EU, African Union escalate pressure on Niger’s coup leaders

EU and France suspend financial aid to Niger, while the AU calls on the military to return to their barracks.

General Abdourahmane Tiani, who was declared as the new head of state of Niger by leaders of a coup, arrives to meet with ministers in Niamey, Niger July 28, 2023.
General Abdourahmane Tchiani, who was declared the new head of state of Niger by coup leaders, arrives to meet with ministers in Niamey, Niger on July 28, 2023 [Balima Boureima/Reuters]

The European Union and France have cut off financial support to Niger and the United States has threatened to do the same following this week’s military coup, as the African Union called on the coup’s military leaders to return to their barracks.

The commander of Niger’s presidential guard, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, on Friday declared himself the head of a transitional government after his soldiers took President Mohamed Bazoum into custody on Wednesday.

“In addition to the immediate cessation of budget support, all cooperation actions in the domain of security are suspended indefinitely with immediate effect,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement on Saturday.

According to its website, the EU has allocated 503 million euros ($554m) from its budget to improve governance, education and sustainable growth in Niger over the 2021-2024 period.

Borrell’s statement also said Bazoum “remains the only legitimate president of Niger”, and called for his immediate release and for holding the coup leaders to account for the safety of the president and his family.

Borrell said the EU was ready to support future decisions taken by West Africa’s regional bloc, “including the adoption of sanctions”.

The French foreign ministry said France had suspended all development aid and budget support with immediate effect, demanding a prompt return to constitutional order with Bazoum back in charge. French development aid for Niger was at approximately 120 million euros ($130m) in 2022, and was expected to be slightly higher this year.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “The very significant assistance that we have in place for people in Niger is clearly in jeopardy.”

Earlier, the United States’s top diplomat also offered his “unflagging support” to Niger’s overthrown leader. Blinken told Bazoum in a phone call that Washington would work to re-establish the constitutional order after his toppling in the coup, the Department of State said on Friday.

Blinken also “praised Bazoum’s role in promoting security not only in Niger but the wider West Africa region”.

Blinken’s comments came after he told Bazoum earlier in the week that Washington’s support of the landlocked African nation would depend on its “democratic governance and respect for the rule of law and human rights”.

In an address on state television on Friday, the 62-year-old General Tchiani said he had taken control of the government to prevent “the gradual and inevitable demise” of the country.

‘Return to barracks’

The African Union also demanded the military in Niger “return to their barracks and restore constitutional authority” within 15 days since it grabbed power.

The AU’s Peace and Security Council “demands the military personnel to immediately and unconditionally return to their barracks and restore constitutional authority, within a maximum period of fifteen (15) days”, it said in a communique following a meeting Friday on the Niger coup.

The group said it “condemns in the strongest terms possible” the overthrow of the elected government, and expressed deep concern over the “alarming resurgence” of military coups in Africa.

Tchiani previously led the resistance to a failed coup in March 2021, when troops tried to take over the presidential palace days before the swearing-in of the then-newly elected Bazoum.

The pro-West Bazoum’s election marked the first peaceful transfer of power since Niger gained its independence from France in 1960.

Niger, which borders seven African countries including Libya, Chad and Nigeria, is seen by the US and former colonial ruler France as an important partner to address security threats in the region.

The country is the largest recipient of US military assistance in West Africa, having received an estimated $500m in assistance to the country since 2012.

The country also hosts more than 2,000 Western troops, mostly from the US and France.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies