Niger Presidential Guard overthrow president
Niger’s mutinous soldiers have closed the country’s airspace and accused foreign powers of preparing an attack, with one former US general warning of the risk of a “devastating” all-out war in Africa.
The country’s recently installed military junta, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, is understood to have appealed for help from Wagner Group mercenaries to secure his grip on power after ousting President Mohamed Bazoum last month.
And he yesterday defied a deadline to restore Mr Bazoum – warning any attempt to fly over the country will be met with “an energetic and immediate response”.
Niger’s state television announced the move last night, hours before West African regional bloc ECOWAS had demanded that the coup leaders reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum or face military force.
A spokesman for the coup leaders, Colonel Major Amadou Abdramane, warned of “the threat of intervention being prepared in a neighbouring country” and said Niger’s airspace is closed until further notice.
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A demonstrator in Niger wearing a hat in the colours of the Russian flag
The junta asserted that two central African countries have joined preparations for an invasion, but did not say which ones, and called on the country’s population to defend it.
It was not immediately clear what ECOWAS will do now that the deadline has passed.
Niger had been seen by the United States, France and other partners as their last major counterterrorism partner in the vast Sahel region, south of the Sahara Desert, where groups linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic Group state have been expanding their range.
Wagner Group founder Yevgeny Prigozhin
The future of some 1,500 French military personnel and 1,100 US military personnel in Niger is not immediately known, though the junta leaders have severed security arrangements with Paris.
Posting on X yesterday, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe James Stavridis said of the looming refusal to comply with the deadline: “Will this lead to a full-blown war in Africa?
“It certainly has the potential to do so, and would be a significant and devastating event.”
The July 26 coup, in which mutinous soldiers installed Tchiani as head of state, adds another layer of complexity to West Africa’s Sahel region that’s struggling with military takeovers, spreading Islamic extremism and a shift by some states toward Russia and its proxy, the Wagner mercenary group, founded by Yevgeny Prigozhin.
General Abdourahamane Tchiani is believed to be seeking the help of the Wagner Group
Niger’s ousted President Mohamed Bazoum said he is held “hostage” by the mutinous soldiers. An ECOWAS delegation was unable to meet with Tchiani, who analysts have asserted led the coup to avoid being fired. Now the junta has reached out to Wagner for assistance while severing security ties with former coloniser France.
Algeria and Chad, non-ECOWAS neighbours with strong militaries in the region, have said they oppose the use of force or will intervene militarily, and neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso – both also run by juntas – have said an intervention would be a “declaration of war” against them, too.
Thousands of people at Sunday’s rally in Niger’s capital, Niamey, cheered the coup leaders’ appearance and expressed defiance against both the ECOWAS threat and France’s long presence in the region. Some waved Russian flags.
Brigadier General Mohamed Toumba said: “We will all stand and fight as one people. We are asking you to stay mobilised.”
Coup supporters take to the streets
Hours before Sunday’s deadline, hundreds of youth joined security forces in the darkened streets in the capital to stand guard at a dozen roundabouts until morning, checking cars for weapons and heeding the junta’s call to watch out for foreign intervention and spies.
Analysing the situation, Samuel Cranny-Evans, a Research Fellow at London-based think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), told Express.co.uk: “The Western narrative generally is that Russia is an aggressor and that countries in Africa and elsewhere are struggling because of Russias war in Ukraine (food prices etc).
“The Russian narrative is that the US is a global aggressor and that Russia is just defending conservative values amongst other things.
“So, it follows that Wagners involvement and a pro-Russian attitude in Niger would contribute to Russias narrative that it is a bringer of peace and stability.
“This is targeted at countries in Africa and elsewhere that might be on the fence or not overtly pro-Western.”