With ECOWAS exit, Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger leave democratic transition in limbo

The announcement that Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso will withdraw from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) “without delay” has put an abrupt end to fractious talks on organising elections and reinstating civilian rule. With their emphasis on restoring “national sovereignty” and driving out terrorist groups, the three West African countries’ military governments have made it clear that organising elections is not their primary concern.   

Since successive coups in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has been trying to get the countries’ military leaders to commit to holding elections to reinstate civilian governments.  

Despite the heavy sanctions imposed, fractious negotiations between the three West African countries and ECOWAS have failed to produce tangible results. In their joint withdrawal announcement on January 28, the interim leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger criticised the West African regional organisation for its lack of support in the fight against terrorism and for adopting “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane” punitive measures. Their exit marks the end of negotiations regarding each country’s electoral timetable, which the military governments had shown little inclination to put in place. 

In Mali, the first country to be affected by the wave of coups that has spread across West Africa in recent years, talks initiated by ECOWAS on the duration of the transition period have seen many twists and turns. Following the August 2020 coup that toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, ECOWAS imposed an economic embargo, closing its borders with the country while maintaining deliveries of essential goods. The military then installed a civilian government committed to holding elections within two years, scheduled for February 27, 2022. However, a second putsch in May 2021 shattered this promise. 

Speaking to FRANCE 24 months after the second coup, Mali’s Prime Minister Choguel Maiga described the February 2022 deadline as unrealistic. “It is better to have a few more weeks, even a few more months” than to have another post-electoral crisis, like the one that led to the fall of President Keïta, he said.   

Since then, the length of the transition period has changed several times. At the end of December 2021, following a “national consultation”, Mali’s interim President Assimi Goïta proposed extending it by five years. This was later reduced to two years under pressure from ECOWAS. Before announcing their withdrawal from the West African regional organisation, the Malian authorities had again postponed the presidential election, scheduled for February 4, 2024, for “technical reasons”, without giving a new date. 

Prioritising fight against terrorism  

The electoral timetable established for Burkina Faso has also been consigned to oblivion. Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who overthrew President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré in January 2022, had pledged to hold elections in July 2024 until he himself was overthrown by the young Captain Ibrahim Traoré in September 2022. Traoré initially said that he wanted to respect this timetable, but then changed his mind. “It’s not a priority, I’ll tell you that clearly, security is the priority,” he said, when asked about holding elections a year later.  

In Niger, which has been less affected by terrorist attacks by groups linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group, coup leaders have also justified their actions by citing the “deteriorating security situation”

Read moreNiger coup brings France’s complicated relationship with its former colonies into the spotlight

Following the July 2023 coup, ECOWAS once again entered into negotiations with a military junta to establish an electoral timetable. It threatened the new leaders with military intervention in order to re-establish constitutional order, but failed to bring them to heel.   

“These military regimes’ approach, which consists of prioritising the fight against terrorism over the question of democracy, effectively puts the return to constitutional order at risk, because no one knows when security will return,” said Abba Seidik, a journalist specialising in the Sahel. “It’s true that the situation in Burkina Faso is particularly difficult, but what about in Mali, where the authorities have regained control of Kidal [a town in northern Mali]? Or Niger, where it was possible to hold a presidential election at the end of 2020? Not all situations are identical. Although elections may not have been the primary reason why the three countries withdrew from ECOWAS, it is worth mentioning that [their exit from the group] removes any possibility of applying pressure in this area.” 

Military populism 

The three countries’ decision to leave ECOWAS is further evidence of the regional organisation’s failure to negotiate a return to civilian rule, said Thierry Vircoulon, a Sub-Saharan Africa expert at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI). 

“The commitments by Mali and Burkina Faso’s military governments to hold elections were part of a dialogue with ECOWAS that had already failed,” said Vircoulon. “The elections were already doomed and leaving ECOWAS is just the latest proof of this. These countries practise a form of populist militarism; they have no intention of facing up to election results and are organising popular mobilisations to legitimise themselves.” 

“Regional partners and the international community continue to press them to hold elections – as does a silent segment of their population, which we should not forget,” said Seidik. “But these people are living in a society where freedom of expression has been considerably curtailed. In Mali, critical positions expose people to online lynching campaigns, and it is even worse in Burkina Faso, where we have seen that people can be arrested for criticising the authorities.” 

In Mali’s capital Bamako, very few people spoke out against the decision to leave ECOWAS. The February 20 Coalition (Appel du 20 février), which includes opposition political parties and civil society movements critical of the transitional authorities, issued a press release, denouncing a decision “taken without any form of democratic debate”.  

Meanwhile, the military leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger – united under the banner of the Alliance of Sahel States, a mutual defence pact established in September 2023 –organised “large mobilisations of support” on February 1 to celebrate a “courageous and historic” decision. 

In an interview with former RFI journalist Alain Foka shortly after the ECOWAS exit, Burkina Faso’s interim leader Traoré declined to commit to an election timetable. “There must be a minimum of security so that, if there is an electoral campaign, people can go anywhere in Burkina Faso to explain their ideas,” he said, before touting the army’s accomplishments. “You have to know how to awaken patriotism in a people, to give them confidence, to know that their homeland is the only thing they have left,” he added. “That’s what we’ve managed to do.”

