Niger capital on edge as deadline nears

Residents remain defiant amid threat of military intervention

NIAMEY, Niger: An air of defiance, mixed with unmistakable disquiet: As a regional leaders’ deadline ticks down to a threatened military intervention a week after a coup deposed Mohamed Bazoum as Niger’s president, anxiety hung thick in the air in the capital Niamey on Sunday. The capital is a stronghold for opposition to Bazoum, who has been confined to his official residence since July 26. In the dusty alleyways of Niamey’s Boukoki neighborhood, the prospect of an armed intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) was largely being met with flinty determination.

“We’re going to fight for this revolution. We’re not going to retreat faced with the enemy, we’re determined,” said Boukoki resident Adama Oumarou. “We were waiting for this coup for a long time. When it arrived, we breathed a sigh of relief,” she said. The combative attitude is widely shared in alleys echoing with the sound of whirring sewing machines coming from nearby shops. “If ECOWAS intervenes, that will make the situation worse. But the people are ready and the population is going to support the new leaders because we want change,” said a textile trader who gave his name as Jackou.

‘We have confidence’ Small traders regard the military takeover as a means of freeing themselves from the quagmire of deep economic malaise in a country that ranks as one of the globe’s poorest, after 12 years of rule by the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS). Whereas the political class is widely regarded as corrupt, the army has managed to retain its prestige—to the extent that Nigeriens have little doubt as to how their troops might measure up against ECOWAS forces should they need to test their mettle. “We have confidence in our soldiers!” said Abdoulaye Issaka, half hidden amid a heap of fabric behind his sewing machine. Additionally, he said, “we have the backing of Mali, Burkina (Faso) — that has strengthened us a lot.”

Both neighboring states—which have experienced coups of their own in recent years—have warned that they would consider any military intervention against Niger “an act of war”. For Amadou Bounty Diallo, an analyst and former soldier who said he was ready to don uniform again if need be, an armed intervention would be doomed to fail. “How do you advance in a city where the entire population is hostile to ECOWAS? We are going to fight in every nook and cranny,” he said. Deep ties Though military defeat is seen as improbable here, nonetheless there is concern at the prospect of conflict with neighboring states. Many premises in Boukoki are owned by expats from neighboring Nigeria who say they fear reprisals should their country’s troops show up.

“We don’t need this conflict,” said Muhammad, a Nigerian couturier who has lived in Niger for five years. “We know the people of Niger will be angry (in the event of conflict), they will see us as enemies. If something happens we shall return to Nigeria,” he said. “My parents called me to tell me to come home, but I’m staying. I’m not afraid,” said Mustapha Ousmane, a Nigerian who works for Issaka. A Nigerian colleague makes a throat-cutting gesture with his thumb—before bursting out laughing.

Even at this stage, some can afford to joke about the prospect of potential conflict between “brother” nations which citizens of both see as unimaginable, not least given their close commercial and linguistic but also family ties. “If the ECOWAS states take up arms, they are going to kill their brothers and we also shall kill them. And after that how shall we look one another in the face? There’s no sense to it,” Jackou said. And among those who do support Bazoum, many are not convinced that the spilling of civilian blood is a price worth paying to restore the ancient regime. “There’s nothing for it but to allow a transition then move on to elections,” said Indou, who works for a money transfer firm.

“War is not the solution. It could result in many deaths—and not just at the (presidential) palace but also in the neighborhoods,” Indou said by telephone. “Where am I going to go? I don’t have the means of defending myself.” “We have only our fingers with which to pray,” she said, putting her faith in divine judgment in a country where 98 percent are Muslim and where religion tends to bind when politics divides. It’s a stance shared by Adama Oumarou. “We pray Allah may protect our country. In the mosques, at home, in the street. Every moment,” she said. “Only God knows… Inshallah.” – AFP

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