Time has been the best ally of the rulers in power in Niamey as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) rebels face the threat of military intervention – increasingly imagined – to restore constitutional order in Niger. It works in their favor as the divisions on the African continent are exposed between hardliners and advocates of dialogue. There are differences of attitude among Westerners, especially Americans and French.
Both powers are the most unconditional allies of the democratically elected head of state. But since the July 26 coup, Washington and Paris have not used the same tone. France is not only demanding the release of Mohamed Basoom, who was held captive by General Abdurahmane Diani’s men, but also his reinstatement in the presidential chair from which the military ousted him. It more openly supports the military option defended by some African countries, notably Nigeria, which exercises the presidency of ECOWAS and Cote d’Ivoire.
By the same logic, France does not want to withdraw some 1,500 French soldiers stationed in Niger because it considers the decisions of a military junta illegal. Some of them were previously stationed in Mali and Burkina Faso. The two border states were led by Putschist authorities who did not accept the presence of French troops in their territories.
Less targeted than Paris by the military in power, who use anti-French rhetoric to get into the good graces of a section of public opinion, American diplomacy is more flexible. “France and the US share a similar analysis of the need to contain the spread of jihadist groups in the Sahel. They both condemned coups and felt that military rulers did not guarantee security.”Michael Shurkin, director of projects at 14 North Strategies, a consulting firm specializing in African affairs, observes. “In Washington, of course, there is no consensus between those who see the preservation of democratic values as a priority and those who see the use of force as futile. But most believe that a dialogue channel should remain open with the military junta, even if it distances itself from France, as it did in Mali.Adds this expert on European and American security strategies.
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