This article has been translated from the original in French

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‘A real blow for the junta’: Myanmar’s ethnic groups launch unprecedented armed resistance

Fighting in Myanmar between the military junta and an alliance of ethnic armed groups has intensified since late October after an unprecedented offensive in the country’s north exposed the junta’s struggles on the ground. The UN called for all sides to respect international law in a statement on Friday, saying that more than 70 civilians had already been killed and some 200,000 displaced by the upsurge in violence. 

Myanmar’s army, known as the Tatmadaw, has been fighting against simultaneous offensives launched by ethnic armed groups in several regions across the country since late October.

“It’s the biggest challenge that the military junta has had to face since the coup d’état of February 1, 2021,” said Thomas Kean, a specialist on Myanmar at the International Crisis Group, an NGO that monitors global conflicts. 

Fighting erupted over the weekend in Shan, Kachin and Chin states in the country’s north as well as in Rakhine State in the west, where an informal ceasefire had been in place for almost a year until early last week. Armed groups have taken the fight to the Tatmadaw in Kayah State in the country’s east, according to Kean. At least 70 civilians, including children, have been killed since the fighting erupted in earnest on October 27, and more than 90 wounded and more than 200,000 displaced, according to a UN statement released Friday. 

Operation 1027

Dubbed “Operation 1027”, the offensive began on October 27 in northern Shan State on the Chinese border. Three armed groups – the Ta’ang National Liberation Army, the Arakan Army and the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army – have joined forces under the Three Brotherhood Alliance moniker. 

Myanmar’s borderlands are home to dozens of ethnic armed groups that have fought against the military on and off since the country’s independence in 1948. Since the Tatmadaw toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in a February 2021 coup, some of these groups have been active in training the People’s Defence Forces that emerged to resist the putsch. 

“Helped by resistance groups formed after the coup, hundreds of experienced and fairly well-armed fighters managed to simultaneously attack key junta sites. They seized several towns and villages in the region, took control of military outposts and cut off important trade routes to China,” Kean said, adding that the attack had been “the junta’s biggest setback in the field for a long time”. 

Read moreMyanmar rebels’ offensive: Junta faces biggest threat since 2021 coup

Officially, the aim of the joint offensive was to crack down on the criminal activities that have proliferated in these borderlands, particularly in the Chinese-speaking region of Kokang. Kokang has been dominated since 2009 by a pro-junta militia that has grown wealthy through drug production and other kinds of illegal trafficking, including sex work and online fraud operations. The Chinese government has increasingly been pressuring governments across Southeast Asia to clamp down on the flourishing cyber-scam industry, in which gangs have held thousands of Chinese nationals captive in crowded compounds and forced them to target people across mainland China and beyond with online scams.

“Since May, Beijing has been asking the Myanmar military to step up control of its border militia, to no avail,” Kean explained. “So the Three Brotherhood Alliance has taken advantage of this junta inaction to launch its attacks under the guise of fighting crime.” It’s a way, he said, for the alliance to carry out its assault without risking a negative reaction from China.

“It was also a way to strike a diplomatic blow against the junta, a traditional ally of Beijing,” said Kyaw Win, director of the UK-based Burma Human Rights Network. Not long after the attack, Beijing had shown “its strong dissatisfaction”, deploring the Chinese casualties in Kokang. 

“And China is supposed to be building a major rail link through Kokang as part of its ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. So it wants stability on its border,” he added. “Now, faced with this offensive, the junta no longer seems able to guarantee it.”

Chain reaction

The Three Brotherhood Alliance’s offensive in the north seems to have set off a chain reaction across the country. “These victories have, in a way, galvanised the country’s armed groups,” Kean said.

On November 6, armed groups announced that they had seized control of Kawlin, a town of 25,000 people in the Sagaing region. The next day, resistance forces said they had taken Khampat, a town in the country’s west. 

“And so the fighting gradually spread, with fronts in several regions,” Win said. “Today, according to figures put forward by the various ethnic groups, the army has lost around a hundred military posts and control of some fifty towns and villages. The ethnic groups have also managed to seize numerous weapons and vehicles.”

The campaign has not gone unanswered. By November 2, junta chief Min Aung Hlaing had promised to launch a counter-attack in the country’s north. “We will take the necessary action to counter acts of terrorism,” he warned, announcing an emergency meeting with his military leaders.

But faced with a war on many fronts, the Tatmadaw seems to be exposing its weaknesses rather than its much-vaunted military might. 

“As has often been the case since the beginning of the civil war, it retaliates with air strikes, but its mobile forces on the ground appear limited and overwhelmed,” Kean said.

The Tatmadaw has been grappling with a shortage of fighters seizing power in February 2021. In an analysis published in May, researcher Ye Myo Hein estimated that “the army currently has around 150,000 personnel, including 70,000 combat soldiers”. According to his estimates, at least 21,000 soldiers have been killed or else deserted or defected.

“What the current situation shows is that the pressure on the Burmese army is stronger than ever,” Win said. “Today, it lacks men and resources. Every day, it loses ground in the countryside and is gradually confined to the big cities like Yangon and Mandalay.”

