On Friday, coup leaders in Niger announced General Abdourahamane Tiani the new head of state, just days after claiming to have deposed President Mohamed Bazoum in the sixth military takeover in West and Central Africa in less than three years.
African countries, Western powers, and regional and international organizations have all expressed support for Bazoum and called for the restoration of democracy. Some officials stated that the decision was not yet final.
France’s Foreign Minister Catherina Colonna explicitly referred to it as an “attempted coup” on Friday, while White House national security spokesman John Kirby said there was still room for intra-African diplomacy.
The upheaval has raised concerns about the security of a region where Niger has been a key ally of Western powers seeking to contain insurgencies by groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.
“A military takeover may cause the United States to cease security and other cooperation with the government of Niger,” Kirby told a briefing.
Tiani was the head of the presidential guard whose soldiers shut Bazoum inside his palace on Wednesday, causing confusion over who was in control.
Bazoum has not made a statement since Thursday morning, when he vowed to protect “hard-won” democratic gains in a post on social media.
Several world leaders said they have spoken to him since the coup, and that he is still detained in the palace with his family but “fine”.
Former colonial power France said it still recognised Bazoum as the legitimate leader.
The general appeared on state television on Friday with a banner on the screen that described him as the president of a newly formed military body, the National Council for Safeguarding the Homeland (CNSP).
“The President of the CNSP is the head of state,” an officer said, reading out a statement.
The constitution has been suspended, all government institutions dissolved and the CNSP will exercise all legislative and executive power until constitutional order returns, the statement added. It gave no timelines.
Tiani met with the heads of all ministries at the presidential palace on Friday afternoon. A CNSP member told journalists after the meeting the ministries will continue to provide services.
Before the uprising, Niger was seen as the West’s most stable ally in an unstable region.
It borders three countries – Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad – hit by coups in the last two years. Some were spurred by frustration over growing insecurity.
France, Germany, Italy and the United States have troops in Niger on military training and counter-insurgency missions.
Niger is also the world’s seventh-biggest producer of uranium, the radioactive metal widely used for nuclear energy and in nuclear weapons, as well as for treating cancer.
Like the military rulers of Mali and Burkina Faso, Tiani justified the coup by saying that the government had been failing to contain the Islamist insurgency.
In the capital Nimaey, reactions to the coup have been mixed.
“We need to be very vigilant to ensure that this fight against terrorism does not give them a position or an opportunity to stay in power forever,” said resident Ousmane Kansey.
Another passerby, Ibrahim Hamidou, saw the takeover as a positive move against bad governance and insecurity he blamed partly on the presence of foreign boots.
“The results are not good… this means that their presence is of little use,” he told Reuters.
Jihadist militants have been spreading across West Africa’s Sahel region for years. Niger so far has held them off better than Mali and Burkina Faso, where violence has only worsened since the military takeovers.
The juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso have increasingly turned toward Russia as a strategic ally and distanced themselves from traditional partners such as France, which has faced a growing wave of resentment towards its influence in the Sahel.
There were some Russian flags among coup supporters who took to the streets in the capital Niamey on Thursday.
One of the few international voices to welcome the takeover was Wagner mercenary boss Yevgeny Prigozhin, who remains active despite leading a failed mutiny against the Russian army’s top brass last month. He described the coup as an uprising against colonizers and offered his fighters’ services to bring order.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said constitutional order should be restored.
Foreign countries have not announced any plan to intervene in Niger but Tiani warned against any attempts to extract Bazoum, saying foreign military intervention would result in “the massacre of the Niger population and chaos”.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will hold an emergency summit in Nigeria on Sunday to discuss the situation.
Niger will test for the regional bloc, which has struggled to convince soldiers to give back power after the latest wave of coups in member states Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso.
ECOWAS has wrangled with the juntas on transition timelines it deemed too lengthy and imposed sanctions on Mali and Guinea over their reluctance to cooperate.
The European Union has threatened to cut budgetary support to Niger, while the United States said its cooperation with Niger’s government was contingent on “democratic standards”.
The United Nations said it would still deliver aid in Niger even though it had not had any contact with the military since the coup.