Niger junta proposes 3-year transition as ECOWAS visits

Niger’s coup leader said “our ambition is not to confiscate power.” This comes as an ECOWAS delegation arrived for peace talks after indicating a standby force was ready to intervene.

According to a report by Al-Jazeera, General Abdourahmane Tchiani, speaking on national television late on Saturday, gave no details on the potential transition, saying only that the principles for the move would be decided within 30 days at a dialogue to be hosted by the ruling military council.

“Neither the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland nor the people of Niger want war and remain open to dialogue,” he said after his first meeting with delegates from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the Nigerien capital, Niamey.

But let us be clear: If an attack were to be undertaken against us, it will not be the walk in the park some people seem to think,” he said.

ECOWAS has imposed severe sanctions on Niger following the July 26 coup and has ordered the deployment of a “standby force” to restore constitutional rule in the country.

The bloc said on Friday that an undisclosed “D-Day” had been agreed upon for possible military intervention and that 11 of its 15 member states had agreed to commit troops to the operation.

In his 12-minute speech, Tchiani claimed ECOWAS was “getting ready to attack Niger by setting up an occupying army in collaboration with a foreign army” and denounced what he called “illegal” and “inhuman” sanctions imposed by the regional bloc.

“I reaffirm here that our ambition is not to confiscate power. I also reaffirm our readiness to engage in any dialogue, as long as it takes into account the orientations desired by the proud and resilient people of Niger,” he added.

ECOWAS has taken a harder stance on Niger’s July 26 coup, the region’s seventh in three years, than it has on previous ones in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea.

The bloc, despite threatening military intervention, is also pursuing diplomatic ways to reverse the power grab in Niger, a country that has strategic importance for regional and global powers because of its uranium and oil reserves, as well as its role as a hub for foreign troops involved in the fight against armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).

While Niger’s coup leaders have rebuffed previous missions, Saturday’s delegation, headed by former Nigerian head of state General Abdulsalami Abubakar, was met at the airport by the military-appointed prime minister, according to the Reuters news agency.

After meeting Tchiani, the bloc also met separately with toppled President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been held under house arrest in Niamey since the military takeover.

“We met Bazoum; we heard from him what was done to him. He told us about the problems he’s facing. We’ll take it to the leaders who sent us here,” said Abubakar.

“Without doubt, the meeting has opened discussions that will lead to a way to resolve this crisis.”

The ECOWAS delegation’s arrival in Niamey followed that of the new United States ambassador to Niger, Kathleen FitzGibbon.

A spokesman for the US State Department said the new envoy’s “diplomatic focus will be to advocate for a diplomatic solution that preserves the constitutional order” and the immediate release of Bazoum, his family, and all those unlawfully detained.

The United Nations has also joined the reconciliation efforts, sending its special representative for West Africa and the Sahel, Leonardo Santos Simao, to Niamey on a mission to facilitate a swift and peaceful resolution to Niger’s crisis.

✍️ Kazeem Biriowo