Men in military fatigues claimed to have taken power in Niger hours after President Mohamed Bazoum was reportedly seized by members of the presidential guard on Wednesday, sparking international condemnation and renewed uncertainty in a volatile part of Africa beset by coups and militant extremism.
In a video communique, a man identified as Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane and flanked by several apparent soldiers, announced, “We have decided to put an end to the regime that you know,” citing a deteriorating security situation in the country and “poor economic and social governance.”
National institutions have been suspended and the country’s land borders are temporarily closed, he also said, appearing to read from a text on the table before him.
Niger has a long history of military coups since its independence from France in 1960 however in recent years it had been less political unstable. When Bazoum came to office in 2021, it was the country’s first democratic transfer of power.
Much of Africa’s Sahel region has found itself confronting Islamist insurgencies, including Niger which has received support from the United States and France in tackling extremists.
But the region has also seen multiple coups in recent years, including in Niger’s neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso.
While events inside Niger remained murky, including the precise whereabouts of Bazoum, international criticism of the attempted coup grew overnight.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he “strongly condemns… the unconstitutional change of government in Niger” and called for “an immediate end to all actions undermining democratic principles in Niger.”
Guterres was “deeply disturbed by the detention of President Mohamed Bazoum and is concerned for his safety and well-being,” he said in a statement.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) said that there had been an “attempt to seize power by force” in the West African country.
“ECOWAS condemns in the strongest terms the attempt to seize power by force and calls on the coup plotters to free the democratically-elected President of the Republic immediately and without any condition,” the bloc added.
White House officials said they “strongly condemn any effort to detain or subvert the functioning of Niger’s democratically elected government.”
US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the partnership between Washington and the West African country is contingent on its “continued commitment to democratic standards.”
France also described the unfolding events as an attempted power grab.
“(France) strongly condemns any attempt to seize power by force and joins the calls of the African Union and ECOWAS to restore the integrity of Nigerien democratic institutions,” Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna said on X, formerly Twitter, on Thursday.
Cameron Hudson, a senior associate at the Center for the Strategic and International Studies, said there had been indications that Niger’s military leadership were not pleased with the level of support they were given to fight militants and that a coup could impact that campaign.
“It’s a very fragile state and a very fluid situation right now and until we hear more from the coup plotters themselves it’s hard to know exactly what their motivations are right now,” he told CNN.
“If the military is more concerned with domestic politics, then there is a risk that they are no longer going to be fighting the fight against these terrorist groups that are now encroaching on Niger and on the capital,” he added.
Niger, he said, is “one of the poorest countries in the world with one of the highest birth rates”.
“It has endemic problems, poverty, and terrorism, so there are many factors contributing to instability in the country,” he added.
In 2017, four US special forces soldiers were killed in an ambush by more than 100 ISIS fighters in Niger.
Wednesday’s fast moving events in Niger prompted intense discussions between the country’s Presidential Guard and government authorities, a source close to the president told CNN. The source did not reveal what exactly was being discussed.
Niger’s presidential complex was sealed off Wednesday, with heavily armed members of the Presidential Guard assembling outside the Presidential Palace early that morning. Roughly twenty members of the Presidential Guard could be seen outside the palace complex later in the day.
A statement on the presidency’s social media channels said President Mohamed Bazoum is “doing well” and the army and national guard were “ready to attack the elements of the GP [Presidential Guard] involved in this fit of anger if they do not return to their better senses.” CNN cannot verify the statement.
The country’s interior minister, Hamadou Souley, was also arrested by the presidential guard on Wednesday morning local time and is being held in the presidential palace in the capital Niamey along with Bazoum.
Hundreds of protesters later gathered in the capital Niamey in support of Bazoum. Presidential guards to fired “warning shots” to block their advance when protesters were about 300 meters (984 feet) from the presidential palace, but CNN saw no injuries.
Up to 400 protesters were seen later on Wednesday, some holding photos of Bazoum and signs saying: “No to the destabilization of the republic’s institutions.”
Niger’s presidential office said in a tweet on Wednesday that “spontaneous protests by democracy advocates broke out all over the (capital) city of Niamey, (around) the country and in front of Niger’s embassies abroad after the announcement this morning that President (Mohamed) Bazoum is being held in his palace by his guard.”
The presidential guards are holding Bazoum inside the palace, which has been blocked off by military vehicles since Wednesday morning, Reuters and the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported Wednesday. Reuters cited security sources and AFP referenced sources close to Bazoum.
CNN has so far been unable to reach the country’s Ministry of Defence and Interior Ministry for comment.
A member of the National Guard guarding the building for both ministries told CNN that there are currently no officials inside.
The US Embassy in Niger said it had received reports of political instability within the capital Niamey.
“At this time the city is calm. We advise everyone to limit unnecessary movements, and avoid all travel along Rue de la Republique until further notice,” the embassy said.
Agency footage from the capital Niamey shows the rest of the city appearing calm.
Nigerian president Bola Tinubu – the current chair of ECOWAS – issued a statement condemning “unpleasant developments” in Niger.
Tinubu said they were “closely monitoring the situation and developments.”
“It should be quite clear to all players in the Republic of Niger that the leadership of the ECOWAS Region and all lovers of democracy around the world will not tolerate any situation that incapacitates the democratically-elected government of the country.
“The ECOWAS leadership will not accept any action that impedes the smooth functioning of legitimate authority in Niger or any part of West Africa,” the statement said.