The African Union has issued a 15-day ultimatum to the junta in Niger to reinstall the country’s democratically elected government just as the coup leaders met with senior civil servants to discuss how they would run the country and as the U.S. and the European Union threatened sanctions against the regime.
Brig.-Gen. Mohamed Toumba, one of the soldiers who ousted President Mohamed Bazoum on Wednesday, told state television that the junta met with civil servants on Friday and asked them to continue their work as usual following the suspension of the constitution. “The message given was not to stop the processes underway, to keep on with things,” said Toumba.
“Everything that must be done will be done,” he said, signalling the intention of the regime led by Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, who also goes by Omar, to remain in power.
After its meeting on Friday, the African Union Peace and Security Council said it was concerned by the “alarming resurgence” of coups that undermine democracy and stability on the continent. It asked the soldiers to “return immediately and unconditionally to their barracks and restore constitutional authority, within a maximum of 15 days.”
Bazoum, whose condition and that of his officials remain unknown since the government was overthrown, should also be released immediately and unconditionally, the AU said. Failure to do so would compel the bloc to take “necessary action, including punitive measures against the perpetrators.”
On the streets of the Nigerien capital Niamey on Saturday, things appeared to be returning to normal, though many in the international community were still on lockdown with hotels full of foreigners, many given instructions not to leave.
Locals say they’re waiting to see what unfolds, with many still in support of Bazoum, who has not yet resigned.
“I’m with him, he does a good work. (But) what can we do?” said Mohamed Cisse, a street seller.
“This is [the new leader’s] time, Bazoum’s time is over,” he said.
Tchiani, the junta leader and commander of Niger’s presidential guard, is close to former Nigerien president Mahamadou Issoufou, who stepped down in 2021 after a decade in office. Tchiani’s takeover of power will reinforce speculation that Issoufou is behind the coup, said Ulf Laessing, head of the Sahel program at the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German think-tank and consultancy.
The U.S. threatened to halt its economic support to Niger, while the European Union announced the immediate indefinite suspension of budgetary support and security assistance.
U.S. support ‘in clear jeopardy’
U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, who is in Australia as part of a Pacific tour, estimated America’s economic and security partnership with Niger at hundreds of millions of dollars and said its continuity depends on “the continuation of the democratic governance and constitutional order.”
“So that assistance, that support, is in clear jeopardy as a result of these actions, which is another reason why they need to be immediately reversed,” Blinken said.
Kenyan President William Ruto on Friday condemned the coup, the seventh in West and Central Africa since 2020. Niger is a key Western ally in a global fight against Islamist insurgencies in the Sahel region.
“Kenya is willing to assist in resolving the conflict under the auspices of the African Union, should it be deemed appropriate.” he said.
Ruto also called for the immediate release of Bazoum, who was reportedly seized by members of the presidential guard.
While there are no signs of the junta backing down amid growing international pressure, analysts called for synergy in the interventions of the international community and continental organizations such as the AU and the regional bloc of ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States), which is scheduled to meet over the coup on Sunday.
A successful coup in Niger and the sanctions in the aftermath could cause more hardship for millions of poor and hungry people in West Africa and could further threaten international relations with the region, which is seeing a resurgence of coups in recent years, according to Idayat Hassan, senior Africa program fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“A non-reversal of the coup also means that we are defining a new world order in West Africa in particular as you are pitching the west and other countries against few military regimes which may be backed by Russia,” said Hassan.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, receiving close to $2 billion US a year in official development assistance, according to the World Bank.