The leaders of Niger’s recent coup have taken the extraordinary step of closing the nation’s airspace indefinitely. The decision, attributed to concerns over potential military invasion from neighboring countries, signifies the tense and volatile atmosphere following the coup.
This comes on the back of a stern warning issued by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional bloc of 15 West African nations. ECOWAS had signaled its willingness to employ force unless President Mohamed Bazoum was reinstated by not reinstated by 23:00 GMT on Sunday.
The coup leaders, however, remained defiant, with a junta spokesman asserting that Niger’s armed forces are prepared to defend the country.
The coup, which led to the detention of President Bazoum on July 26, saw General Abdourahmane Tchiani proclaiming himself the new leader. The international community, including France, the European Union, the United Nations, and the United States, has condemned the military takeover.
Reading a statement on national television on Sunday, the representative from Niger’s junta said they had information that “a foreign power” was preparing to attack Niger.
After a crisis meeting in Nigeria, Ecowas military chiefs said on Friday they had drawn up a detailed plan for the possible use of force.
“All the elements that will go into any eventual intervention have been worked out here, including the resources needed, the how and when we are going deploy the force,” said Abdel-Fatau Musah, Ecowas commissioner for political affairs, peace and security.
He added, “We want diplomacy to work, and we want this message clearly transmitted to them [Niger’s junta] that we are giving them every opportunity to reverse what they have done”.
Despite the ultimatum set by Ecowas, the coup leaders have not shown any willingness to relinquish power, as demonstrated by the defiant rally held by thousands of their supporters in Niger’s capital, Niamey.
The situation is further complicated by the stance of Niger’s neighboring countries, Burkina Faso and Mali, which have warned that any external military intervention, would be considered as a declaration of war against them.
Burkina Faso and Mali are both Ecowas members but have been suspended from the bloc since being ruled by military juntas. Niger is a significant uranium producer – a fuel that is vital for nuclear power – and under Mr Bazoum was a key Western ally in the fight against Islamist militants in West Africa’s Sahel region.