoum in a telephone call Wednesday that the White House remained committed to restoring his democratically elected government.

Pro-coup demonstration in Niger's capital Niamey
People, some carrying Russian flags, demonstrate in Niger’s capital Niamey to show their support for the military rulers who seized power in a July 26 coup, on August 3, 2023.

Djibo Issifou/picture alliance/Getty

President Biden, in a statement released Thursday to mark Niger’s independence, said the country was “facing a grave challenge to its democracy.”

“In this critical moment, the United States stands with the people of Niger to honor our decades-long partnership rooted in shared democratic values and support for civilian-led governance,” Mr. Biden said, adding a call “for President Bazoum and his family to be immediately released, and for the preservation of Niger’s hard-earned democracy.”

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional bloc that includes Niger and 14 of its neighbors, imposed sanctions against the country Niger and has since confirmed that it is prepared to authorize the use of force if Bazoum’s government is not restored by August 6.

Coup leader stands firm, and finds some support

In a televised address Wednesday night, coup leader Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani said his junta “rejects these sanctions altogether and refuses to give into any threats, wherever they come from.”

Tchiani called the ECOWAS sanctions against Niger “illegal, unjust and inhumane,” and insisted that he would not bow to any international pressure to reinstate Bazoum.

Head of Nigerien presidential guard Tchiani declares himself new leader after coup
Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, second from the right, and other army commanders are seen in Niger’s capital, Niamey, July 28, 2023, after claiming control over the country.

Balima Boureima/Anadolu Agency/Getty

An ECOWAS delegation led by Nigeria’s former military head of state, Gen. Abdulsalami Abukbakar, was in Niamey this week to mediate with the coup leaders, and West African defense chiefs were meeting Thursday and Friday in Abuja, Nigeria, to discuss the situation.

Nigeria’s military defense spokesperson, Brig. Gen. Tukur Gusau, told journalists “a military solution will be the last option” to resolve the crisis in neighboring Niger.

He was to present a military contingency plan, however, on Friday to ECOWAS heads of state, who will then decide on the bloc’s action if the coup leaders miss the Sunday deadline to reinstate Bazoum.

Are military coups on the rise in Africa?


Niger’s former army chief of staff, Gen. Salifou Mody, who has a role in the junta now ruling the country, travelled to Mali Wednesday to meet that country’s own post-coup transitional authorities. It was the first visit abroad by a member of Niger’s post-coup leadership. 

There was speculation in African media that Mody had travelled to Mali to discuss the possibility of Wagner forces being deployed to Niger to back up the junta. Mody later travelled to Burkina Faso, where a military coup also toppled a civilian government last year. There he met transitional leader Capt. Ibrahim.

A statement by the Burkinabe presidency said the meeting had “focused on the situation in Niger, which is calm and under control according to the head of delegation.”

Source link


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here