The dust has yet to settle on the coup d’etat that toppled President Mohamed Barzoum of Niger on 10 July.
What makes this event particularly significant is that President Bazoum’s election in 2021 was the first democratic transition of power since the country’s independence from France in 1960. So while the coup is a significant development in itself, it also underscores Niger’s fragile connection to democratic rule.
While the regional and international reaction to the coup was swift, it was not entirely consistent.
The AU adopted its routine position in condemning the coup and suspended the membership of Niger. On its part, ECOWAS equally condemned the coup and threatened military intervention to restore the democratically-elected president.
The two summits it held, however, resulted in mixed signals. On the one hand, it activated the “standby force” of 2,700 troops to restore constitutional order, and, on the other, it spoke of restoring such order “through peaceful means”.
Meanwhile, Senegal, Benin and the Ivory Coast are so far the only West African nations that have said they would provide troops for such an intervention, adding to the mounting doubts that it will materialise.
World powers react
France, the former colonial power who, up until the coup, retained considerable influence, issued a series of statements calling for the restoration of civilian rule. President Macron set the tone by declaring that “ ... This coup is completely illegitimate and profoundly dangerous, for Nigeriens, for Niger and for the whole region."
The United States adopted a more cautious position, refraining from describing the development as a coup, but suspending its foreign assistance programme, including military cooperation. It also dispatched Victoria Nuland, the second-highest State Department official to Niamey to explore the possibility of restoring democratic rule.
Traveled to Niamey to express grave concern at the undemocratic attempts to seize power and urged a return to constitutional order.— Under Secretary Victoria Nuland (@UnderSecStateP) August 7, 2023
Russia also adopted an even more cautious attitude. It merely called for the respect of the constitutional process in Niger in an effort to distance itself from any accusations of involvement in the coup and has supported ECOWAS mediation, but cautioned against any military intervention.
China took an even more circumspect attitude describing President Barzoum as a friend and expressing its hope “ that Niger and regional countries have the wisdom and capability to find a political resolution to the current situation”.
On the other hand, the military governments in the neighbouring countries of Burkina Faso and Mali, have expressed solidarity with the military takeover in Niamey and indicated that they would intervene militarily on its side were there to be a foreign military intervention.
Yet with every passing day, it appears that the coup has succeeded. History tells us that there is a very limited window for a coup to be reversed — usually 48 hours — and that threshold has long passed.
Following the coup Niger immediately suspended the export of uranium and gold to France and cancelled the defence and military cooperation agreements, which allow for the stationing of French troops in the country.
Pointedly, however, Niamey has not requested the US to withdraw its troops or close its drone base. At the same time, it has refused to admit mediation teams from the United Nations, the African Union and the ECOWAS.