NIAMEY, Niger (AP) — If the mutinous soldiers who ousted Niger President Mohamed Bazoum succeed, they will threaten democracy and security across the region and the continent, a senior member of Bazoum’s political party warned in an interview with The Associated Press.
Boubacar Sabo, deputy secretary general of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, said Bazoum was “kidnapped” by members of the presidential guard who overthrew him on July 26 and have kept him under house arrest ever since.
“What is happening in Niger, if it succeeds, is the end of democracy in Africa. It is over. … If we fight today, it is to prevent things like this from happening and to secure a future for our continent,” Sabo said on Thursday.
In a region riddled with coups d’état, Niger was seen as one of the last democratic countries with which Western countries could work together to crush a growing jihadist insurgency linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group. The overthrow of the president almost a month ago has been a major blow to the United States, France and other European countries, which have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid in training Niger’s army and – in the case of the French – conducting joint military operations.
Since the military takeover was, what analysts and local residents say, triggered by an internal struggle between Bazoum and the head of the presidential guard, General Abdourahmane Tchiani, who says he is now in charge, it has lost support among the bolstered its population by exploiting grievances against its former colonial ruler France and silencing opponents.
Sabo is one of the few openly vocal critics of the junta still in the country and not in hiding.
Several ministers and high-ranking politicians are being held, and human rights groups say they cannot access them, while others have been threatened, he said. Sabo called the surge in support for the regime in the capital misleading because the junta paid people to rally for it. Niamey was also never a stronghold for Bazoum and the junta is opportunistic, he said.
Pro-junta rallies take place almost daily with hundreds and sometimes thousands of people marching through the streets, honking cars and waving Nigerien and Russian flags and chanting “down with France”. The junta broke military agreements with France and asked Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group for help.
But while political parties and civil society organizations expressed genuine frustration with Bazoum’s party, including disagreements over the military alliance with France, it’s unclear how much genuine support the junta has in the capital and across the country, Sahel experts say.
“While many of those protesters may support the transition, it is likely that a significant number of them are only attending for financial reasons or out of curiosity and the excitement of being part of the crowd,” said Adam Sandor, postdoctoral researcher. researcher at the University of Bayreuth.
The junta could face challenges with its base across the country if it fails to appease local elites financially and if the military continues to suffer losses from rising jihadist violence, he said.
Attacks by jihadists have escalated since the coup that killed at least 17 soldiers and wounded 20 in an ambush by jihadists earlier this week. It was the first major attack on Niger’s army in six months.
Militants are benefiting from a lack of support from France and the United States, both of which have suspended military operations in the country, as well as Niger’s derivative security forces, which are concentrated on the capital and concerned about a possible invasion of regional countries. say conflict experts.
The West African regional bloc, ECOWAS, has threatened military action if Niger does not release and reinstate Bazoum. It has activated a ‘standby’ force and on Friday the defense chiefs will wrap up a two-day meeting on next steps.
Meanwhile, a volunteer recruitment drive is expected in Niamey and across the country on Saturday, where people can sign up to fight and help with other needs so the junta has a list in case it needs to call people for help.
“We know that our army may be smaller than the armies to come,” said Amsarou Bako, one of the organizers. “Those who come have information about our military,” he said.