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Diplomatic efforts to reverse a coup in Niger leave the region on edge

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

Diplomatic efforts to reverse a coup in the West African nation of Niger have yet to work.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The group of West African nations called ECOWAS gave coup leaders a choice - they could release and reinstate their president or face military intervention. Instead, Niger's military vowed to defend themselves from any attack. And now a country that was a U.S. ally until the other day has cut diplomatic ties with the U.S. and other countries.

MCCAMMON: We're joined now by NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu, who's in Lagos. Hi there.

EMMANUEL AKINWOTU, BYLINE: Hi, good morning.

MCCAMMON: So, Emmanuel, the deadline has passed. Are we likely to see a military intervention now?

AKINWOTU: Well, it's possible, you know, and intervention plans - they've been laid out, but it's less and less likely. You know, this ultimatum - it was meant to show Niger that West African leaders wouldn't let this happen like it had with other coups in the recent past, in the last few years. And it was meant to pressure the junta to make concessions. But it's backed Niger's military leaders into a corner now, and they've come out swinging. You know, they've cut diplomatic ties with Nigeria, the U.S., France. They've quickly aligned with military leaders in Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea - you know, these are three countries in West Africa that have had military takeovers. And Mali and Burkina Faso have actually vowed to come to Niger's defense.

These militaries are altogether far smaller than the intervening countries'. But, you know, it's raised the stakes that this could spark a regional conflict. You know, yesterday tens of thousands of people showed up at a rally in support of the coup in Niamey, in the capital of Niger. And at other protests, we've seen chants against ECOWAS, you know, the block of West African countries, Nigeria and, of course, the former colonial rule of France. And, you know, these protests - it doesn't reflect how the entire country feels about the coup, but it does show that for some there is this sense that the country is under siege, and they're responding to that defiantly.

MCCAMMON: Many countries, like the U.S., are clearly desperate for the coup to be reversed. What are the other options on the table to try to release the president and restore the government?

AKINWOTU: Well, there are still some channels of communication and diplomatic levers to pull. You know, these are ongoing. But what we've seen so far is the junta have responded quite negatively to any actions it views as a threat. You know, a contingent of officials from Nigeria and ECOWAS - they weren't even able to meet the general, Abdourahamane Tiani. He's the self-declared leader. And they weren't able to meet President Mohamed Bazoum, who's still being held at his residence.

And Nigeria's cut electricity supply to Niger, and that's caused blackouts. And France and other countries have cut aid, and that aid makes up about 40% of Niger's budget. But there's a fear that these triggers, these actions - they can actually fuel more anger at these foreign countries rather than the military leaders themselves, and, of course, fuel poverty in Niger, which is one of the world's poorest countries.

MCCAMMON: Now, Niger is just the latest African country to suffer a coup. How does this affect the region and democracy more broadly?

AKINWOTU: You know, Niger is this large country, mainly poor, landlocked between several fragile states like Libya, Mali, Burkina Faso, and overall, Islamist insurgencies in this region are on the rise. It's a desert arid region, you know, where large parts are overwhelmed by terrorist groups, armed groups and the impact of climate change. You know, so it's a really fragile, fraught region. And these crises - they've displaced millions of people, you know, caused some of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. And the U.S., France and other countries - they've poured in more and more support into the Sahel and recently in particular Tunisia over the last decade. You know, Niger has really become one of the last main allies of the West in this region. But the impact of that support is now causing reflection, and the fear is that this coup could actually set back the country and this wider region even more.

MCCAMMON: NPR's Emmanuel Akinwotu in Lagos. Thanks so much for your time.

AKINWOTU: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
Emmanuel Akinwotu
Emmanuel Akinwotu is an international correspondent for NPR. He joined NPR in 2022 from The Guardian, where he was West Africa correspondent.