Niger’s premier issues call from France for international help to roll back his country’s coup

Niger Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou answers the Associated Press, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023 in Paris. France prepared to evacuate French and other European nationals from Niger on Tuesday, telling them to carry no more than a small bag, after a military coup there won backing from three other West African nations ruled by mutinous soldiers. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
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Associated Press

PARIS (AP) — Niger’s prime minister, who has been stuck outside the country since last week’s coup, appealed Tuesday for the international community’s help in rolling back the military takeover, saying it was crucial for defending democracy in West Africa.

Prime Minister Ouhoumoudou Mahamadou said in an interview with The Associated Press that Niger should be considered a linchpin for supporting democracy in the region and for protecting countries to the south “against the spread of terrorism.”

Mahamadou was staying in France because he was unable to go back to Niger due to borders closing after the coup, which happened as he was travelling to Italy for international meetings.

Coup leaders pushed out the democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum last week in Niger, where the constitution grants the president broad powers including the authority to appoint the prime minister.

The West African regional body known as ECOWAS announced travel and economic sanctions against Niger on Sunday and said it could use force if the coup leaders don’t reinstate Bazoum within one week.

“It’s a catastrophe,” Mahamadou said in his first interview with a non-French media outlet. “Because Niger is a fragile country. It’s already a country where nearly 4 million people live in food insecurity… It’s a country with 300,000 refugees and as many internally displaced people.”

On Tuesday France, Italy and Spain announced evacuations from Niger for their citizens and other European nationals.

Mahamadou noted that the coup comes after three similar events in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea since 2020.

“If a fourth coup is confirmed, it’s the whole democracy in West Africa that is in danger, because there’s no reason why … there shouldn’t be a fifth, and after a fifth, a sixth,” he said.

“For the ECOWAS countries, it’s a question of survival. For the international community too, it’s a question of credibility. Niger must remain a democratic state,” he insisted.

His government was one of the West’s last democratic partners against West African Islamic extremists. “Niger is a key country in terms of security for the rest of Africa, but also for the rest of the world,” he said.

Both the United States and France have sent troops and hundreds of millions of dollars of military and humanitarian aid in recent years to Niger.

The current instability in the country ultimately “could encourage … the further development of insecurity linked to jihadists,” Mahamadou warned. “Because if the armed forces are preoccupied with issues other than ensuring the country’s security, you can understand that this will enable the jihadists to move forward on the ground.”

Still, the prime minister said he wants to remain “optimistic” about the possibility for Niger to get back to democracy and avoid an ECOWAS military intervention.

He said he remains in touch with Bazoum and that the president “is certainly a hostage,” but also that he is in “good spirits” and “ready to face the situation.”

Mahamadou said he believed the coup leaders would heed the ECOWAS call to restore Bazoum rather than face the threat of military intervention, because they say they are “patriots.”