West African countries have imposed sanctions on Niger’s new military leaders, threatening to use force if they fail to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum within a week, after the latest coup in the Sahel region raised alarm on the continent.
In the third coup in as many years to topple a leader in the Sahel, Niger’s elected president and Western ally, Bazoum, has been held by the military since Wednesday.
General Abdourahmane Tiani, the head of the powerful presidential guard, has declared himself leader.
Bazoum is one of a dwindling group of elected presidents and pro-Western leaders in the Sahel, where since 2020 an armed uprising has triggered coups in Mali and Burkina Faso.
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.
At an emergency summit in Nigeria, the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc demanded on Sunday that Bazoum be reinstated within a week.
Otherwise, the bloc said it would take “all measures” to restore constitutional order.
“Such measures may include the use of force for this effect,” it said in a statement, adding that ECOWAS defence chiefs were to meet later on Sunday.
It was not immediately clear how ECOWAS could use force. Last year, the bloc agreed to create a regional security force to intervene against armed group members and prevent military coups, but details on the force and its funding were still unclear.
The bloc also slapped financial sanctions on the coup leaders and the country, freezing “all commercial and financial transactions” between member states and Niger, one of the world’s poorest nations, often ranking last on the United Nations’ Human Development Index.
In a statement read out on national television on Saturday evening, Niger military government member Amadou Abdramane said the summit’s aim was to “approve a plan of aggression against Niger, in the form of an imminent military intervention in Niamey”.
The intervention would be “in cooperation with African countries who are not members of the regional body and certain Western nations”, he added.
The president of Chad, General Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno, was in the Nigerien capital, Niamey, on Sunday as part of an attempt to help resolve the crisis, Chad government spokesman Aziz Mahamat Saleh told the AFP news agency. He said the trip was on the initiative of Chad.
Coup supporters rally
Elsewhere in the capital, thousands of people waving Russian and Niger flags rallied outside the national parliament in a show of support for the military rulers.
They then moved on to the French embassy, shouting “long live Putin” and “down with France”. Some tried to storm the embassy but were dispersed with tear gas.
A soldier standing in a pick-up truck waved to the crowd, shouting “Russia, Russia, Russia!”, “long live Niger’s army!” and “Tiani, Tiani, Tiani!”. The demonstration was also intended to send a warning to ECOWAS not to intervene in the country.
Some demonstrators headed for the embassy of the US.
France condemned the assault on its embassy, warning it would retaliate if its citizens or interests were attacked, and said it would support all regional initiatives to restore order in Niger.
“Should anyone attack French nationals, the army, diplomats and French interests, they will see France respond in an immediate and intractable manner,” the French presidency said.
Niger’s neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso, also former French colonies, have also experienced military coups since 2020, fuelled by anger at the civilian authorities’ failure to quash armed groups linked to ISIL and al-Qaeda.
Tiani said the putsch in Niger was a response to “the degradation of the security situation” linked to armed bloodshed, as well as corruption and economic woes.
Turbulent political history
After a wave of condemnation for the coup, punitive measures have already begun in the West.
France – which has 1,500 soldiers in Niger – said on Saturday that it was suspending development aid and budgetary support to the West African nation.
It called for “an immediate return to constitutional order” and Bazoum’s reinstatement.
European Union diplomatic chief Josep Borrell announced the indefinite suspension of security cooperation with Niger with immediate effect, as well as budgetary aid.
Borrell said the EU was ready to support future decisions taken by ECOWAS, “including the adoption of sanctions”.
The US – which has about 1,000 troops in Niger – has offered Bazoum Washington’s steadfast support and warned those detaining him that they were “threatening years of successful cooperation and hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance”.
And the African Union has given the military in Niger two weeks to restore “constitutional authority”.
It condemned the coup in “the strongest terms possible” and expressed deep concern over the “alarming resurgence” of military overthrows in Africa.
Landlocked Niger often ranks last in the UN’s Human Development Index, despite having vast deposits of uranium.
It has had a turbulent political history since gaining independence in 1960, with four coups as well as numerous other attempts – including two previously against Bazoum.