By Latheef Farook
On Wednesday 26 July 2023, President Mohamed Bazoum of the West African Sub-Saharan Muslim country of Niger was overthrown by members of the presidential guard .
On Friday the head of the presidential guards unit Gen Abdourahmane Tchiani declared himself Niger’s new leader.He said insecurity, economic woes and corruption led him to seize power. But there are now concerns in the West about which countries the new leader will align with.
Shortly after the US declared its “unflagging support” for ousted president Mohamed Bazoum,seen as a key Western ally in the fight against Islamist militants,the EU has suspended all security cooperation with Niger after the country’s army took power in a coup.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell joined the US and France in refusing to recognise the coup leaders and said security cooperation and budgetary aid was being suspended indefinitely.
Also on Saturday France, the former colonial power which had moved its regional military headquarters to the country after being forced to leave Mali, said it had suspended all development aid and budgetary support.
Meanwhile the African Union called on the Niger army to return to base within 15 days.
On Friday evening US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned those detaining Mr Bazoum – Niger’s first elected leader to succeed another since independence in 1960 – that “hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance” was at risk.
It appears the coup was staged by Russia to plunder Niger’s large deposits of Uranium . For example Flavien Baumgartner, an Africa analyst at Dragonfly, a security and political risk consultancy, said if Mohamed Bazoum resigns from the presidency, Niger will probably move to the top of the list of countries where the Wagner Group of mercenaries will seek to expand.Wagner already had its sights set on Niger, in part because of it’s a large deposit of uranium sought after by Russia. But Bazoum posed an impediment because of his pro-French and pro-Western stance, said Baumgartner.
Meanwhile France landed a military aircraft in Niger despite an airspace closure . France incorporated Niger as part of its colonial African possessions in the early 20th century.The area was subject to conflicts between various kingdoms and tribes.Niger first gained independence from France in 1960.
The UN Secretary-General António Guterres has strongly condemned an attempted power grab in the West African nation of Niger, following reports that the democratically elected president is being held by some of his own guards inside his official residence.
“We are witnessing that the whole belt, south of the Sahara, is becoming an extremely problematic area with terrible consequences for their populations and with terrible consequences for peace and stability for the African continent and further afield,” Guterres added.
UN humanitarian operations have been suspended in Niger due to a coup , spokesman Stephane Dujarric says.
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, who has reported extensively on Nigerien affairs, said “The biggest concern is to contain the situation among supporters of the coup and supporters of the government.“ Apart from that, there is also the concern about possible divisions within the army,” .
Land locked Niger is bounded on the northwest by Algeria, northeast by Libya, east by Chad, south by Nigeria and Benin and on the west by Burkina Faso and Mali.It is one of the poorest countries in the world despite having some of the world’s largest uranium deposits. Niger’s economy centers on subsistence crops , livestock and the export of raw commodities. It is also one of the “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries” (HIPC).
Ninety eight person of the population are Muslims.
Niger suffered austere military rule for much of its post-independence history. Not until 1993, 33 years after independence from France, did Niger hold its first free and open elections.
Stricken by military rule, coups, political instability, and a Tuareg rebellion, Niger returned to civilian rule in 2011. Now the country is a semi-presidential republic. Chief of state is the president, head of government is the prime minister. The executive power is shared between the president and the prime minister. The unicameral National Assembly is Niger’s sole legislative body. But the country is weak and under threat of frequent droughts, insurgency, displaced people and wide-spread poverty.
Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massoudou called on “mutinous officers to return to their ranks” in an interview with French television station France 24, adding that mediation efforts are under way, including those by the president of Nigeria who is “dialoguing with the military.”
Meanwhile Algerian newspaper indicates UAE role in Niger coup. French-language Algerian newspaper Le Soir d’Algerie reported that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) may have played a role in the attempted coup against Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum.
The newspaper pointed out that all eyes were on the current Niger ambassador to the UAE, who was the army’s chief of staff before Bazoum dismissed him.The newspaper noted that the presence of the former chief of staff of the Niger army in the UAE may have given him the “boldness” to turn the table on Bazoum, especially if he was supported by senior officials in Abu Dhabi.
This report comes in the wake of an unprecedented attack by the Algerian media on the Emirati role in the region. Algerian newspaper El Khabar indicated that the UAE had committed “hostile acts” against Algeria, most notably providing Moroccan authorities with a spy programme to use on the country and making attempts to drag the countries of the Maghreb region towards normalisation with Israel to weaken Algeria. The newspaper described Abu Dhabi as “the capital of confusion” in its article.
El Khabar wrote: “Emirati officials want, at any price and in any way, to impose their country’s presence in the Sahel region.”
The Algerian Foreign Ministry condemned the coup attempt, calling for an immediate end to what it described as an unacceptable assault on the constitutional order and a serious violation of the requirements of the rule of law.
A statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs indicated that Algeria follows with great concern the developments in the situation in the Republic of Niger and reaffirms its adherence to the basic principles guiding the collective action of African countries within the African Union, including the categorical rejection of unconstitutional changes of governments.