Niger a linchpin for stability in Africa’s ‘coup belt’

President Mohamed Bazoum, arrested by soldiers who announced coup, is described as ‘west’s only hope’ in stabilising jihadist-plagued Sahel region.

President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger has been removed from power, according to a group of soldiers who appeared on national television on Wednesday, hours after he was detained in the presidential palace.

The military takeover marks the seventh coup in west and central Africa since 2020, and could further complicate western efforts to help countries in the Sahel region fight a jihadist insurgency that has spread from Mali over the past decade.

Land-locked Niger, a former French colony, has become a pivotal ally for western powers seeking help to fight the insurgencies, but they are facing growing acrimony from the new juntas in charge in Mali and Burkina Faso.

France moved troops to Niger from Mali in 2022 after its relations with interim authorities there soured. It has also withdrawn special forces from Burkina Faso amid similar tensions.

Niger is also an ally of the EU in the fight against irregular migration from sub-Saharan Africa. With the Russian mercenary group Wagner operating across the region, however, the coup raises questions around whether Niger could make a political pivot towards Moscow, which has increasingly courted African governments.

‘The west’s only hope in the Sahel region’

Bazoum’s election in 2021 was the first democratic transition of power in a state that has witnessed four military coups since independence from France in 1960.

The US says it has spent around $500m since 2012 to help Niger boost its security. Germany announced in April that it would take part in a three-year European military mission aimed at improving Niger’s military.

“Bazoum has been the west’s only hope in the Sahel region. France, the US and the EU have spent much of their resources in the region to bolster Niger and its security forces,” said Ulf Laessing, head of the Sahel programme for Germany’s Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung thinktank.

He said a coup would create an opportunity for Russia and other actors to spread their influence in Niger.

After presidential guards, headed by Gen Omar Tchiani, took over the presidency on Wednesday, regional leaders quickly organised a mediation mission to try to prevent a coup.

The president of neighbouring Benin, Patrice Talon, flew into Niger on Wednesday afternoon to assess the situation after meeting with the Nigerian president and Ecowas chair, Bola Tinubu.

“All means will be used, if necessary, to restore constitutional order in Niger, but the ideal would be for everything to be done in peace and harmony,” Talon told reporters in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

The African Union and west African regional bloc Ecowas on Wednesday condemned what they called an attempted coup d’état. The region around Niger has faced instability in recent years, just as it had begun to shed its reputation as a “coup belt”.

Frustration over state failures to prevent violent attacks on towns and villages have partly spurred two coups in Mali and two in Burkina Faso since 2020. A junta also snatched power in Guinea in 2021.

There was a thwarted coup attempt in Niger in March 2021, when a military unit tried to seize the presidential palace a few days before the recently elected Bazoum was due to be sworn in.

Source: The Guardian