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Liberation statement on the situation in Niger

LIBERATION is deeply concerned by the unfolding crisis in Niger, one of the world's most impoverished countries, amid the continuing instability that plagues the Sahel region — currently the most fraught on the African continent.

Niger is the latest country to experience a military coup d’état, and the manifold perils that often accompany such an occurrence, in an oft-overlooked region that was until not so long ago a backwater domain of empires, and which has suffered from the continued mal-interference of former colonial and regional powers ever since — not to mention that of the United States, European Union, and Nato.

Liberation maintains that foremost amongst the considerations of any progressive onlooker to the developments currently underway in Niger — regarding which there is a relative dearth of information at present — should be the dire humanitarian situation in the country and the vulnerability of the already beleaguered Nigerien civilian population in the face of an impending crisis restricted not only to the circumstances surrounding the coup itself and suspension of the political process in the country, but also the threatened suspension of vital humanitarian aid as well as the potential of a foreign military intervention as mooted by West African leaders.

According to the latest report from the World Bank, Niger has a poorly diversified economy, with basic agriculture accounting for 40 per cent of its GDP.  More than 10 million persons (41.8 per cent of the population) were living in extreme poverty in 2021.  Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, receiving close to $2 billion a year in official development assistance.

Niger is also grappling with an influx of refugees fleeing the ongoing conflicts in Nigeria and Mali.  As of August 31 2022, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had identified 294,467 refugees and almost 350,000 displaced persons in the country and the situation has likely significantly worsened since.

While President Mohamed Bazoum, who hails from the country's small Arab minority in a predominantly black African nation, was successful in elections held in December 2020 and February 2021 — which marked the first democratic transfer of power in the country's history — the country remains at the mercy of former colonial power France and the US, and by extension the EU and Nato respectively, which have sought to use the country as a regional base and garrison supposedly for the purposes of safeguarding the area from and countering the threat of Islamist insurgent groups — many of which have ties with internationally proscribed terrorist organisations, including al-Qaida and Islamic State — in west and central Africa’s wider Sahel region. 

The US has two military bases in Niger, with an estimated 1,100 soldiers, while the French presence in the country is estimated at 1,500 military personnel.

Niger also struggles with a security crisis in its hinterland areas bordering Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Mali, where armed groups continue to menace defenceless civilians as well as carry out repeated attacks against the Nigerien and foreign security forces.

The coup d’etat initiated by the military on July 26 has resulted in the arrest and incarceration of President Bazoum followed by the declaration of the hitherto head of the Nigerien presidential guard, General Abdourahamane (aka Omar) Tchiani, as the country’s new de facto leader, as well as the closure of all land and air borders and the establishment of a military curfew.

Demonstrations have taken place both in favour of the coup and in favour of the ousted President Bazoum, underlining the deep divisions in Niger.

The US has called for the release of President Bazoum, describing Niger as “a crucial partner” in the region.  Former colonial power France, which relies upon Niger as the main source of uranium for its nuclear power plants, has also condemned the coup, demanded the release of President Bazoum, and refused any suggestion that its military forces leave the country as it did previously in neighbouring Mali.

Liberation is concerned that destabilisation in Niger could rapidly extend to further uncertainty in the wider already deeply troubled Sahel region.  

While Liberation does not see the coup or the suspension of constitutional processes as being a solution to Niger's desperate situation, nor does it believe that the continuation of the situation in Niger before the coup, as one of the most destitute and impoverished sovereign nations in the world, was remotely tenable.

The people of Niger, already facing a desperate situation, are now further threatened with the withdrawal of vital humanitarian aid from the country in response to the coup, a move tantamount to a punitive measure and essentially exploiting the aid as leverage, even though such considerations should be entirely independent of the political developments in the country.

This undermines the very notion that the provision of such aid should only be conditional on whether or not there exists a humanitarian need for it and that it can be provided safely, as opposed to being used as a tool of punishment by Western powers.

However the political situation in Niger unfolds, the humanitarian needs of the people must be addressed independently of any geo-political considerations.

Liberation calls upon the United Nations to make every effort to urgently broker a peaceful solution to the political crisis in Niger and to call upon all parties to immediately restore humanitarian aid to one of the world’s poorest nations, as well as guard against any conflagration of the situation through the armed intervention of foreign powers which could serve as the precursor to civil war and yet another intractable conflict in this already suffering region of Africa.

Liberation explicitly rejects the notion of an armed intervention, under any pretext, or of foreign interference in the sovereign affairs of Niger, whether by former colonial power France, the US, EU, or Nato, or other countries in the region with their own woeful track records when it comes to human rights or democratic governance.  Issues pertaining to the governance of Niger and the course of its future development are the sole remit of the long-suffering people of Niger.  

Liberation calls for a political resolution of the current crisis, aided and brokered under the auspices of the UN, which puts front and centre the needs of the Nigerien people as well as urgently addressing the dire humanitarian situation which has been allowed to go on unchecked in Niger for far too long. 

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