Once again, political instability strikes the Sahel region. This time, Niger is the latest country in the region to suffer a coup d'état, one more in its long list of mutinies and military uprisings. This morning, the coup leaders announced the ouster of democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum, one of the last leaders in the region close to the West.
Today, as in neighbouring countries that have also been victims of coups such as Burkina Faso and Mali, Niger is led by a military junta. The coup leaders, who call themselves the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland, have justified the uprising on the grounds of the "continuing deterioration of the security situation" and "poor economic and social governance". This message is similar to that of other coup leaders in the Sahel who also decided to seize power by force and, in many cases, without respecting the will of the people and supported by foreign agents.
As elsewhere, the shadow of the Russian Wagner group is very much present in Niger, a country with significant uranium deposits. Despite its rich resources, the nation ranks among the lowest in the UN's 2022 Human Development Index. In addition to poverty, political instability and severe drought, Niger - like the region as a whole - has to cope with the spread of terrorist groups.
The international community has been quick to speak out, condemning the military uprising and Bazoum's ouster. The African Union, France and the European Union, as well as the United States, have called for the release of the president and his family. Washington, in particular, has demanded that the coup leaders release the president and "refrain from any acts of violence", also recalling that the African country is "a crucial partner" for the United States. In March, Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Bazoum to strengthen security cooperation in an increasingly unstable and insecure region.
Niger soldiers declare coup on national TV.— Clash Report (@clashreport) July 27, 2023
They said they had dissolved the constitution, suspended all institutions and closed the nation's borders.
Niger President Mohamed Bazoum has been held by troops from the presidential guard since Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/lC4eMQi6bC
"France strongly condemns any attempt to seize power by force and joins the African Union and ECOWAS in calling for the integrity of Niger's democratic institutions to be restored," French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna wrote on her Twitter account.
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell reaffirmed the EU's support for President Bazoum, stressing Niger's relevance as "an essential partner of the European Union in the Sahel". In the communiqué, Borrell stresses that Niger's destabilisation "would not serve anyone's interests, neither in the country, nor in the region and beyond". The head of European diplomacy met with Bazoum in early July to convey Brussels' willingness to reinforce military support to fight jihadist groups.
L’UE réaffirme son plein soutien au Président @mohamedbazoum.— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) July 26, 2023
Le Niger est un partenaire incontournable de l’Union européenne au Sahel, dont la déstabilisation ne servirait les intérêts de personne. https://t.co/fnOOgJm39D
Russia has also called for the "speedy release" of President Bazoum in a statement by Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova, who also called on all parties to "refrain from the use of force" and to make use of "peaceful and constructive dialogue".
For his part, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres spoke with the president, to whom he expressed his "full support and solidarity". Volker Türk, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, also called for Bazoum's release and the restoration of "constitutional order and the rule of law". Türk called on military leaders to "refrain from violence" and recalled "the important democratic achievements of recent years".
I strongly condemn the unconstitutional change of government in Niger, announced on 26 July.— António Guterres (@antonioguterres) July 27, 2023
President Bazoum has been detained & I'm concerned for his safety & well-being.
Those involved in this deplorable act must release him with immediate effect & without any precondition.
Regional organisations such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have also expressed their rejection of the coup. ECOWAS has also announced that Benin's President Patrice Talon has approached Niger in an attempt to mediate.
Arab countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia have also expressed their concern over what has happened. Riyadh, in particular, has called for "prioritising the interests of the people of Niger to avoid political unrest that could endanger lives and natural resources". Cairo also stressed the need to prioritise "the interest of the homeland and preserve the security of citizens".