What's In Blue

Posted Fri 28 Jul 2023

Security Council Consultations on Niger*

Today (28 July), Security Council members are expected to hold closed consultations on Niger, following this morning’s Council briefing with force commandeers of UN peacekeeping operations. The Council’s three African members (A3)—Gabon, Ghana and Mozambique—requested the meeting for an update on developments in Niger, where there was a coup d’état against President Mohamed Bazoum on Wednesday (26 July). Special Representative and head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS) Leonardo Santos Simão is expected to brief. A press statement, which the A3 circulated yesterday to strongly condemn the unconstitutional change of the government and express support for the efforts of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the AU and the UN, is under negotiation.*

On Wednesday morning, reports emerged of soldiers from Niger’s Presidential Guard detaining Bazoum and blocking access to his residence and the presidential palace. By the evening, a group of ten soldiers, reportedly representing all branches of the military and security forces, appeared on national television. Calling themselves the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland, a spokesperson declared they had overthrown Bazoum because of the “continuing degradation of the security situation, [and] the bad social and economic governance”. Some news reports suggested that the coup d’état was prompted by Bazoum’s plans to dismiss the head of the presidential guard, General Abdourahmane Tchiani. Today, Niger’s state television announced Tchiani as the leader of the council. He then spoke on state TV, reportedly criticising the Nigerien government’s lack of cooperation with the military authorities in Mali and Burkina Faso in fighting the Islamist insurgencies in the Sahel.

Developments over the past three days have appeared fluid. Yesterday morning, President Bazoum tweeted that the country’s “hard-won achievements will be safeguarded”, and Niger’s Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massaoudou called for Nigeriens to oppose the military takeover. Before the military’s televised declaration, the spokesperson of the UN Secretary-General announced that Secretary-General António Guterres had been able to speak with Bazoum, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken similarly tweeted that he had spoken with the president. On the ground, the military dispersed initial demonstrators who came out in support of Bazoum, while yesterday crowds backing the coup gathered in front of the National Assembly and reportedly ransacked the headquarters of the governing party.  A statement yesterday signed by the chief of staff said that Niger’s armed forces had decided to side with the coup perpetrators in order “to avoid a deadly confrontation” that could create a “bloodbath”. The armed forces statement warned against external military intervention.

This would be the sixth coup d’état and fourth West African country to come under military rule since 2020. Mali’s coups d’état in 2020 and 2021 and Burkina Faso’s two coups last year were preceded by years of worsening terrorist violence. Guinea, which also remains under military rule, experienced a coup d’état in September 2021 following President Alpha Condé having the constitution changed, allowing him to contest and win an election to serve a third term. Additionally, in Chad, after the death of long serving president Idris Déby, who was killed in fighting with a rebel movement, his son Mahamat Idris Déby and a military council took power unconstitutionally.

ECOWAS promptly issued a statement Wednesday condemning “in the strongest terms the attempt to seize power” and called on the coup plotters to free Bazoum. The Chairperson of the ECOWAS Authority, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Nigeria, said yesterday that Benin’s President Patrice Talon was heading to Niger to mediate. Chairperson of the AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat and Guterres also issued statements on 26 July that strongly condemned the coup, as have numerous governments.  Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the coup an “anti-constitutional act” and stated the need to restore constitutional order. Guterres repeated his condemnation yesterday at a press conference and called for President Bazoum’s release “immediately and unconditionally” and the restoration of Niger’s democratic institutions.

During their meeting, Council members are expected similarly to condemn the coup d’état and echo calls for Bazoum’s release and the return to constitutional order. Members may underscore the need for a strong, unified international response that might pressure the military to reverse course. They are likely to express strong backing for current regional efforts. Members may also pose questions to Santos Simão to better understand the motivations of the coup perpetrators and whether this development could be linked to the insecurity that has afflicted the region.

In addition, Council members are likely to raise concerns about the regional implications of this development. The overthrow of Bazoum would be a serious blow to efforts to reverse the trend of military coups in West Africa and the Sahel and may undermine the response to the region’s security crisis. ECOWAS has already been struggling to pressure authorities in Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali to implement political transitions to restore constitutional order by holding elections next year. At a December 2022 ECOWAS summit, the regional bloc announced that, in the face of the successive coups d’état, it planned to create a regional force to restore constitutional order when it is threatened in the region. More recently, on 18 July, President Tinubu hosted a meeting in Abuja with the presidents of Benin, Guinea-Bissau and President Bazoum of Niger, called the “Troika +1”, to reinvigorate engagement with the three transitional governments to ensure adherence to their commitments to restore constitutional order.

The region is also contending with the security implications of the planned withdrawal of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) following Mali’s request last month for the immediate end of the UN mission. Moreover, France and other countries had been strengthening their military presence in Niger over the past year to combat the terrorism threat, after withdrawing their counter-terrorism forces from Mali in 2022 amid tensions over the Malian authorities’ decision to partner with the Wagner Group, the Russian private security company.

The A3-proposed press statement was first placed under a silence procedure until 5 pm yesterday, but the silence was extended until 10 am today following a request from Russia for more time. This morning, Russia broke silence, proposing edits to the text, which it seems prompted several other delegations, including China, France, Japan, and the US, to suggest also edits. Members are continuing discussions to reach agreement on the text. An AU Peace and Security Council emergency meeting on Niger is also being held today.


*Post-script: Council members issued the press statement later that day. Russia initially sought edits that would have “expressed serious concern” instead of condemning the unconstitutional change of the legitimate government. Its proposal was based on recent precedent from Council press statements after coups d’état in Sudan in 2021 and Burkina Faso in 2022. The A3 members (Gabon, Ghana, and Mozambique) insisted on the stronger language, and the agreed statement “strongly condemned the efforts to unconstitutionally change” Niger’s government.

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