On Sunday, Niger’s new military rulers partially closed the country’s airspace and warned of a potential aerial attack, as a deadline imposed by West Africa’s regional bloc ECOWAS passed without the junta reinstating ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. The airspace closure comes amid deepening uncertainty and tensions following last week’s coup, led by army officers angered by the government’s failure to adequately support their fight against jihadist insurgents.
The coup leaders, calling themselves the Patriotic Movement for Safeguarding and Restoration, had until late Sunday to release President Bazoum, who was elected earlier this year. However, ECOWAS’s deadline came and went with no word from the junta on Bazoum’s status. The 15-nation bloc has strongly condemned the coup and could impose sanctions if the constitutional order is not swiftly restored.
ECOWAS leaders are set to meet again this week to discuss the evolving Niger crisis and how to return the country to civilian rule. The African Union and United Nations have also spoken out against the coup and called for calm. Meanwhile, the US signalled its backing for a diplomatic solution, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken issuing a statement supporting regional efforts “toward a peaceful resolution of the situation.”
The crisis underscores the grave security challenges facing Niger and the wider Sahel. Jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State have staged frequent deadly attacks in recent years. The junta claims they ousted Bazoum’s government because it was failing to provide adequate resources to the army to fight the insurgents. Restoring political stability will be key to ensuring Niger can effectively combat the extremist threat.
The coming days will be pivotal in determining whether the coup leaders are willing to negotiate a return to constitutional order or if Niger will descend into further volatility. The world is watching closely as this fragile democracy faces its greatest test.