NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — West African nations have announced travel and economic sanctions against Niger and have threatened to use force if the leaders of a coup don’t reinstate the democratically elected president within one week.
The sanctions announced after the regional bloc known as ECOWAS convened to respond to last week’s military takeover add to a growing list of penalties against the country, one of the least developed in the world, according to the latest U.N. Human Development Index. Niger relies heavily on foreign aid: analysts fear sanctions could further impoverish its 25 million people.
“In the event the authority’s demands are not met within one week, (the bloc will) take all measures necessary to restore constitutional order in the Republic of Niger. Such measures may include the use of force,” the ECOWAS bloc said in a statement after its meeting on Sunday. One of its demands is the immediate release and reinstatement of Nigerian President Mohamed Bazoum, who remains under house arrest and has yet to resign.
Niger, a former French colony, had been regarded by the West as one of the last democratic partners in the Sahel region in its battle against Islamic extremists. The European Union and the United States have poured millions of dollars in military aid and assistance into the country. The French and the US provide training to Niger’s forces and the French military does joint operations in the north.
ECOWAS suspended all commercial and financial transactions between its member states and Niger, as well as freezing Nigerien assets held in regional central banks. Economic sanctions could have a deep impact on Nigeriens: the country relies on imports from Nigeria for up to 90% of its power, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.
The sanctions could be disastrous and Niger needs to find a solution to avoid them, the country’s Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou told French media outlet Radio France Internationale on Sunday.
“When people say there’s an embargo, land borders are closed, air borders are closed, it’s extremely difficult for people … Niger is a country that relies heavily on the international community,” he said.
The 15-nation ECOWAS bloc has unsuccessfully tried to restore democracies in nations where the military took power in recent years. Four nations are run by military governments in West and Central Africa, where there have been nine successful or attempted coups since 2020.
In the 1990s, ECOWAS intervened in Liberia during its civil war. In 2017, it intervened in Gambia to prevent the new president’s predecessor, Yahya Jammeh, from disrupting the handover of power. Around 7,000 troops from Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal entered the country, according to the Global Observatory, which provides analysis on peace and security issues.
If the regional bloc uses force, it could trigger violence not only between Niger and ECOWAS forces but also between civilians supporting the coup and those against it, Niger analysts say.
“While this remains to be a threat and unlikely action, the consequences on civilians of such an approach if putschists chose confrontation would be catastrophic,” said Rida Lyammouri, senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South, a Morocco-based think tank.
Lyammouri also said he does not see a “military intervention happening because of the violence that could trigger.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken commended Sunday the resolve of the ECOWAS leadership to “defend constitutional order in Niger” after the sanctions announcement, and joined the bloc in calling for the immediate release of Bazoum and his family.
The military junta, which seized power on Wednesday when members of the presidential guard surrounded Bazoum’s house and detained him, is already cracking down on the government and civil liberties.
On Sunday evening it arrested four government officials, including Mahamane Sani Mahamadou, the minister of petroleum and son of former President Mahamadou Issoufou; Kassoum Moctar, minister of education; Ousseini Hadizatou Yacouba, the minister of mines, and Foumakoye Gado, the president of the ruling party. That’s according to someone close to the president, who was not authorized to speak about the situation, and a Nigerien analyst who did not want to be named for fear of reprisal.
The same night, junta spokesman Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane said on state television that all government cars must be returned by midday Monday and banned the use of social media to diffuse messages against state security. He also claimed that Bazoum’s government had authorized the French to carry out strikes to free Bazoum. The Associated Press can’t verify his allegations.
Bazoum has yet to resign. He is still being detained and believed to be in his house in the capital, Niamey. The first photos of him since the coup appeared Sunday evening, sitting on a couch smiling beside Chad’s President Mahamat Deby, who had flown in to mediate between the government and the junta.
In anticipation of the ECOWAS decision Sunday, thousands of pro-junta supporters took to the streets in Niamey, denouncing France, waving Russian flags and telling the international community to stay away.
Demonstrators in Niger are openly resentful of France, and Russia is seen by some as a powerful alternative. The nature of Moscow’s involvement in the rallies, if any, isn’t clear, but some protesters have carried Russian flags, along with signs reading “Down with France” and supporting Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“The situation of this country is not good … It’s time for change, and change has arrived,” said Moussa Seydou, a protester. “What we want from the putschists — all they have to do is improve social conditions so that Nigeriens can live better in this country and bring peace,” he said.