Niger power struggle grinds on two months after coup

Niger’s military leaders greet supporters at a rally in Seyni-Kountché stadium in Niamey on 26 August, a day after they ordered the French ambassador to leave. (Photo: AFP)

France’s decision to withdraw its ambassador from Niger, followed by its military contingent in the next months was welcomed by Nigerien military leaders as a ‘step towards sovereignty’.

The Niger coup of July 26 sparked a power struggle that hasn’t been settled between the new military rulers and the ECOWAS regional bloc, which is supported by numerous Western countries, calling for the return of the elected president.

However, France’s plan to withdraw its troops and subsequently its ambassador by the end of the year may now help to end the standoff.

What impact have sanctions had?

Since the Economic Community of West African States forbade trade with Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, Benin and Nigeria’s borders have remained closed.

According to the United Nations, prices for rice, sorghum, and maize have all increased since the week before the revolution.

Amadou Seyni Maiga, general secretary of the Niger College of Pharmacists, stated that since September 19, the shortage rate for medications has been between 30 and 55 percent.

The UN’s advocacy “has changed ECOWAS’ position so that it takes into account humanitarian needs,” according to Louise Aubin, the UN’s humanitarian coordinator for Niger, even though “humanitarian exemptions are slow to arrive.”

Despite these medium-term worries, trade between landlocked Niger and its neighbors, including Algeria, continues, and the economic sanctions haven’t dimmed the resolve of the military leadership and its adherents.

Following the ratification of a mutual defense pact, Niamey can also rely on the junta-ruled nations of Mali and Burkina Faso in the event that its sovereignty or territorial integrity is threatened.

What’s latest on negotiations?

If diplomatic pressure to restore the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum fails, the West African regional bloc has threatened the coup leaders with military involvement.

However, it has remained largely silent over any intervention, which is thought to pose a major risk to both Niger and the surrounding area. Private disagreements among ECOWAS member states prevent any agreement from being reached.

General Abdourahamane Tiani’s military administration in Niger, which has established a government, has stated that it would want to have a maximum of three years before restoring democracy.

Associations in Niamey that are in favor of the new government claim that they are prepared for a protracted transition period.

According to a regional diplomatic source, “ECOWAS appears to be moving toward the middle ground, but they will not accept the three-year transition proposed by Niger’s military authorities.”

Has France’s position changed?

Paris continues to demand the return of Bazoum since the former colonial power has not acknowledged the authority of the military authorities who have targeted the French presence.

However, President Emmanuel Macron announced on Sunday that France will be removing its ambassador from Niger shortly, followed by a military presence in the coming months.

“France has made the decision to recall its ambassador. Our ambassador and a number of other diplomats will return to France in the coming hours,” Macron said, adding that military cooperation was “finished” and that French troops would begin to leave in “the months and weeks to come” before departing completely “before the end of the year”.

The action was hailed as a “step towards sovereignty” by the military leaders of Niger. According to earlier reports, “French aircraft” are not permitted to fly across the nation’s airspace.

Has security improved?

The Sahel region has fought violent extremist organizations for years.

Since the coup, attacks have persisted, including one on August 15 that resulted in the deaths of 17 Nigerien soldiers.

The area most severely affected by the violence is still in the southwest, where Niger’s borders intersect those of Mali and Burkina Faso.

What’s future for Bazoum?

Along with his wife and son, the elected president has remained imprisoned within the presidential residence. On Wednesday, his attorney requested that a court in the ECOWAS release him on the grounds of “arbitrary arrest,” “violation of freedom of movement,” and the need to reinstate the rule of law.

On Thursday, the coup leaders who claim to be going to court to trial Bazoum for “high treason” named about 20 of his cabinet colleagues as wanted.

The regime announced the creation of an anti-corruption committee with the goal of recovering “all public assets acquired illegally or misappropriated” on Wednesday. The regime used the deteriorating security situation and high degree of corruption to justify its power grab.

Domestic politics are now again being discussed in public after weeks of protests against ECOWAS and France, and Bazoum’s predecessor Mahamadou Issoufou, who served as president from 2011 to 2021, is not exempt either.

“The nation has been pillaged and defrauded for 12 years. Justice is the first and foremost demand, according to artist Clement Anatovi, who has organized multiple public gatherings in the city.

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