The military junta that took power in Niger after the coup d’état on July 26 has ordered the closure of its airspace due to fear of a military intervention by the countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The coup leaders say that “forces of a foreign power are preparing to attack Niger and its people” and maintain that there will be an “energetic and instant response” in that case. Meanwhile, Mali and Burkina Faso, where military juntas also govern, have wanted to show their support for the coup leaders by sending a delegation, which heightens the risk of a regional conflict. Despite the ECOWAS ultimatum, which expired on Sunday night, the diplomatic channel has not been completely closed and new possibilities for dialogue are being explored.
Faced with an increasingly volatile scenario in which the military intervention of foreign forces is on the table, ECOWAS announced this Monday the convening next Thursday of a new extraordinary summit on Niger to which the heads of state of this region will be invited. organization. “ECOWAS leaders will assess and discuss the political situation and recent developments in Niger,” the agency said in a statement. The summit – to be held in Abuja, the Nigerian capital – has been convened by Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who is also the acting president of ECOWAS.
West African States (ECOWAS) has convened another Extraordinary Summit of the Authority on the political situation in the Republic of Niger. The Summit will hold in Abuja, on Thursday, August 10, 2023.
— Ecowas – Cedeao (@ecowas_cedeao) August 7, 2023
The military junta has challenged the ultimatum of ECOWAS, which on other occasions has already sent forces to countries in the region. The National Council for the Protection of the Fatherland (CNSP, for its acronym in French), which brings together the coup military, released a statement on Sunday in which it assured that two Central African countries, which it did not name, have begun a “pre-deployment” of troops. The military junta warns, in said statement: “Any State from which a military action against Niger proceeds will be considered as a co-belligerent (…). The Nigerian Armed Forces and defense and security are prepared to defend the integrity of our territory and the honor of our homeland.”
Meanwhile, the military juntas of Mali and Burkina Faso—both countries are members of ECOWAS but have been suspended following coups in the past two years—have shown their support for Niger’s new regime with the dispatch to Niamey, the Nigerian capital, of a joint official delegation headed by the Malian Prime Minister, Colonel Abdoulaye Maïga. “Objective: to show the solidarity of the two countries to the brotherly people of Niger,” says the Malian government through a statement.
On Sunday, some 30,000 people showed their support for the military junta and their rejection of this military intervention at a rally organized by the coup leaders at the Seyni Kountché stadium in Niamey. “We have not arrived here to go back,” General Mohamed Toumba assured those present, who conveyed a message from General Abdourahamane Tchiani, leader of the military junta. “There are people hiding in the shadows who are plotting subversion against the progress of Niger, but we are aware of their Machiavellian plan,” Toumba added.
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subscribeGeneral Mohamed Toumba, one of the coup leaders, greeted thousands of supporters, on Sunday in Niamey.STRINGER (REUTERS)
After the end of the ultimatum given to the coup leaders and before the summit on Thursday, ECOWAS continues with the preparations to intervene militarily in Niger. Four countries have shown their willingness to participate in this operation: Nigeria, Senegal, Ivory Coast and Benin, although others could join. Opposite, Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso, where military juntas also govern, have announced their support for the Nigerien coup leaders. Until the last moment, ECOWAS keeps the diplomatic channel open and steps are taken to avoid conflict. The coup junta has broken its military agreements with France, which is given a month to get its troops out of the country, and is showing signs of rapprochement with Russia.
Sources close to this body assure that Mahamadou Issoufou, former president of Niger who maintains some influence over General Tchiani, is trying to mediate, at the request of ECOWAS, so that a new mediation mission is allowed. The same sources say that the United States, which has a drone base and some 1,100 soldiers on Nigerian soil to fight jihadist groups in the area, is discreetly negotiating in the same direction. For his part, the Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Antonio Tajani, assured that ECOWAS should extend the term given to the coup leaders to allow a negotiated exit. “The only way is diplomatic (…). The ousted president, Mohamed Bazoum, should be freed, but we can’t. The United States is being very prudent, it is unthinkable that they could initiate a military intervention in Niger, ”he said in an interview published Monday by the La Stampa newspaper.
In the last few hours, and given the intention of the Nigerien military to offer resistance, other voices have been raised against a military intervention. The rejection expressed by Algeria, which is not a member of ECOWAS but shares almost 1,000 kilometers of border with Niger, has been joined by the Nigerian Senate. The president of this institution, Godswill Akpabio, assured the media on Saturday that its members were opposed to the operation and that they were betting on “the political and diplomatic option.” The president of Nigeria is the one who has opted the most for military intervention. In fact, it is the country that contributes the most troops, some 5,000 soldiers, to the military force in preparation. According to the Constitution of his country, the Senate must approve the intervention, although the president can initiate it without said endorsement in case of “imminent risk or danger” to national security.
South Africa, which on Monday described the Nigerien coup as “disturbing”, hopes that ECOWAS “will have successful interactions with the leaders of the coup and convince them to return to their barracks.” Some European countries have also stressed this Monday the need to give more time to a possible diplomatic exit, including Italy and Germany, whose government estimates that the mediation efforts are only at the beginning and hopes that those responsible for the coup “respond”. .
European airlines suspend routes to Africa after the closure of Niger airspace
European airlines such as Air France and British Airways have canceled and diverted some of their routes to Africa after Niger made the decision to restrict its airspace last Sunday. The British airline has diverted at least five flights to London, Bloomberg reports. The affected routes passed through Nairobi (Kenya), Cape Town and Johannesburg (South Africa). Meanwhile, Air France has confirmed the suspension of all its flights to Niger, in addition to the cancellation until August 11 of the routes to Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) and (Bamako) Mali, both bordering countries with Niger.
Air France has also announced that some routes will see increased flight time. According to Flightradar24, flight times to southern Africa could increase by up to an hour. KLM and Lufthansa have also suffered delays and incidents on their flights to the continent. Last Sunday, the Niger military junta announced the closure of the national airspace after assuring that the forces of two unidentified countries in the region have entered a “pre-deployment” situation that the coup leaders interpret as an advance of a military intervention.
Likewise, Sudan keeps its airspace closed until August 15, except for humanitarian and evacuation flights, due to the fighting that began on April 15 between the Sudanese army and the paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), declared in absentia by the army since the beginning of the conflict.
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