Hundreds of citizens with Russian and Niger flags show their support for the military junta and their rejection of ECOWAS sanctions, this Sunday, August 20, in Niamey (Niger). ISSIFOU DJIBO (EFE)
The armed terrorist groups operating in Niger have intensified their violence since the coup d’état on July 26. They have caused more than a hundred deaths, including some 30 soldiers, in just three weeks. One of the arguments put forward by the coup leaders for taking power was the failure of the fight against jihadism and the need to reorient it, but the policies of dialogue, community negotiation and the reinsertion of terrorists launched by the ousted president Mohamed Bazoum were giving its first results, with a decrease in jihadist attacks in 2022 and 2023. In the three weeks following the military coup, that dynamic seems to have broken.
The attacks have been carried out by the two arms of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State that operate in the Tillabéri region of Niger, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM) and the Islamic State Province of the Sahel (ISSP), respectively. The bloodiest took place on August 15 near Ayorou, when ISSP attacked three villages, causing the death of at least 50 civilians. On the same day, JNIM carried out an ambush against a military convoy near Kotougou, killing 17 soldiers, as well as stealing military equipment. The other attacks took place in Wabila and Hondobon, near Anzourou, Bourkou Bourkou and Sanam.
“It is clear that there has been an intensification of jihadist violence since the coup,” says Bakary Sambe, director of the Timbuktu Institute, a research center specializing in terrorism in the Sahel. “There have been more deaths in three weeks than since Bazoum came to power in 2021. Terrorist groups take advantage of the instability and the vacuum created by the military takeover. Those in charge of security are now sitting on the couches of power in Niamey (the capital of the country) and this is being exploited by armed groups”, adds the expert.
After constant increases since 2018, deaths attributed to jihadist violence in Niger had decreased in 2022 and 2023, says the non-governmental organization Acled in a report published on August 3. This drop was particularly notable this year. “In the first months of 2023, political violence decreased by 39% compared to the previous semester, from July to December 2022. Attacks against civilians were reduced by 49% and the resulting deaths fell by 16%. However, the operations of the Nigerian security forces increased by 32%, as part of a continuous effort to counter insecurity”, says Acled.
At the same time that he was fighting jihadist violence, Bazoum had launched a battery of initiatives that included promoting local peace agreements between communities, development projects for the areas most affected by violence, negotiation with the heads of katibas of nationality nigeriana, terrorist reintegration programs and the so-called peace caravans to convince communities to cooperate with the authorities and turn their backs on armed groups. This strategy had received criticism inside Niger, particularly among the defense and security forces, but was appreciated both by its international partners and by local communities.
Rejection of ECOWAS
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On the other hand, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has expressed its rejection of the three-year transition proposal announced on Saturday by General Tchiani, leader of Niger’s military junta. This regional body considers that the proposals of the military are “unacceptable” and constitute “a smoke screen.” ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security Abdel-Fatau Musah urged the military junta to “release Bazoum without preconditions and restore constitutional order without further delay,” he told Reuters.
Likewise, after a week of intense debate, the Peace and Security Council of the African Union (AU) has made public its position regarding Niger, limiting itself to “taking note” of the ECOWAS decision on the deployment of a military force. in Niger without expressing its explicit support for such a measure. However, it has expressed its “solidarity” with the diplomatic efforts of this organization and its determined support for the “peaceful restoration of constitutional order.” The AU has suspended Niger from all its bodies and has insisted on its rejection of the coup, also urging any country or force outside the African continent to refrain from intervening in the crisis.
This Monday, Algerian public radio reported that the Government of Algeria, a country that shares some 950 kilometers of border with Niger, has rejected a demand by the French Government to use its airspace in the framework of a possible military intervention in Niger. The response of the Algerian Executive to the French request to fly over its airspace has been “firm and unequivocal”, according to Radio Algeria.
In addition, Turkey has joined the list of countries that have expressed their rejection of a military intervention, like Algeria itself or Russia. This Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan assured the media: “I do not share ECOWAS’s decision to intervene militarily in Niger. Following this decision, Mali and Burkina Faso have warned that such an intervention would lead them to go to war. A military intervention in Niger would spread instability to many countries in Africa.”
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