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Niger coup: West African countries suspend key military meeting on ‘standby’ force

This article was formerly published by The Guardian.

Niger’s new leaders scrapped defence agreements with France last week, while a hostile protest outside the French embassy in Niamey on 30 July prompted Paris to evacuate its citizens.


Fears also mounted for elected president Mohamed Bazoum, who was ousted by members of his guard on 26 July.

His daughter, Zazia Bazoum, told the Guardian that Bazoum, his wife and son were being held without electricity or clean water, were rapidly losing weight and were relying on supplies of rice and pasta, although their gas oven is running out of fuel.

Chiefs of staff from West African Ecowas bloc countries were set to attend a meeting on Saturday in Ghana’s capital Accra, regional military sources had said on Friday.

The sources said the meeting was originally set up to inform the organisation’s leaders about “the best options” for activating and deploying the standby force.

Protesters hold an anti-France placard during a demonstration on independence day in Niamey on 3 August.

Ecowas has yet to provide details on the force or a timetable for action, and the leaders have emphasised they still want a peaceful solution.

The last-minute cancellation came as thousands of coup supporters rallied near a French military base in Niger on Friday.

Protesters near the base on the outskirts of the capital Niamey shouted “down with France, down with Ecowas”.

Niger’s new leaders have accused ex-colonial power France, a close Bazoum ally, of being behind the hardline Ecowas stance against the coup.

Many brandished Russian and Niger flags and shouted their support for the country’s new strongman, General Abdourahamane Tiani.

“We are going to make the French leave! Ecowas isn’t independent, it’s being manipulated by France,” said one demonstrator, Aziz Rabeh Ali, a member of a students’ union.

France has about 1,500 personnel in Niger as part of a force battling an eight-year jihadist insurgency.

It is facing growing hostility across the Sahel, withdrawing its anti-jihadist forces from neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso last year after falling out with military governments that ousted elected leaders.

Niger’s new leaders scrapped defence agreements with France last week, while a hostile protest outside the French embassy in Niamey on 30 July prompted Paris to evacuate its citizens.

The EU and African Union (AU) joined others in sounding the alarm for Bazoum on Friday.

Victoria Nuland
Junta leaders in Niger refuse to let top US official meet ousted president

“Bazoum and his family, according to the latest information, have been deprived of food, electricity and medical care for several days,” said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

UN rights chief Volker Turk said Bazoum’s reported detention conditions “could amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, in violation of international human rights law”.

The AU said “such treatment of a democratically elected president” was “unacceptable”.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, had also “expressed his grave concern at the continued unlawful detention under deteriorating conditions of President Bazoum and his family,” in a phone call with former president Mahamadou Issoufou, a fellow western ally whom Bazoum served, the state department said.

Human Rights Watch said it had spoken to Bazoum earlier this week. The 63-year-old described the treatment of himself, his wife and their 20-year-old son as “inhuman and cruel”, HRW said.

“I’m not allowed to receive my family members (or) my friends who have been bringing food and other supplies to us,” the group quoted him as saying.

“My son is sick, has a serious heart condition, and needs to see a doctor,” he was quoted as saying. “They’ve refused to let him get medical treatment.”

Under pressure to stem a cascade of coups among its members, Ecowas had previously issued a seven-day ultimatum to the coup leaders to return Bazoum to power.

But they defied the deadline, which expired on Sunday without any action being taken.

The coup leaders have since named a new government, which met for the first time on Friday.

Like Mali and Burkina Faso, the country is struggling with a brutal jihadist insurgency that has claimed thousands of lives, forced many people from their homes and undermined faith in government.


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