Nigerian Stalemate


Мохамед Тумба, одна из ведущих фигур военного правительства, захватившего власть в Нигере

All deadlines for all ultimatums have long passed. They racked the slides and made each other scared. Now, to inflame Sahel, it is enough just to sneeze loudly.

Algeria turned out to be an unexpected player in West Africa. Foreign Minister Ahmed Attaf undertook a tour to Nigeria, Benin and Ghana and made a rather loud statement.

«There will be no solution without us. We are the first and foremost people affected by this problem. We have a 1,000-kilometer border with Niger. We already share borders with troubled Libya and Mali. We will not allow any third front.»

Well, who will go to war? Mali and Burkina Faso, where the military is in power, have immediately declared that they will stand up for their Nigerian brothers-in-arms, whatever the case may be. At countless meetings of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), the determination to fight back against the junta and even to deploy troops wherever necessary was expressed.

But all this turned out to be just the rattling of the African epaulettes that they love so much. Only Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire are ready to actually order troops. Nigeria, the ECOWAS chair, is adamantly opposed. 

A majority of Nigerian senators have passed a message to the president that says explicitly that military operations outside the country are unconstitutional and we will not allow this initiative to go ahead. So let us look for a political and diplomatic way out.

«All ultimatums have been heard by us, French Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu said. — We note that ECOWAS has assumed its responsibility to resolve the crisis within the framework of international law and this is an important and responsible phase.»

That’s good. It means that the French are not thinking about military action yet. And their ally, Germany, which never shows its face in Africa but has the most powerful levers of influence there, has also taken a wait-and-see attitude.

«What matters to us now are the results of the negotiation processes,» the German Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

But the military still has to do its job, even if the politicians don’t want to. The Chiefs of General Staff of West African countries gathered in the capital of Ghana the other day. The ECOWAS Commissioner for Peace and Security, Abdel-Fatau Musah, said that «the day of intervention has already been set, as well as the strategic objectives of the operation and its technical support.»

«If anyone thinks that aggression against Niger will be an easy health walk, it is a big mistake,» said General Tchiani, the new leader of Niger.

In any case, no one is now seriously considering the military option to resolve the situation. The military who have taken power have proposed a three-year transition period in the country. This is what happens in all African countries, where lieutenant colonels sit in presidential palaces and do not sit there for three years at all.

Algeria’s foreign minister, who met with key players on a tour of Africa, agreed with the idea in principle but suggested shortening the transition period to six months.

«Algeria proposes to open discussions with all political parties in Niger without exception, limiting the maximum duration of the transition period to six months. The discussions will be led by a civil organization or political figure recognized by all,» said Ahmed Attaf.

The sanctions imposed by ECOWAS on the military in Niger have had a very painful effect on the civilian population, which in principle even supports the putschists. A real humanitarian catastrophe is beginning in the country.

«The prices of food, services, medicine, which were already unaffordable for the population, have soared even higher since the putsch, and we are not in a position now, under sanctions, to get out of this crisis,» says Emmanuel Gignac, representative of the High Commissioner for Refugees in Niger.

There are power and gasoline outages. The country switched to generators — those who had the money — and if not, you were plunged into darkness. Naturally, there’s a spike in crime. In just one week after the coup, from July 26 to July 31, crime in the capital increased by 50 percent.

According to Gignac, over the past two or three weeks, 20,000 people have simply fled their homes. And this flow is exactly what Algeria is afraid of, hence its initiatives.

But this is not a figure to be feared. There are 700,000 potential refugees in Niger. Half of them are locals, and the other half are fleeing coups in Mali and Burkina Faso. Five thousand families don’t know what’s for lunch. Or if there will be one.

UN officials calculate that 3.3 million people in Niger are «very food insecure» and 7.3 million are simply hungry.

They’ll be fine with the coup. Not the problem.