Niger: inflexible, the junta plays with mediation and reinforces its isolation

It took Washington two and a half months to formally qualify General Abdourahamane Tiani's takeover of power on July 26 in Niamey as a putsch

Niger: inflexible, the junta plays with mediation and reinforces its isolation

It took Washington two and a half months to formally qualify General Abdourahamane Tiani's takeover of power on July 26 in Niamey as a putsch. “The United States has concluded that a military coup has occurred in Niger,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement released Tuesday (October 10). An official designation which results, in accordance with American law, in the end of aid provided to the country concerned. In this case, the suspension of 442 million dollars (around 417 million euros) in economic assistance.

The American military presence in Niger – a thousand soldiers are deployed there, mainly on the Agadez base (north), which constitutes an important hub for American military intelligence in the Sahel – is not currently called into question. , unlike that of France, whose departure of soldiers, demanded by the junta, began on Tuesday, according to the French general staff. According to an official American source, United States intelligence operations, mainly conducted by its drones from Agadez, will continue.

For the moment, Washington's announcement should "not have a fundamental impact on the military and operational level for the United States, since in the wake of the coup, Washington had already suspended its cooperation in matters of combat counterterrorism and its military assistance to the Nigerien armed forces,” notes Andrew Lebovich, American researcher specializing in the Sahel at the Clingendael Institute of International Relations, in the Netherlands.

The “fetters” of the United Nations

But Washington's announcement demonstrates the difficulty of the international community in bringing about a junta which has not compromised on anything since coming to power. A position which precipitated the isolation of the military but also allowed them to establish their legitimacy among the population in a region plagued by jihadism and where coups d'état have followed one another since 2020. "Over the last two months, we have exhausted all possible avenues to preserve the constitutional order in Niger" and "over time, it became clear [that the putschists] did not want to respect the constitutional rules", conceded Matthew Miller, Tuesday, in front of the press.

This inflexibility was further demonstrated on Wednesday, when the military regime ordered the UN coordinator in Niger, Canadian Louise Aubin, to leave the country within three days, denouncing in particular the "obstructions" of the United Nations to its international recognition. And in particular the refusal of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to let Bakary Yaou Sangaré, the Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs, speak at the 78th general assembly of the organization in September in New York.

Unlike her French counterpart, who was also ordered to leave, Kathleen FitzGibbon, the American ambassador to Niamey – whose arrival in the capital after the putsch was badly received by Paris, which considered that this amounted to granting a form of recognition to the junta –, is maintained in her post and remains, according to the official American source, “engaged in informal discussions with the leaders of the CNSP [National Council for the Safeguarding of the Fatherland, the name of the junta]”.

Very invested in the Nigerien issue, Washington has always opposed the regional military intervention planned by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), preferring to plead for the establishment of a short transition in the hope of freeing the elected president, Mohamed Bazoum. A line which was close to that defended by Algeria. The latter had offered to mediate to resolve the crisis, an initiative accepted by the Niamey authorities at the end of September.

Algiers awaiting “clarifications”

But Algiers also ended up throwing in the towel. While its Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Attaf, was to go to the Nigerien capital to discuss with the CNSP, the Algerian government announced Monday, in a press release, "to postpone the initiation of the planned preparatory discussions until the 'obtaining clarifications' from the junta, specifying that they had not managed to agree with it on 'the program and content of this visit'.

At issue: the refusal of the Nigerien military to accept as a basis for discussion Algiers' proposal for a six-month transition led by a civilian. A project undoubtedly too far from the ambitions of the junta, which General Tiani had detailed on national television on August 19: a transition which “could not go beyond three years” and whose duration would be determined at the end of an inclusive national dialogue.

Algeria, which was the first country to loudly voice its opposition to regional military intervention for fear of a new deadly conflict on its borders (after Libya and northern Mali), knew that it could count on support from the United States. On August 10, Ahmed Attaf flew to Washington to meet his American counterpart, Antony Blinken. The next day, the American ambassador to Algiers, Elizabeth Moore Aubin, underlined “the perfect understanding in the positions expressed by the two countries” during an interview given to the private channel Ennahar TV: “Dialogue is essential,” said She. Today it seems almost impossible.