Niger’s Coup Garners Popular Support Amidst ECOWAS Deliberations on Military Action
NIAMEY – Thousands protesters gathered in Niger’s capital on Friday, rallying in support of last month’s coup, even as regional leaders deliberated over the potential for military action to restore civilian governance.
Since the military removal of elected President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26, many Nigeriens have joined junta-organized demonstrations to express solidarity with the generals, voice criticism against Western powers, and acknowledge Russia’s increasing influence in the region alongside Western interests.
The peaceful assembly on Friday, according to Reuters, saw a myriad of individuals converge, starting from a French military base in Niamey and expanding onto adjacent streets adorned with signs and flags.
One demonstrator’s placard declared “Long Live Russia,” while another exhorted “Down with France… Down with ECOWAS,” referencing the Economic Community of West African States. In a recent summit, ECOWAS directed the activation of a standby military force with the capacity to intervene and reinstate President Bazoum.
The military takeover marked the seventh coup in West and Central Africa within three years, with demonstrations in Niger mirroring the street scenes that followed coups in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso between 2020 and 2022.
The prevailing sentiment among protesters is directed at former colonial power France, whose forces were expelled from Mali and Burkina Faso after those respective coups, and whose presence in Niger now faces uncertainty. Notably, the French Embassy in Niger was attacked by demonstrators.
Protester Salamatou Hima was quoted by Reuters as saying, “I am here to demand the withdrawal of French forces. We deserve our freedom and the right to advocate for our country’s best interests.”
While the military coup was initially sparked by domestic political dynamics, its implications extend far beyond Niger’s borders, casting shadows of potential conflict escalation in a strategically crucial region. Niger, rich in uranium but among the world’s poorest nations, has been a Western ally in the fight against Islamist militants in the Sahel region.
U.S., French, German, and Italian troops stationed in Niger have been combating local affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State, groups that have caused significant loss of life and displacement of millions across the Sahel.
Awaiting ECOWAS Response
As regional army chiefs prepare for forthcoming meetings, the timeline and scale of the ECOWAS standby force for military action remain uncertain. The organization has emphasized its commitment to exploring all options while aiming for a peaceful resolution. Ivory Coast is the only nation to specify troop contribution, pledging a battalion of 850.
Benin and Sierra Leone have pledged contributions without disclosing troop numbers, while Senegal previously announced readiness to provide troops if intervention becomes necessary, according to Reuters. The stance of most other ECOWAS member states is either undisclosed or pending decision.
Within the rally, protester Ali Hassane vowed to protect his nation, proclaiming, “If the ECOWAS force invades, it’s us civilians who will defend our country.”
Concerns Over Detention Conditions
Amidst these developments, concerns have grown about the detention conditions of President Bazoum. The African Union, the European Union, the United States, and the United Nations have all expressed mounting apprehension.
Volker Turk, the U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights, issued a statement on Friday indicating that the conditions of Bazoum’s detention were rapidly deteriorating and may infringe upon international human rights standards. Human Rights Watch reported that Bazoum himself conveyed the inhumane treatment his family is facing in custody.
Zazia Bazoum, daughter of the detained president, currently residing in France, disclosed to The Guardian newspaper that the junta is subjecting her father to deplorable conditions as a means of coercing him to sign a resignation letter. The independent verification of the detention conditions remains pending.