Niger Junta Pledges Return to Democracy Within Three Years

Niger’s self-declared military leader on Saturday proposed a return to democracy within three years and warned the regional bloc against using military force.

(Bloomberg) —

Niger’s self-declared military leader on Saturday proposed a return to democracy within three years and warned the regional bloc against using military force.

General Abdourahamane Tiani, the leader of last month’s coup, said he had given the government 30 days to develop a framework for a return to democracy after a transition period that “cannot exceed three years.”

He stressed that foreign military intervention to restore constitutional order would have “repercussions on the entire region.”

“It’s largely thanks to the professionalism and courage of our force that Niger has remained the lock that prevents hordes of terrorists from destabilizing our entire region,” Tiani said in an address on state TV Tele Sahel. “Let’s be clear, if we’re attacked, it wont be a walk in the park.”

The developments come after the West African regional bloc, while still hoping to solve the crisis in Niger by diplomatic means, said it stands ready to apply force to overturn the July 26 coup if talks fail. 

A delegation from the Economic Community of West African States arrived in Niger on Saturday to meet with the country’s military leaders and ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. 

Read more: Niger Neighbors Try Last-Ditch Effort to Get Junta to Cede Power

Kathleen FitzGibbon has arrived in Niamey to lead the US mission in Niger, the US State Department said on Saturday. FitzGibbon, a career diplomat with extensive experience in Africa, will “bolster efforts to help resolve the political crisis at this critical time.” 

Soldiers led by Tiani, chief of the presidential guard, seized power in July and took Bazoum hostage. He remains in detention along with his family and government members. Ecowas has taken a hard line against the soldiers by closing borders, issuing harsh sanctions and activating a standby force. 

Top military officers representing the bloc’s member-states had completed a plan to enter Niger, Abdel-Fatau Musah, the economic group’s commissioner for political affairs, peace and security, said after meetings in Accra, Ghana’s capital, on Friday. 

The junta and its allies, neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso — both of which are under military rule — are preparing to counter a possible military intervention.

“In the event of an attack, our leaders have said that we’re ready. We’re prepared to support Niger,” Burkina Faso’s Defense Minister Kassoum Coulibaly told Russia’s state-owned news agency, RIA, after the military chiefs’ meeting in Accra.

Western Ally

Coup leaders had no intention of collaborating with the Kremlin-backed Wagner mercenary group or harming the deposed president, junta-installed Prime Minister Ali Lamine Zeine told the New York Times.  

Niger has been a key Western ally and a relative bastion of stability in one of the world’s most volatile regions. The US has a military drone base in the country, and France has about 1,500 troops stationed there, targeting insurgents affiliated with al-Qaeda and Islamic State in cooperation with Nigerien forces.

The landlocked nation, more than twice the size of France, ranks among the least-developed countries. It has a population of over 25 million and one of the highest birth rates in the world.

–With assistance from Yinka Ibukun and Alberto Nardelli.

(Updates with response to military intervention.)

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