Picture: AFP/Taken on July 27, 2023 – A general view of billowing smoke as supporters of the Nigerien defence and security forces attack the headquarters of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS), the party of overthrown President Mohamed Bazoum, in Niamey. The head of Niger’s armed forces on July 27, 2023 said he endorsed a declaration by troops who overnight announced they had taken power after detaining the country’s elected president, Mohamed Bazoum.
‘The military command of the Nigerien armed forces… has decided to subscribe to the declaration by the defence and security forces… in order to avoid a deadly confrontation between the various forces.’ – Statement signed by armed forces chief General Abdou Sidikou Issa
By Adela Suliman
Deposed Nigerien president Mohamed Bazoum told his nation via social media Thursday after being incarcerated in his palace by rebellious soldiers that “hard-won gains” made in the country under his rule would be “protected” by democracy-loving patriots.
However, in a blow for his calls to resist the coup, the nation’s army said in a statement that it would support the coup leaders to prevent bloodshed in the West African nation and preserve unity.
“To avoid a deadly confrontation between the different forces, which could provoke a bloodbath and impinge on the security of the population,” the army chief of staff said its military command had “decided to adhere to the declaration of the Defence and Security Forces”.
Western and regional officials have strongly condemned the ouster of Bazoum, a key ally of the United States, France and others in the fight against Islamist insurgency in the insecure Sahel region.
Niger is one of the few countries in the coup-plagued area where the Russian mercenary group Wagner has failed to make substantial inroads, however Russian influence is growing. The coup occurred as Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is hosting African leaders in St Petersburg Thursday.
Bazoum was barricaded in the presidential palace in the country’s capital, Niamey, late Wednesday. In a brief video statement, Colonel Amadou Abdramane, flanked by nine other military officers, said they had toppled Bazoum because of “the deteriorating security situation” in the West African nation and “bad governance”.
They added that the country’s institutions had been suspended, its borders closed, and a curfew implemented. They also warned against any foreign intervention, adding that Bazoum would not be harmed in the transition of power.
Niger’s foreign minister, Hassoumi Massoudou, posted an appeal on Twitter on Thursday, urging “all democrats and patriots” to defeat what he termed this “perilous adventure”, which he said endangered the nation that’s home to some 27 million people. “Long live democracy, long live Niger,” he said, calling himself the interim head of government while the president was being held.
Bazoum’s whereabouts were unknown Thursday, but Massoudou told France 24 that the deposed president was in “good health” and still being held inside the presidential palace with his family, referring to him as the “legitimate leader”.
The coup in Niger is the latest to hit the impoverished Sahel region in recent years after similar takeovers in Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad, as well as in Sudan and Guinea farther afield, and it was immediately condemned internationally.
“We condemn any efforts to seize power by force,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters overnight from New Zealand, adding that he was monitoring developments in Niger “very closely” and had spoken with Bazoum to make “clear that the United States resolutely supports him as the democratically elected president, and we call for his immediate release”.
Blinken said that it was for lawyers to determine whether the developments in Niger technically constitute a coup. “But what it clearly constitutes is an effort to seize power by force and to disrupt the constitution,” he said.
US Africa Command, which is responsible for American military relations in Africa, also said in a statement that it will continue to “monitor the situation in Niamey” and is working with the State Department.
Amid growing Russian influence in the region, Niger has long been a “preferred partner” and firm ally of the United States, which houses a drone base in the country, said Ulf Laessing, director of the Regional Sahel Programme at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Mali.
Coup leaders, however, will probably now be focused on “consolidating power after their putsch” and less so on supporting international security efforts in the region, he added.
“This will have major implications; the Nigerien army was making some progress and able to contain a bit the regional threat,” he said. The motives of the leaders remain “unclear”, Laessing said, but he noted that Bazoum had been “generally well-regarded” in the country during his two years in power.
Niger’s military and air force have received support and training from the United States, including at the Air Force Academy in Colorado and at the Air War College in Alabama, according to a 2021 summary released by the US Embassy in Niamey.
Six years ago, an attack on US troops in Niger made global headlines when militants ambushed US and Nigerien soldiers. Four American soldiers were killed near the western village of Tongo Tongo.
Landlocked Niger lies between Chad and Mali, and about 800 US troops at a time have been deployed there, Pentagon officials have said.
The power grab could lead to further insecurity in the region, which is grappling with violence from Islamist insurgencies in the Lake Chad area and near Niger’s borders with Mali and Burkina Faso.
African Union Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat said in a statement that he “strongly condemned” what he labelled an “attempted coup” in Niger. He said the move would “undermine the stability of democratic and republican institutions” and urged the military to “immediately cease these unacceptable actions”.
UN Secretary General António Guterres also condemned the ouster and said the situation would be monitored “closely”.
“He condemns in the strongest terms any effort to seize power by force and to undermine democratic governance, peace and stability in Niger,” Stéphane Dujarric, spokesperson for Guterres, said in a statement.
The president of regional powerhouse Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, also backed Bazoum, saying regional countries would defend the constitutional order in Niger.
“All lovers of democracy around the world will not tolerate any situation that incapacitates the democratically elected government of the country,” he said.
The uranium-rich, former French colony has experienced four coups since its independence in 1960. Bazoum was elected in a peaceful, democratic vote in 2021 following the two terms of Mahamadou Issoufou.
The Washington Post’s Rachel Chason, Michael Birnbaum, Paul Schemm and Dan Lamothe contributed to this report.
This article was first published in The Washington Post