“The Tatmadaw can now collapse,” he said, calling the international community to action. “The time is now or never to act and restore peace to Burma.” 

A turning point?

Kean was more cautious in his appraisal of the situation.

“It’s true that recent events show that the military is at a critical juncture. Until now, it had never lost so much ground or even entire towns”, he said. “But it has already shown in the past that it is capable of reversing the trend. The question over the next few weeks will be whether or not it will be able to recover the lost territory.”

Before seeing the regime “surrender”, “it is more likely that the army will redouble its efforts to regain the upper hand, and that this will lead to an increase in violence and bombing”, Kean said. “The country risks sinking into an ever more brutal spiral where civilians will pay a heavy price.” 

There is one actor, though, that could turn the tables at any moment: China. 

“Even if Beijing has so far largely let the fighting take its course in Shan State, this may not last,” Kean said. “Beijing has far more influence over events on its border than any other international actor. China can just as easily put pressure on ethnic groups as on the junta to end the fighting and bog down the conflict in a status quo.”

This article has been adapted from the original in French.

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Attempted coup in Gabon aims to remove President Ali Bongo from power and end 50-year dynasty

Leading military figures in Gabon announced on Wednesday that they had placed President Ali Bongo Ondimba under house arrest in a bid to remove him from power after 14 years. The attempted coup comes days after Bongo was re-elected as president for the third time – a role he inherited from his father, former president Omar Bongo.

Ali Bongo’s victory in his third election campaign was announced early Wednesday morning by the Gabonese Election Centre amid fears of unrest in the central African country. 

Before the results came in, opposition figures were already raising concernes over the transparency and legitimacy of the election – accusations which have plagued Bongo, 64, since he first ran for president in 2009. 

The 2009 vote, from which Bongo emerged as the victorious candidate for the Gabonese Democratic Party, came two months after the death of his father, Omar Bongo, who had founded the party. Omar Bongo ruled Gabon for nearly 42 years and his son had served under him as defence minister. 

Amid accusations the vote had been rigged, the country’s economic capital Port-Gentil was rocked by deadly protests

When Bongo was re-elected seven years later in 2016, violent protests broke out and angry crowds torched the country’s parliament. Around 20 people were killed in unrest that was eventually quashed by police. 

Meanwhile, the second-time president, backed by Gabon’s courts, rejected reports from EU observers that there was a “clear anomaly” in the election results.  

“Since 2016, there has been no progress in public freedoms in Gabon. Opponents can express themselves, but they know that there are limits,” journalist and specialist in African studies Antoine Glaser told FRANCE 24. “They have known for a long time that they can easily end up in prison, as happened during the last presidential election.” 

Family legacy 

Bongo’s presidency has, in many ways, followed his father’s template.  

Omar Bongo took office in 1967 seven years after Gabon claimed independence from French colonial rule. During his presidency, Bongo senior was a champion of Françafrique, a system through which France maintained a sphere of influence in sub-Saharan Africa while giving veteran African leaders security guarantees. 

Amid public pressure and social unrest, Bongo in 1990 introduced a multi-parti system in Gabon, yet still won three elections from 1993-2005, all of which were contested or followed by violence.   

During his presidency, Bongo senior had the reputation of a kleptocrat – one of the richest men in the world, with a fortune stolen from Gabon’s oil wealth. 

In terms of per-capita GDP, Gabon is one of the richest countries in Africa and oil accounts for 60 percent of the country’s revenues, but a third of the population still lives below the poverty line of $5.50 per day, according to the World Bank. 

The late president allegedly pocketed millions in embezzled funds according to US and French investigations.  

Accusations of corruption have passed from father to son. The Pandora Papers investigation in 2021 found that Ali Bongo has connections to secretive offshore entities in international tax havens. 

French investigators in 2022 charged four of Bongo’s siblings with embezzlement and corruption, and believe both Omar and Ali Bongo knowingly benefited from a fraudulently acquired real estate empire worth at least €85 million. 

Distance from France

As president, Bongo junior has also made his mark, particularly on the international stage.  

Gabon is now recognised as an environmental leader due to successful efforts to safeguard its rainforests and rebuild wild elephant populations. 

Read moreEarth’s ‘green lung’ rainforests take centre stage at talks in Gabon

Ali Bongo’s presidency has also been marked by a distancing from France. When he first came to power in 2009, Bongo recalled Gabon’s ambassador to Paris after France’s prime minister appeared to question the legitimacy of his election. 

“Ali Bongo has never stopped distancing himself from Paris,” said Glaser. “His favourite capital is London and he has very good relations with the Americans, with China and also with Muslim countries, including Morocco. In the post-colonial period, if there’s one [African] country that has truly gone global, it’s Gabon.” 

But France continues to have a complicated relationship with its oil-rich former colony. Earlier this year, when French President Emmanuel Macron went on a four-nation African tour, Gabon was his first stop.

While Macron declared, “Our interest is first and foremost democracy,” as well as economic partnerships, his visit was viewed by many Gabonese people as giving a political boost to Bongo in the run-up to the August presidential elections.

