Niger’s military-appointed Prime Minister, Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, has expressed optimism about reaching a deal with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the coming days to resolve the crisis that unfolded after a coup in July. ECOWAS had threatened to use force to reinstate civilian rule in Niger following the overthrow of the democratically-elected President Mohamed Bazoum by rebel soldiers on July 26.
Speaking at a press conference in Niamey, Zeine stated, “We have not stopped contacts with ECOWAS, we are continuing contacts. We have good hopes of reaching an agreement in the coming days.” The situation in Niger has been further complicated by deteriorating relations between the country and France, particularly regarding the presence of French forces in Niger.
Zeine also noted that discussions were ongoing for a “very swift” withdrawal of French forces from Niger. Tensions between Niger and France escalated after the military takeover, with Paris standing by the ousted President Bazoum. France has not recognized the coup leaders as the legitimate government and has ignored announcements from Niger’s post-coup government, canceling military agreements with France and threatening to expel the French ambassador.
Currently, France maintains approximately 1,500 troops in Niger, many of them stationed at an airbase near the capital city of Niamey. Over the weekend, tens of thousands of protesters gathered outside the base, demanding the departure of French troops in response to a call by a pro-coup civilian coalition.
The timeline for returning to civilian rule remains a key point of contention in the crisis. Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, who chairs ECOWAS, suggested a nine-month transition period, similar to Nigeria’s experience in the late 1990s. Algeria, Niger’s northern neighbor, proposed a six-month transition, while the military rulers previously mentioned a three-year handover period.
ECOWAS has adopted a firm stance toward Niger following a series of coups in the West African region since 2020, including Mali and Burkina Faso. These coups have occurred in the midst of ongoing insurgencies and security challenges in these countries. Additionally, a coup took place in Guinea in 2021 following President Alpha Conde’s controversial bid for a third term in office, which opponents argued violated constitutional limits.