Niger’s military ruler calls for national dialogue and a three year transition plan as PM warns West not to push them into the arms of Russia
Niger’s new military ruler said Saturday a transition of power would not go beyond three years, and warned that any attack on the country would not be easy for those involved.
“Our ambition is not to confiscate power,” General Abdourahamane Tchiani said in a televised address, adding that an attack on Niger would not be “a walk in the park”.
His warning came a day after the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) declared its readiness for armed intervention dubbed “D-Day” to restore democratic order in Niger.
In a 12-minute televised speech, Tchiani announced the launch of a “national dialogue” which has 30 days to formulate “concrete proposals” to lay “the foundations of a new constitutional life”.
The announcement came after an ECOWAS delegation arrived in Niamey earlier Saturday for talks to try to defuse the political crisis in Niger.
The ECOWAS delegation
The ECOWAS delegation in Niamey met with ousted President Mohamed Bazoum in the presence of Prime Minister Ali Zeine and a member of junta, according to reports.
Zeine was appointed prime minister after the July 26 and is the most senior civilian appointed by the military leaders.
The ECOWAS delegation, which landed in Niamey earlier Saturday, is led by former Nigerian head of state Abdulsalami Abubakar.
Resolutions of the meeting were not disclosed but Tchiani’s televised speech suggests that the ECOWAS delegation’s mission to restore Bazoum to power was futile.
On Friday in a New York Times interview Zeine said Niger’s coup leaders have “no intention” of working with Russian defense contractor Wagner Group PMC adding that he had “seen no intention” on the part of the ruling generals to solicit the help of the Wagner Group.
Zeine warned, “Don’t push Nigeriens to go toward partners that you don’t want to see here.” in apparent dig at Western pressure and a potential ECOWAS military intervention.
Bazoum was pro-western and the junta set about shredding trade and military agreements with France – Niger’s former colonial master – and, according to the Associated Press, met with Wagner Group representatives in neighbouring Mali.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the Wagner chief has spoken favourably of the coup, calling it a “justified rebellion of the people against Western exploitation.”
Wagner troops have reportedly operated in Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Mozambique, and the Central African Republic in recent years.
In the US, Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared earlier this month that while the coup “was not orchestrated by Russia or Wagner,” Washington believes the Russian contractor will “take advantage of” the unrest to expand its influence in Africa.
The US State Department confirmed that the new US ambassador to Niger Kathleen FitzGibbon will not formally present her credentials to the military government, which the US does not recognise, the department said in a statement.
“Her arrival does not represent any change in our policy position,” it said, “but responds to the need for senior leadership of our mission at a challenging time.”
The arrival of FitzGibbon, on Saturday an experienced Africa hand who was previously the number two in the US embassy in Nigeria, comes just weeks after the US ordered non-essential embassy personnel to leave Niger.
Meanwhile thousands of Nigeriens are currently enlisting into the army as Mali and Burkina Faso sent two Tucano fighter planes to Naimey in show of support
“Mali and Burkina Faso turned their commitments into concrete action by deploying warplanes to respond to any attack on Niger,” State TV said, noting the planes were Super Tucano fighters.
There has been little public sign of resistance to the coup.
Akowe with materials from Reuters/AFP/RT/Telegram