Clinging to power 

Gabon has now been ruled by the same family for more than 55 out of its 63 years since independence from France in 1960. Many inhabitants have only known life under the Bongo family.  

“It’s a family that knows how to cling to power,” said Glaser. 

Wednesday’s coup is the second that Ali Bongo has faced during his presidency.  

During his second term, Bongo suffered a stroke in 2018 that sidelined him for 10 months. He spent the period recuperating in Morocco.  

While he was out of the country, Gabonese security forces foiled an attempted coup in January 2019 during which a small group of plotters took over the state radio and urged the people of Gabon to “rise up” against the Bongo family’s 50-year rule. 

The plotters were captured by security forces hours later and two of the amateur group, who had little military support, were killed.  

“For all its lack of preparedness, the attempted takeover carried a political message, one that highlights the deep distress of the people of Gabon,” researcher Amadou Ba, a member of the Africa Group at the Institute for European Prospective and Security (IPSE) in Paris told FRANCE 24.  

The failed coup was followed by a doomed attempt by Bongo’s chief of staff, Brice Laccruche Alihanga, to oust the sick president from power. Laccruche Alihanga was sidelined to a ministry position in which he held no powers before being ousted from government altogether and eventually arrested in December 2019 on accusations of corruption.  

Bongo emerged from his convalescence physically weakened. In videos his speech was slurred and the right side of his body appeared partially paralysed. But his grip on power, although shaken, remained intact. 

(With AFP)

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Why is ECOWAS hesitant over military intervention in Niger

The West Africans blocs’ deadline for military intervention in Niger lapsed on Sunday and while ECOWAS has signaled they will pursue diplomatic solutions, military action remains on the table. Asides from the potential catastrophic loss of life, there are practical, political, strategic and legal reasons why an intervention is potentially unfeasible to accomplish.

Issued on:

4 min

After being unanimously elected as chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in July, Nigerian President Bola Tinubu declared the organisation must promote democracy in a region plagued by coups over the past decade. “We must not be toothless bulldogs,” Tinubu said, “We must stand firm on democracy … Democracy is very difficult to manage but it is the best form of government.”

In less than a month in the top ECOWAS seat, Tinubu is facing his first major test. After the coup in Niger on July 26, ECOWAS gave the perpetrating junta an ultimatum to free President Mohamed Bazoum and reestablish order or face a full military intervention.

As the deadline came and went Sunday evening, the junta reaffirmed their and closed Niger’s airspace – indicating that they are taking their neighbours’ threats seriously.

F24 analyse Niger


 

Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal have endorsed the Nigeria-led plan to intervene in Niger but political support among ECOWAS members is far from uniform. Benin for instance, has said it will not send troops.

Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal have endorsed Nigeria’s plan to militarily intervene in Niger but political support among ECOWAS members is not universal. Benin for instance, has said that it will not send troops.

More problematic says Ezenwa Olumba, a specialist in West African sub-region at the UK’s Royal Holloway University, are the governments in Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea who are actively undermining ECOWAS plans.

These military governments – who themselves got into power via coups and are suspended from ECOWAS – said they consider any intervention by ECOWAS, a “declaration of war” and have signalled they will throw their support behind Niger.

Coup leader closes airspace


‘Miscalculation from Tinubu’

Olumba says this has all been a major miscalculation by Tinubu. “[Tinubu] rushed to give an ultimatum to the military leaders in Niger without even talking to Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso … he didn’t know they would support Niger,” says Olumba, “Essentially, Nigeria would be at war with Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Guinea.”

This, and other considerations, have spurred non-ECOWAS regional players Algeria and Chad to strongly condemn Nigeria’s idea, saying any military action risks escalating into a broader regional conflict. Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune told state television it would be “a direct threat” to his country that shares a 1000-kilometre border with Niger.

Even within Nigeria, ECOWAS’s military powerhouse and the driving force behind a possible intervention in Niger, there are dissenting voices. On Friday evening, the largest opposition coalition railed against what they say is a “not only pointless but irresponsible” military action.

“For several days now, politicians have been calling on ECOWAS to give priority to negotiation. Despite a majority, President Tinubu knows that he will have his work cut out to obtain Senate approval to commit Nigerian soldiers”, reported Moïse Gomis, FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Abuja.

Politicians in the north of Nigeria have drawn attention to the military’s ongoing conflict with escalating jihadist violence in the region, casting doubt over whether the country can afford to tackle Niger militarily.

Regional tension


 

Though if this problem besets Nigeria, it is far more of a problem for Niger’s allies Mali and Burkina Faso, Dominique Trinquand, stated the former head of France’s military mission to the UN. “Mali and Burkina Faso, have a lot to do with jihadists in their own countries, they will not have enough forces to sacrifice for a conflict in Niger … the military advantage rests with ECOWAS” Trinquand told FRANCE 24

If Tinubu does manage to muster the necessary political will to intervene in Niger, Russia – which has endorsed the coup – and its veto power on the UN security council leave little hope West African countries would attain a legal mandate to follow through on its policy. This would set a new precedent as it was not the case in 2017 when ECOWAS entered the Gambia to facilitate the peaceful transfer of power. 

