Niger military sends reinforcements to capital

World Tuesday 08/August/2023 09:33 AM
Niger military sends reinforcements to capital

Niamey: Just hours after the military junta in charge of the country rejected an important regional bloc's deadline to surrender control, CNN reported that Niger's armed forces have been moving reinforcements to the capital in preparation for a potential military intervention.

A convoy of about 40 pick-up trucks arrived bringing troops from other parts of the country to both reassure a nervous public and prepare for a potential battle.

Niger has been engulfed in political chaos since late last month when President Mohamed Bazoum was ousted in a coup d’etat by the presidential guard. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) responded days later by enacting sanctions and issuing an ultimatum to the ruling military junta: stand down within a week or face a potential military intervention, CNN reported.

That deadline came and went Sunday without any change in the political situation. Bazoum remains deposed and his whereabouts are still unknown to the public. The National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, the junta’s formal name, is still effectively in charge of Niger. A junta leader said Sunday that Niger’s armed forces would be closing the country’s airspace due to the threat of military intervention.

The leaders of ECOWAS have stated that they would prefer a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, but they have also reaffirmed their willingness to use force if necessary to restore the democratically elected government of Niger. On Thursday, the group is scheduled to conduct another meeting to discuss the situation, according to CNN.

ECOWAS head and former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said Monday that she believes the group will be able to find a resolution to the situation in Niger.

“I really believe that it may seem now that we are headed toward a major crisis, we are headed toward major violence and conflicts. I believe that the ECOWAS authorities will find a way out of that,” Sirleaf told CNN.

She added that ECOWAS would not “take any step that would result in the destruction of countries or the death of people.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres on Monday meanwhile said he was “concerned” over Bazoum’s continued detention, according to a statement from his spokesperson.

The uncertainty has rattled residents in Niamey, the capital. Some people flocked to supermarkets to purchase staples like rice and cooking oil in bulk, while others attempted to flee. Employees of local bus companies said most lines out of the capital were fully booked, CNN reported.

At the busy Wadata market, east of the capital’s centre, many shoppers buying food and necessities Monday voiced apprehension about what might come.

Pro-junta demonstrators, meanwhile, gathered Sunday at a 30,000-seat stadium in Niamey to voice their support for the military government and their opposition to ECOWAS sanctions, CNN reported.

Despite its wealth of resources, Niger remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Many Nigeriens, especially in the younger generation, still see France as an imperial power responsible for the prevailing poverty levels in their country.

Those who back the new military government see its rule as an opportunity to distance itself diplomatically from French influence, CNN reported.

The future of Niger’s elected government is of particular importance to the country’s democratic neighbours and Western partners. The United States and France stationed hundreds of troops, many of whom assist with counterterrorism missions, on the basis that Niger was a relatively stable democracy in a region fraught with political upheaval, terrorism and Islamist insurgencies, CNN reported.

The State Department has had direct contact with military junta leaders in Niger “urging them to step aside” in the last week to ten days, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Monday.

“There has been direct contact with military leaders. I’m not going to say at what level or with whom, but there has been direct contact with military leaders urging them to step aside,” Miller said.

Pressed on if the State Department has sent a point person to Niger to handle the country’s ongoing crisis, Miller would not get into any specific trips or meetings. Miller said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken and other senior officials have been “involved in conversations and we’ll continue to have senior officials involved in conversations.”

Niger’s democratic neighbours worry the coup could have a domino effect given the fragility of West African democracies like those in Mali and Burkina Faso, where a coup took place in 2022.

Both countries are now backing the Nigerien junta. They said in a joint statement last week that they would consider any military intervention in Niger “an act of war” against all three countries, CNN reported.

Both countries are sending delegations to Niger’s capital Niamey, “in solidarity with the people of Niger,” according to the Malian Armed Forces.

Burkina Faso has not yet publicly commented on sending delegations to Niger and Burkina Faso’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has not yet responded to CNN’s request to confirm their attendance.