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How did the coup occur? 

On 26 July soldiers from the presidential guard detained President Mohamed Bazoum and announced the suspension of all institutions and the closure of borders. On 28 July, the head of the presidential guard, General Abdourahmane Tchiani, declared himself the leader of a new National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland (CNSP).

A spokesman for the coup leaders said they had acted because of the “continuing deterioration of the security situation, and poor economic and social governance.”

How have Nigeriens responded?

The new leaders appear to have popular support. Thousands demonstrated in support of the coup in the capital on Niger’s independence day on 3 August 2023. According to reports, Nigeriens criticised the response of regional leaders and demanded the departure of foreign troops (France and the US have military bases in Niger). In early September, thousands rallied in the capital calling for the withdrawal of French troops, who have long been based in the country.

Will ECOWAS use military force?

ECOWAS, the regional bloc of West African countries, has responded to the coup by imposing financial sanctions and closing borders.

Under the leadership of Nigerian President Tinubu, ECOWAS initially set a seven day deadline to reinstate Bazoum to the presidency. When that deadline passed, at an extraordinary meeting on 10 August, ECOWAS said it was committed to a peaceful resolution of the crisis, but also agreed to activate its standby force. On 1 September, President Tinubu said all diplomatic options would be exhausted before any military intervention.

There is also the risk of a wider conflict; neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso, both led by military officers who also took power by force, have warned any such action could prompt a military response. Both countries have previously clashed with ECOWAS over the pace of their transition to democratically elected civilian-led governments (see Commons Library briefings on Burkina Faso: Second coup of 2022, CBP 9633 and Mali: Why have elections been delayed until 2024?).

How has the UK Government responded?

The UK Government is calling for President Bazoum’s immediate reinstatement and the Foreign Secretary says the UK supports an African and ECOWAS led resolution to the situation:

The United Kingdom supports the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in calling for the restoration of constitutional order and democracy in Niger. We welcome the determination of ECOWAS to pursue all means to bring about a peaceful resolution. We stand in support of democracy in Niger.

In recent years the UK had deepened its relations with Niger, opening a new embassy in 2020 and supporting stabilisation activities through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund programme.

In February 2023, during a three-day visit to the country, Andrew Mitchell, Minister for Development and Africa, announced a Sahel Regional Fund, committing £33 million over the three years to 2026. At the time, he described Niger as a “vital regional partner”.

What does the coup mean for political stability in the region?

Niger is the latest country in the region to have its leaders forcibly removed from power. Nigerian President Tinubu, who has spoken out against the forceful removal of a democratic government, fears militaries in other countries may copy the example of Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and others.

The UK Government has previously discussed the risk of violent extremism spreading from Mali to the coastal countries of West Africa and causing instability.

France, a former colonial ruler of many countries in the region, faces further questions about its Africa policyNiger’s military leaders are demanding the withdrawal of French forces in the country and the country’s ambassador.

Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group has been developing a presence in the Sahel, particularly under the military leaderships in Mali and Burkina Faso. Yevgeny Prigozhin blamed the coup in Niger on the legacy of colonialism and suggested Wagner soldiers could “establish order”. It is not yet clear what the Wagner Group’s future is in Africa following Prigozhin’s death on 23 August 2023.

This briefing discusses in greater detail the coup and the response. 

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