ECOWAS announced Monday it will reconvene Thursday to map out its next steps. For the time being, the bloc’s leader Nigeria seems blocked into a non-military solution. 


 

“The primary objective is to hope that the sanctions and other target measures result in the military restoring constitutional rule and therefore not needing a military intervention,” says  Dr Vines, Director of the Africa Programme Chatham House. “I think we shouldn’t expect a military intervention immediately.”

Though one wildcard is Tinubu himself. After investing a lot of political capital into resolving the situation and threatening an intervention, backing down now could result in a loss of credibility that may be hard to stomach for the new leader of Nigeria and ECOWAS.

“Tinubu is someone who doesn’t want to lose face, he’s a diehard. He’s someone who wants to realise what he says … he will not want to back down,” says Ezenwa Olumba.



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‘In the fight against jihadist groups, Niger has no better allies than France and the US’

On Thursday August 3, the military junta who took control of Niger at the end of July said they would cut military ties with their previous allies, the US and France. This could redefine the fight against the far-reaching jihadists groups in the region. Wassim Nasr, FRANCE 24 Expert in Jihadist Groups, explains the impact this new policy could have.

To the consternation of France and the US, soldiers in Niger detained the country’s President Mohamed Bazoum at his home on July 26 and declared a coup. Despite this condemnation of the coup, they have not intervened. And the newly installed junta has made numerous diplomatic swipes against France and the US’s condemnation of the coup and scrapped its military pacts with France.

Niger is of particular strategic value to both the US and France, with both countries having a significant military presence in the West African nation. Over a thousand troops from each country are based there, deployed to help fight the surge in jihadist attacks in the region. US President Joe Biden’s administration sees the country as its best counterterrorism outpost in the unstable Sahel region. France promptly refused to withdraw its military, stating that only “legitimate” authorities were entitled to ask it to.

Abandoning Niger risks not only a surge in jihadist groups but an ever-greater influence by Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, which is present in several countries of the Sahel region.

 

FRANCE 24’s Jihadist Group’s Expert Wassim Nasr explains the impacts of a potential end to military cooperation between Niger and its Western allies, France and the US.

FRANCE 24: On Thursday, Niger’s ambassador to the USA Kiari Liman-Tinguiri called on the junta to “come to reason” and warned that if Niger collapses, the “entire Sahel” region could fall to jihadists.

He went on to say jihadist groups could “control Africa from the coast to the Mediterranean” [and thus Europe].

Do you share his fears?

Wassim Nasr: I think that it is a bit of an exaggeration. But if Niger enters a phase of chaos, that will surely benefit jihadist groups.

We should define what “chaos” means in this context. One thing is certain, if the military junta stays in power, the policies implemented under President Mohamed Bazoum will unravel.

Supported on the ground by French and US forces, as well as an increasing number of drone purchases, the president waged a war against the terrorists militarily. 

The multidimensional battles he fought against the jihadist groups was based on a three-pronged logic: “negotiate, develop, wage war”. 

The government managed to conduct negotiations with al Qaeda and in parallel, pursued a policy of “jihadist demobilization”. Niger’s authorities “took” jihadist fighters and reintegrated them into local security forces, like in the Diffa and Tillaberi regions.

The government also implemented a development policy, specifically aimed at tackling land issues and agrarian reforms.

All these elements combined meant that, compared to neighbouring countries like Mali or Burkina Faso, Niger saw far fewer attacks and deaths brought on by jihadist groups. If these multidimensional efforts come to an end, security will certainly deteriorate.

But the policies already belong to the past. Military cooperation with France ended as soon as the junta claimed power, making room for jihadist groups [in the region]. And they could choose to follow the same path Burkina Faso or Mali’s junta took, a “fully military” approach with all of the acts of violence against civilians that come with it. That violence makes it mathematically easier for jihadist groups to recruit members. Bereaved by the army, civilians become driven by a desire for revenge.

What about the potential spread of jihadist groups in the region Liam-Tinguiri alluded to?

Beyond Niger, the Islamic State group (IS group) could benefit from the crisis by establishing a corridor between Lake Chad and the Sahel region. It would facilitate the transit of military commanders, fighters and jihadist recruits, who could replenish the ranks of the IS group in the Sahel.

 

© Studio graphique France Médias Monde

 

Al Qaeda has been standing in the way of the IS group. The two are in conflict, particularly in the three border regions [Edit: between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger].

But if the Islamic State group becomes stronger and was to gain the upper hand over al Qaeda, the doors to countries in the Gulf of Guinea would open.

If Russia’s Wagner group admit they are present in Niger, what consequences would this have?

On the ground, the Wagner group doesn’t contribute much security-wise to the junta. In the fight against jihadist groups, Niamey had no better allies than France and the US. The Russians are not efficient in that regard.

The case in Mali bears witness to this (when in 2022, French troops gradually left the country, leaving room for Russian mercenaries to take over). For the past year and a half, jihadist attacks have multiplied in the country and the IS group now has a sanctuary there. It even benefits from a no-fly zone that protects jihadist groups.

For the junta in Niger on the other hand, the drive to gain support from Wagner is political, as they need allies to stay in power. The Wagner group is not Russia, but since it works in Moscow’s interests, it’s associated with the Kremlin.

