Coup-hit Niger’s neighbours, Burkina Faso and Mali, have warned that any military intervention against Niamey would be considered a “declaration of war” against their nations.
The two countries, which are both ruled by military-backed governments, issued the warning in joint statements read out on their national broadcasters on Monday, days after West African leaders threatened to use force to reinstate Niger’s deposed President Mohamed Bazoum.
“The transitional governments of Burkina Faso and Mali express their fraternal solidarity… to the people of Niger, who have decided with full responsibility to take their destiny in hand and assume the fullness of their sovereignty before history,” the two countries said.
“Any military intervention against Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali,” they warned, adding that such a move could result in “disastrous consequences” that “could destabilise the entire region”.
The two neighbours also said they “refuse to apply” the “illegal, illegitimate and inhumane sanctions against the people and authorities of Niger”.
The coup in Niger on July 26 has sent shockwaves across West Africa, pitting the country’s former Western allies and regional bodies against other military leaders in the region.
Niger’s coup leaders, who have named General Abdourahamane Tchiani, the former presidential guard chief, as head of state, said they overthrew Bazoum over poor governance and discontent with the way he handled security threats from groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS (ISIL).
The power grab – which marks the seventh military takeover in less than three years in West and Central Africa – drew immediate condemnation from the African Union, the United States, the United Nations, the European Union and other powers.
Regional bloc ECOWAS has imposed sanctions, including a halt in all financial transactions and a national assets freeze. It also said it could authorise force to reinstate Bazoum, who observers believe is being held at his house in the capital Niamey.
In addition to Burkina Faso and Mali, Guinea’s President Mamady Doumbouya – whose government was also the result of a coup – has also expressed “disagreement with the sanctions recommended but ECOWAS, including military intervention”.
In a social media post on Monday, Doumbouya’s office said the sanctions “are options that would not be a solution to the current problem but would lead to a humanitarian disaster whose consequences could extend beyond the borders of Niger”.
Doumbouya’s office also said it had “decided not to apply these sanctions, which it considers illegitimate and inhumane”, and urged ECOWAS to “reconsider its position”.
The expressions of support from Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea came as Niger’s military attempted to consolidate its coup by arresting top officials of the toppled government. The mines minister, oil minister and head of the ruling party were among those taken into custody on Monday, according to Bazoum’s PNDS party.
The coup leaders had previously arrested the interior minister, transport minister and a former defence minister, the party said.
Meanwhile, a US official on Monday said the coup had not been fully successful and that there was still an opportunity to reinstate Bazoum, who was the first Nigerien president to be democratically elected through a peaceful transition of power.
France, Niger’s former colonial ruler, and Germany echoed those comments.
The first photos of Bazoum since the coup appeared on Sunday evening, sitting on a couch smiling beside Chad’s President Mahamat Deby, who had flown in to mediate between the government and military.
Deby is yet to comment publicly on his discussions in Niamey.
Earlier on Monday, the coup leaders in Niger alleged that Bazoum’s government had authorised a French attack on the presidential palace, a claim Paris has denied.
Anti-French sentiments have helped stoke ongoing pro-coup protests outside Paris’s embassy in Niamey, where demonstrators could be heard chanting, “Long live Russia” and “Down with France”.
International observers fear the instability in Niger could create an opportunity for organisations like the Wagner Group, a private mercenary company based in Russia.
Wagner’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin spoke approvingly about the coup over the weekend, saying the situation had been brewing for a while.
“The former colonisers are trying to keep the people of African countries in check,” he added in his audio message on the Telegram app.
His statements, however, struck a stark contrast with that of the Kremlin in Russia, which called the situation in Niger a “cause for serious concern“.