The mutinous soldiers who ousted Niger’s president proclaimed coup leader General Abdourahmane Tchiani as the new head of state on Friday, hours after the military called for the support of the nation and international partners.
Amid growing fears that the political crisis would spell a setback in Niger’s fight against jihadists and increase Russia’s influence in West Africa, the coup spokesman, Colonel Amadou Abdramane, said on state television that the Constitution and Tchiani is in charge of the nation. State TV identified Tchiani as the head of the group of soldiers who carried out the coup.
According to reports, different factions in the armed forces have been fighting for control since members of the presidential guard detained President Mohamed Bazoum, elected two years ago in the first democratic transfer of power since the independence of the former French colony.
Extremists in Niger have attacked military personnel and civilians, but the overall security situation is not as dire as in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, which have driven out French forces. Mali has turned to the private Russian Wagner militia and the mercenaries are believed to be arriving in Burkina Faso soon.
the wagner group
Now there is fear that Niger will follow suit. Even before the coup, the Wagner Group, which has sent mercenaries around the world to serve Russian interests, had already set its sights on Niger, partly because it is a major uranium producer.
“We cannot continue with the same approaches proposed until now, under the risk of witnessing the gradual and inevitable death of our country,” Tchiani said in his speech. “That’s why we decided to step in and take responsibility.”
“I ask the technical and financial partners who are friends of Niger to understand the concrete situation of our country and give it all the necessary support to enable it to face the challenges,” he added.
If the United States labels the coup a coup, Niger will lose millions of dollars worth of military and other aid.
The mutinous soldiers, who call their group the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country, accused some prominent dignitaries of collaborating with foreign embassies to “extract” deposed rulers. In a statement to state TV, they said this could lead to violence and warned against foreign military intervention.
Bazoum, who has not resigned, defiantly tweeted Thursday from his place of detention that democracy will prevail.
It was not clear who enjoyed the support of the majority of the population, but in the streets of Niamey, the capital, there was calm and a certain atmosphere of celebration. Some drivers honked their car horns in solidarity with the security forces, although it was not clear if in support of the coup. In other cities, people rested after Friday noon prayers and others kept businesses open.
“We must pray to God that people unite and peace returns to the country. We don’t want so many protests in the country because it’s not good… I hope this government does a good job,” said Gerard Sassou, a shopkeeper in Niamey.
That is exactly what many in the West probably fear.
Tchiani’s criticism of Bazoum’s methods and how security has worked in the past will undoubtedly unsettle the United States, France and the European Union, said Andrew Lebovich, a researcher at the Clingendael Institute.
“This will mean some changes going forward in the security partnerships with Niger,” he said.
Although Tchani tried to project an image of control, the situation seemed to flow. A Nigerian delegation, hoping to serve as a mediator, left shortly after arriving, and the president of Benin, chosen as mediator by the ECOWAS regional bloc, had not arrived.
The bloc called an emergency meeting on Sunday in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.