This vague relationship poses a political dilemma for France, who is asking itself: “Should we strike Wagner or not?” For the junta, the mercenary group acts as a shield against foreign intervention and strengthens them in relation to their rivals inside the country.

The US army has a drone base in northern Niger, in Agadez. If it shuts down, what consequences would that have?

The drone base is a fundamental factor. Let’s not forget that it is now impossible for a foreign presence to stay in Niger without the consent of the junta. From their point of view, tolerating a US presence would be tantamount to accepting the current situation. That is why keeping the drone base doesn’t seem like a plausible outcome [for the Junta].

Washington and Paris are fully aware of the importance of this local security bolt hole. If it breaks, others will follow.

This US drone base may be based in Niger, but it doesn’t concern the country so much as the region as a whole. It covers the entire Sahel.

 

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Safety of French nationals is ‘only priority’ in Niger, says foreign minister

France’s foreign minister on Monday denied accusations from Niger’s junta that Paris is plotting military action to support ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. The deposed leader has been held by Niger’s military since Wednesday, while the head of the presidential guard, Abdourahamane Tiani, has declared himself the country’s new leader. Follow our blog to see how the day’s events unfolded. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

This live blog is no longer being updated. 

8:12pm: Foreign minister denies accusations that French military plans to intervene in Niger

France’s foreign minister on Monday denied accusations from Niger’s new junta that Paris is plotting to intervene militarily in Niger.

The putschists in Niamey had earlier in the day said that France planned to take military action, with the authorisation of members of deposed President Mohamed Bazoum’s government.

In an address on state television, Colonel Amadou Abdramane, one of the coup plotters, said the ousted government had authorised France to carry out strikes on the presidential palace through a statement signed by Bazoum’s foreign minister, Hassoumi Massoudou, acting as prime minister.

 

 

Abdramane did not specify what kind of strikes and did not give any evidence to back up his assertion.

FRANCE 24 spoke to French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna who denied the claims. “France’s only priority is the safety of our nationals.”

“This situation is worrying. It has been for the past three days, with the ongoing coup attempt and the violent, organized and planned demonstrations against the embassy. We are monitoring the situation very closely. All security measures have been reinforced in order to be ready for any eventuality”

4:35pm: France says no lethal means used in response to attack on Niger embassy

French security forces did not use lethal means to respond when supporters of Niger’s military junta attacked the French embassy in Niamey on Sunday, France’s foreign ministry said on Monday.

2:46pm: Niger junta arresting ministers, says president’s party

Four ministers in Niger, a former minister and the head of ousted president Mohamed Bazoum’s party have been arrested by the junta which seized power on July 26, the party said on Monday.

“After the president was detained last week, the putschists went on the attack again and carried out more arrests,” the overthrown Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) said in a statement to AFP.

On Monday morning, Oil Minister Mahamane Sani Mahamadou – the son of influential former president Mahamadou Issoufou – and Mining Minister Ousseini Hadizatou were arrested, it said.

The head of the PNDS’s national executive committee, Fourmakoye Gado, was also arrested, it said.

The junta had previously arrested Interior Minister Hama Amadou Souley, Transport Minister Oumarou Malam Alma and Kalla Moutari, an MP and former defence minister the party said.

The arrests coincided with a statement by the junta requiring “all former ministers and heads of institutions” to hand back their office cars by noon.

Arrests


 

2:42pm: Niger’s planned $51mn bond issuance cancelled due to sanctions

A planned 30 billion CFA francs ($51 million) bond issuance by Niger scheduled for Monday in the West African regional debt market has been cancelled by the regional central bank following sanctions after the coup, market sources said.

West African leaders on Sunday imposed sanctions on Niger, including stopping all finance market transactions and a national assets freeze, to try to force the junta to restore constitutional order.

Niger, which is one of the world’s poorest countries and largely depends on external aid and financing, was expected to issue two other bonds in the regional market on August 7 and August 17, according to an issuance calendar of a regional debt management agency.

12:48pm: Only legitimate authority in Niger is Bazoum’s, says French foreign ministry

The only authority France recognises as legitimate in Niger is President Mohamed Bazoum’s,the French foreign ministry said on Monday when asked if it had obtained authorisation from Niger to carry out strikes to free the ousted leader.

The Niger military junta that seized power last week said on Monday the toppled government had authorised France to carry out strikes at the presidency to try to free Bazoum.

“Our priority is the security of our citizens and our facilities, which cannot be targeted by violence, according to international law,” the French foreign ministry added in a statement given to Reuters.

It did not confirm or deny being authorised to strike in Niger.

12:40pm: Germany suspends financial aid, development cooperation with Niger

Germany said Monday it had suspended financial aid to Niger as well as development cooperation with the jihadist-hit nation following last week’s coup, and warned it could take further measures.

Berlin has “suspended all direct support payments to the central government of Niger until further notice,” a foreign ministry spokesman told a press briefing.

“Depending on developments in the coming days, we may take further measures,” the spokesman added, without giving further details.

The development ministry had also decided to “suspend bilateral development cooperation,” a spokeswoman told the briefing.

