| 6 December 2023, Wednesday |

West African leaders plan to meet on Niger but options are few as a military junta defies mediation

An advisor to Bazoum who was not authorized to speak about the situation due to the sensitivity of it told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the family is without water and electricity and subsisting on rice and canned goods because food is running out.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said he was very concerned about reports of the “deplorable living conditions” Bazoum and his family were in and called for the president’s immediate release.

But as the junta becomes more entrenched, the options for negotiations are becoming limited, said Andrew Lebovich, a research fellow with the Clingendael Institute.

“It’s very difficult to say what might come out of it, but the fact that the initial deadline passed without intervention and that the (junta) has continued to hold a fairly firm line, indicate that they think they can outlast this pressure,” he said.

The main parties’ positions are dangerously far apart, according to the International Crisis Group, which said that if dialogue is going to succeed, each side is going to have to make concessions, which they’ve so far refused to do.

Since seizing power, the junta has cut ties with France and exploited popular grievances toward its former colonial ruler to shore up its support base. It also has asked for help from the Russian mercenary group Wagner, which operates in a handful of African countries and has been accused of committing human rights abuses.

Moscow is using Wagner and other channels of influence to discredit Western nations, Lou Osborn, an investigator with All Eyes on Wagner, a project focusing on the Wagner group, asserted to The Associated Press.

Tactics include using social media to spread rumors about Wagner’s upcoming arrival to Niger and employing fake accounts to mobilize demonstrations and spread false narratives, Osborn said. “Their objective is not to support the junta or an alternative political approach but to sow discord, create chaos, destabilize,” she said.

She pointed to a Telegram post on Wednesday by an alleged Wagner operative, Alexander Ivanov, asserting that France had begun the “mass removal of children” likely to be used for slave labor and sexual exploitation.

It was not immediately possible to verify the allegations. Wagner’s media arm is effectively disbanded and hasn’t replied to requests for comment since Niger’s coup.

While there’s no reason to believe Russia was behind the coup, it will leverage the opportunity to gain a stronger foothold in the region, something Western nations were trying to avoid, Sahel experts say.

France and the United States have more than 2,500 military personnel in Niger and along with other European nations have poured hundreds of millions of dollars of military assistance into propping up the country’s forces. Much of that aid was suspended after members of the presidential guard overthrew Bazoum.

Meanwhile, Niger’s approximately 25 million people are feeling the impact of the sanctions.

Some neighborhoods in the capital, Niamey are living in the dark with little access to electricity and there are frequent power cuts across the city. The country gets up to 90% of its power from Nigeria, which has cut off some of the supply.

Since the coup, Hamidou Albade, 48, said he’s been unable to run his shop on the outskirts of Niamey because there’s been no electricity. He also works as a taxi driver but lost business there, too, because a lot of of his foreign clients have left the city.

“It’s very difficult, I just sit at home doing nothing,” he said. Still, he supports the junta. “We’re suffering now, but I know the junta will find a solution to get out of the crisis,” he said.