Mass demonstrations have been held in cities across Niger in support of the CNSP and against foreign intervention.
As tension continues to mount in the Sahel region, Niger’s military has accused French forces of acts of destabilization, alleging they released “captured terrorist elements”
On August 9, Niger’s military leadership, the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP), announced that it was raising the alert level throughout the country in response to alleged acts of “destabilization” carried out by France to undermine the security of the country.
In a communique issued on Wednesday, the CNSP stated that at 6:30 am local time, the Niger National Guard’s position near the Samira Hill Gold Mine had come under attack. The CNSP’s spokesperson, Col. Major Amadou Abdramane, also added that “through direct communication with Western partners, the behavior of French forces has been criticized for having unilaterally released captured terrorist elements”.
He added that this alleged group had held a planning meeting with the aim of attacking military positions in the Trois Frontières (the Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger border area). The 16 members of the group had been apprehended in three operations in June and July.
Abdramane added that a French military aircraft had taken off from N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, at 6:01 am local time on Wednesday. He stated that the aircraft cut off all communication with Niger’s air traffic control upon reaching its airspace from 6:39 am to 11:15 am local time. A statement by the French foreign ministry denied allegations that its forces released any terrorists, and added that the flight on Wednesday morning was the subject of a prior agreement and technical coordination with Nigerien forces.
“We have been witnessing a veritable plan to destabilize our country. As was the case in Mali and Burkina Faso, the French forces are planning to discredit the CNSP and create a rift with the people who support it, by creating a feeling of generalized insecurity,” Abdramane said.
The reports came a day before a second Extraordinary Summit of the member states of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to discuss the “political situation and recent developments in Niger.” Notably, Burkina Faso, Mali, Guinea, and Niger will be absent from the meeting.
On August 6, the one-week deadline that the regional bloc had issued to the CNSP, to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Bazoum or face possible military intervention expired. Since then, while ECOWAS has yet to comment on the deadline, the CNSP has closed down Niger’s airspace and warned against any foreign aggression.
Nigerian President and ECOWAS Chair President Bola Tinubu stated via a spokesperson that “no options had been taken off the table,” adding that diplomacy would be the “best way forward.”
ECOWAS had outlined plans for a military invasion at the end of last week. However on August 5, the senate of Nigeria, the nation which is current chair of ECOWAS and which was set to provide the biggest contingent for the bloc’s 25,000-strong force, refused to deploy troops.
On August 8, ECOWAS dispatched another delegation to Niger, this time as part of a joint tripartite mission with the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN). However, the CNSP declined to receive the delegation with a statement issued by Niger’s foreign ministry which stated that “current context of anger and revolt [among the] populations following the sanctions imposed by ECOWAS does not allow the [tripartite] delegation to be received in the serenity and security required.”
The bloc issued a statement late on Tuesday noting that the ECOWAS-AU-UN Mission had been aborted, while adding that “the Community will continue to deploy all measures in order to restore constitutional order in Niger.”
This threat of military intervention has been widely condemned by progressive forces in West Africa, who have warned that the purpose of the invasion is not to “restore democracy” or the “constitutional order,” but to “keep Niger continually in the imperialist fold.” Social movement organizations and political parties in different parts of the African continent and the world have similarly condemned this West-backed intervention.
Peoples’ movements, regional governments push back against imperialist intervention
In a statement issued on August 8, the International Peoples’ Assembly, a network of over 200 progressive organizations, social movements, political parties and trade unions, expressed “its solidarity with the people of Niger in their struggle to defend their national sovereignty, and to resist military intervention by ECOWAS, NATO, France, and the United States of America.”
Denouncing the intervention as a “colonial operation orchestrated by NATO, with the collusion of ECOWAS leaders as its instruments,” the IPA further warned that military intervention would only “foster chaos and violence” in the region, which was already contending with the aftermath of the 2011 NATO-led invasion of Libya.
Today we launch an urgent declaration in solidarity with Niger, calling for France and NATO to get out of Africa!
— International Peoples’ Assembly (@peoplesassembl_) August 9, 2023
Under these circumstances, progressive forces across the world remain vigilant to the actions of western imperialist powers.
On August 7, Victoria Nuland, the Acting Deputy Secretary of State of the US, visited Niger and met with members of the CNSP, including Gen. Moussa Salaou Barmou. Speaking to the press, Nuland said of the meeting,“[w]e wanted to speak frankly to the people responsible to this challenge to the democratic order to see if we could try to resolve these issues diplomatically, if we could get some negotiations going, and also to make absolutely clear what is at stake in our relationship and the economic and other kinds of support that we will legally have to cut off if democracy is not restored.”
When asked if a “formal mediator role” for the US was appropriate, Nuland stated that “We are prepared to help address concerns on all sides. I would not say that we were in any way taken up on that offer.”
Even as the US and France are prepared to back any measures deemed “necessary” by ECOWAS, the dynamics within West Africa have shifted significantly. Burkina Faso and Mali have pledged to mobilize their forces to defend Niger, after warning of the destabilizing impact of a military intervention on the region. Niger’s neighboring countries, Chad and Algeria, have also categorically rejected an invasion.
As the ouster of President Mohamed Bazoum followed similar popularly-supported military coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, the IPA noted in its statement that “the people have manifested their outrage against conditions that are the direct result of the continued stranglehold of French neocolonialism and the military presence of France in the region.”
It added, “The use of organizations like ECOWAS and NATO to defend the interests of imperialist powers and support governments, which are widely rejected by the people, goes against all principles of democracy, peace, and prosperity. The level of political mobilization against neo-colonial rule since the ECOWAS’ declaration of war against Niger must be understood accordingly.”
On August 7, the 10th Session of the Grand Joint Commission for Cooperation between the Republic of Mali and Burkina Faso was held in Bamako, as both countries, along with Guinea, have pushed for greater integration and cooperation.
According to a statement shared by Mali’s foreign ministry, “With regard to the sub-region, marked by serious political and security challenges and geopolitical stakes [both countries] deplored and strongly denounced the abusive recourse of sub-regional organizations to useless and inhumane sanctions, as well as their willingness to use force against populations wounded by the criminal activities of terrorists, without community support.”
Both countries have penned a joint letter addressed to the president of the UN Security Council (UNSC), US Ambassador Linda Thomas Greenfield, and the chairperson of the AU Peace and Security Council (PSC), Burundian Ambassador Willy Nyamitwe, on August 8, noting that ECOWAS had “opted for coercive measures” against a sovereign country “in a total breach of international legality and legitimacy.”
The two further appealed “to the primary responsibility of the Security Council” and the AU PSC to use all means at their disposal to prevent armed action against a sovereign State. “We reiterate our commitment to finding solutions exclusively through diplomacy and negotiation, which are the only ways to guarantee peace and stability in Niger.”
As ECOWAS leaders gather in Abuja on Thursday, the IPA “is united with the people of Niger in demanding” the cessation of all attempts at a military intervention, an end to all sanctions targeting Niger, and the removal of all foreign military bases from the country and the African continent.
This demand for the removal of foreign bases brings to the fore the 601st meeting of the AU PSC held in 2016, where the body had “noted with deep concern the existence of foreign military bases and establishment of new ones in some African countries, coupled with the inability of the Member States concerned to effectively monitor the movement of weapons to and from these foreign military bases.”