The European Union and former colonial power France had already suspended financial aid to Niger and security cooperation at the weekend.

Talks on Niger


 

12:05pm: Kremlin calls for ‘restraint from all parties’ in Niger

The Kremlin on Monday asked all sides to exercise restraint in Niger, where a junta seized power last week in a coup and detained President Mohamed Bazoum.

“We call for the rapid restoration of the rule of law in the country and for restraint from all parties so that this doesn’t result in human casualties,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

9:58am: Niger putschists accuse France of wanting to ‘intervene militarily’

Niger’s new junta on Monday accused former colonial ruler France of wanting to “intervene militarily” to reinstate deposed President Mohamed Bazoum.

“In its search for ways and means to intervene militarily in Niger, France with the complicity of some Nigeriens, held a meeting with the chief of staff of the Nigerien national guard to obtain the necessary political and military authorisation needed,” said a statement read out on national television.

In another statement, the putschists accused the security services of an unnamed Western embassy of firing teargas Sunday on pro-coup demonstrators in the capital Niamey.

It said six people had been hospitalised after the incident.

French President Emmanuel Macron had Sunday vowed “immediate” action if French citizens or interests were attacked in Niger, after thousands of Nigeriens rallied outside the French embassy.

Key events in Niger so far

Niger’s elected president Mohamed Bazoum, has been held by the military since July 26, in the third coup in as many years to fell a leader in the Sahel.

The head of Niger’s powerful presidential guard, General Abdourahamane Tiani, has declared himself the country’s new leader.

Tiani said the putsch was a response to “the degradation of the security situation” linked to jihadist bloodshed, as well as corruption and economic woes.

Former colonial ruler France and the European Union have suspended security cooperation and financial aid to Niger following the coup, while the United States warned that its aid could also be at stake.

Read more‘Last bastion of democracy in the Sahel’: Uncertainty in Niger prompts concern among allies

At an emergency summit on Sunday the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) gave Tiani one week to reinstate the country’s democratically elected president and have threatened to use force if the demands aren’t met.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS and AP)



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‘Last bastion of democracy in the Sahel’: Uncertainty in Niger prompts concern among allies

The situation in Niger remained fluid on Thursday, a day after members of the presidential guard detained President Mohamed Bazoum at the presidential palace in Niamey. FRANCE 24 spoke with Danielle Resnick, a political scientist specialising in sub-Saharan Africa at the Brookings Institution, about how a military coup could affect Niger’s relations with regional and Western allies, and what it might mean for Russian influence on the African continent. 

Niger’s army command on Thursday declared its support for a rebellion launched a day earlier by members of the presidential guard, saying its priority is to avoid destabilising the country. In a statement on behalf of military command, General Abdou Sidikou Issa said it “has decided to subscribe to the declaration made by the Defence and Security Forces … in order to avoid a deadly confrontation between the various forces”. 

Earlier in the day, Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum posted on the X social media site – formerly known as Twitter – that he intended to protect the “hard-won” democratic gains made in a country that saw four coups since gaining independence from France in 1960. Niger’s minister of foreign affairs, Hassoumi Massoudou, seconded this, telling FRANCE 24 on Thursday that “there was an attempted coup, but of course we cannot accept it”. He also called for the president’s unconditional release and said talks with the rebelling soldiers were ongoing. 

Bazoum, a former interior minister, took office in 2021, marking Niger’s first-ever democratic transition. Seen as one of the most pro-Western leaders in the Sahel, notably in the fight against Islamist insurgents, his detention drew quick condemnation from the UN as well as Western capitals.

Read moreNiger becomes France’s partner of last resort after Mali withdrawal 

UN chief Antonio Guterres called Thursday for Bazoum to be released “immediately and unconditionally”, telling the soldiers to “Stop obstructing the democratic governance of the country and respect the rule of law.” French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna wrote on X that Paris “strongly condemns any attempt to seize power by force and joins the calls of the African Union and ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) to restore the integrity of Niger’s democratic institutions”. Germany’s foreign ministry said it was following events in Niger with “very great concern” and called for Bazoum to be released immediately, echoing an earlier statement from the White House urging ” elements of the presidential guard to release President Bazoum from detention and refrain from violence”. 

FRANCE 24 spoke with Danielle Resnick, a political scientist specialising in sub-Saharan Africa at the Brookings Institution, to get an understanding of how events in Niger could affect relations with its regional and Western allies, and what it might mean for Russian influence on the African continent. 

FRANCE 24: This coup attempt has targeted the last pro-Western leader in the Sahel’s “three borders” area of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. What does this mean for Western relations with Niger, which is seen as an important ally in the fight against jihadism?  

Danielle Resnick: This attempted coup is a rapidly evolving event at the moment and so it is obviously difficult to speculate. Many are worried because French troops that had been stationed in Mali were sent to Niger, which was seen as the last bastion of democracy in the Sahel region. Niger has had its own history of coups, but eventually transitioned to democracy in 2021, which was seen as a turning point for this poor country prone to instability. The West had made much effort to bolster this democratic regime that has a number of valuable resources, because even once transitioned to a democracy there were many threats that it would be overturned. Because of Niger’s recent relative stability, transition to democracy and pro-West orientation, it has been viewed as both a key partner in addressing humanitarian crises in the entire region and an important partner in addressing insurgent conflict across the Sahel. It is also seen as a last domino against military takeover and has many resources like uranium, which has been key for French energy needs. 

It’s an open question whether this attempted coup is a manifestation of anti-Western sentiment or whether it is just an indication of internal [divisions] between President Bazoum, the presidential guard and the military. In April of this year, Bazoum replaced the army chief of staff and the head of the national gendarmerie, which led to some disgruntlement among officers. He has also tried to make some reforms to the presidential guard, which was set up by his predecessor, Mahamadou Issoufou, as a way of forestalling coups by the army. This technique of trying to prevent the army from overthrowing a president by setting up a parallel force has been used elsewhere, such as by the former Sudanese president, who set up the RSF (Rapid Support Forces) as a counterweight to the Sudan Armed Forces.

If the West decides to isolate the new regime, it is possible that it will turn towards groups like the Wagner Group and Russia to support their efforts and gain legitimacy. I believe this would be catastrophic for any efforts to restore stability in the region because right now there is a confluence of junta governments, Islamic insurgents, and other non-state actors like Wagner in the Sahel that are involved in mineral extraction that are not at all concerned about maintaining democratic rule. The situation hinges on whether the military takes over and how much the West tries to isolate it or engage diplomatically with a military government to try to get it to return to civilian rule. 

Niger has traditionally been a fragile state, one that hasn’t been able to exert its full power over all its massive territory. Niger has had a series of coups and several recent coup attempts. There was an attempt relatively soon after the current president was elected and a failed coup in 2015. However, these parallel military structures create jealousy over time. Although the military members who took part in this attempted coup claim they did so because of corruption and insurgent violence, a lot of signs point to Bazoum’s decision to remove General Abdourahmane Tchiani from command of the presidential guard, who was then able to get other military actors to support their actions in this coup.  

One of the speculations is that General Tchiani, who was responsible for the failed 2015 coup, is also behind this coup, as Bazoum wanted to replace him as head of the presidential guard. He hasn’t appeared in the videos posted by the military personnel, but it’s possible that he’s been fuelling discontent and pushing for this coup. 

It will be interesting to see whether this coup is addressed in the Russia-Africa summit currently taking place. How it is addressed and if it is acknowledged will give some early indication as to whether Russia sees this as an extra opportunity in the region. 

How does this attempted coup impact the African Union, ECOWAS and other countries in the region? 

This coup is a test for these institutions. However, they have already failed to exert much influence over its member states since the range of military coups in the Sahel that started in 2020 (Mali in 2020 and 2021, Burkina Faso in 2022). ECOWAS claims it won’t recognise or allow military leaders to run in elections, and yet we’ve seen Mali recently pass a referendum which will allow military leaders to run in elections next year. The African Union hasn’t had much influence in convincing member states to adhere to democratic norms. It has been unsuccessful in mediating in Sudan, as we’ve seen other powers take over that role. If Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu – who is the current president of ECOWAS – is able to throw some weight around and encourage rapprochement between the military and civilian government, that would mark a turning point. But as of now, there is this feeling that ECOWAS doesn’t have much influence on the political and security trajectory of its member states. 

Non-state actors aren’t concerned about the democratic norms that the African Union and ECOWAS are supposed to be supporting and maintaining. There is a gap between what these institutions are aspiring to and what they can and have achieved. A lot seems to be hinging on [Benin President Patrice] Talon’s visit to Niamey as a representative of ECOWAS. We may see that ECOWAS is able to interfere in some effective way by the end of today, but ECOWAS’s record has been patchy and it will be disappointing if they’re not able to once again mediate in this context. 

Niger voted to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a March 2022 UN resolution. However, could it decide to do what countries like Mali have done and divest itself from Western powers, turning instead towards Russia?

It depends on the orientation of the military junta that takes over. It’s not necessarily a given that every military junta is going to be pro-Russia – there are variations in the degree of Russian influence across Guinea, Burkina Faso and Mali. And while Mali has allowed the Wagner Group to operate in providing training and engaging in combat operations against insurgents, discussions on this are still ongoing in places like Burkina Faso. It’s an open question. Typically, these military regimes have been pro-Russia as a way to get military support to deal with insurgent movements and Niger has at least two in the southern part of the country. In the southwest, there is spillover from Mali and from groups allied with the Islamic State and al Qaeda. In the southeast, there is a spillover from Boko Haram. So if it feels like there’s a security imperative and if the West is reluctant to support Niger with military support, it may be forced to engage with Russia and the Wagner Group, or potentially reach out to Rwanda, which has been operating as an important military partner across the continent, e.g., Mozambique and potentially in Benin. 

As Niger has a lot of natural resources, it is also possible that Niger and Russia will develop a quid pro quo approach: Russia will provide military support in exchange for Niger allowing them to extract their natural resources. Whether a military junta in Niger would lean towards Russia would depend on how major stakeholders react … If the West takes a very restrictive and isolating approach, and if the French pull out their troops despite the country’s insurgent threats, then we might see a new junta government turning towards Russia for military support.

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