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Niger: Algeria, Egypt oppose military action, seek dialogue

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Wednesday, August 23rd, 2023
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Algeria and Egypt have moved against military intervention in the Niger Republic, insisting that dialogue remains the best option out of the current political crisis in the country.

Recall that West African leaders had, in the aftermath of the coup that toppled President Mohamed Bazoum, threatened to embark on military intervention in the Sahel country should the coup leaders, led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani, fail to restore democracy in the country and the ousted president to power.

Oppositions to military option have also come from prominent individuals and groups in Nigeria, including the National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, Jama’atu Nasril Islam, JNI, Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, and Northern Elders Forum, NEF, among others.

While also advocating dialogue to resolve the crisis in Niger, they contended that any military operation in the country could create problems for Nigeria, being its closest neighbour.

This is even as indications emerged yesterday that over 7,000 migrants are currently stranded in Niger as a result of border closures.

To find a solution to the lingering problem, the Algerian President, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, has dispatched the foreign minister, Ahmed Attaf, to visit Nigeria, Benin Republic and Ghana.

The Foreign Minister, who started the tour yesterday, is to hold consultations with his counterparts in ECOWAS countries, with a mandate to make a case for diplomacy, rather than military intervention.

Algeria, which shares a 1,000-kilometre (600-mile) long land border with Niger, had previously warned against a military solution, which Tebboune said would be “a direct threat” to his North African country.

He said: “There will be no solution without us (Algeria). We are the first people affected.”
The African Union suspended Niger on Tuesday until civilian rule is restored and also said it would assess the implications of any armed intervention.

Algeria also shares borders with Libya and Mali, both in the throes of years-long conflicts.
Niger is the fourth nation in West Africa since 2020 to suffer a coup, following Burkina Faso, Guinea and Mali.

The juntas in Burkina Faso and Mali have said that any military intervention in their neighbour would be considered a “declaration of war” against their countries.

Egypt urges dialogue to settle crisis in Niger — Foreign ministry

On its part, the Egyptian government stressed the need for dialogue, contending that military approach to the issue in Niger would do the West African sub-region and the continent no good.

The government said in as much as it is important to restore democratic governance to Niger Republic within the shortest possible time, it is also expedient not to plunge the country into a war that could affect its neighbours.

“Egypt boosts all efforts exerted to defuse tensions in a way that promotes the democratic order and the sovereignty and stability of Niger and prevents escalations that could shake regional security,” the foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday.

The ministry said the region (ECOWAS) could ill-afford a military operation at present and cautioned against it.

Thousands of discouraged migrants stranded in Niger due to border closures

Similarly, over 7,000 migrants are stranded in Niger, unable to be repatriated since the coup by the junta in July and the closing of airspace and land borders.

Niger is an important route both for Africans trying to reach Libya as a jumping-off spot to cross the Mediterranean to Europe and those who are returning to their homes with help from the United Nations.

UN officials estimate about 1,800 are living on Niger’s streets because centres run by the International Organization for Migration, IOM, are too crowded to take in more. The centres hold about 5,000 people trying to get home.

The UN agency had been assisting approximately 1,250 people a month to return to their countries this year, after failing to cross the Mediterranean into Europe.

But the closure of borders and airspace, according to Paola Pace, acting interim chief of mission for the agency in Niger, has forced it to temporarily suspend returns and its centres are now jammed at 14% over capacity,

“This situation poses challenges for migrants as migrants staying in these centres may experience heightened stress and uncertainty with limited prospects for voluntary return and already crowded facilities,” she said.

Pace expressed worries the stall in the transiting of Africans seeking to get home could increase exploitation of vulnerable people by traffickers and smugglers who normally focus on individuals trying to migrate to Europe.

The shelters are helping people who are making their way home, rather than would-be migrants heading to Europe — a northern flow that has seen more than 100,000 cross the central Mediterranean to Italy so far this year, according to Italy’s interior ministry.

COOPI, an Italian aid group that provides shelter for migrants in Niger’s northern town of Assamakka, near the border with Algeria, said since the coup in Niger, an additional 1,300 people have entered its centre, trying to return home.

COOPI assists the UN in hosting people, but has warned that it would run out of food and water if the borders don’t open soon.

Not only are migrants unable to leave but aid groups are also unable to bring in food and medical supplies.

Morena Zucchelli, head of mission for COOPI in Niger, said it had only enough food stocks to last until the end of August, while its funding would run out at the end of September, creating humanitarian crisis.

“If the situation doesn’t change … we can’t guarantee things will continue running,” she said.
Before the coup, Niger worked with the European Union in trying to slow the flow of migrants north to Libya and Algeria.

The EU had been scheduled to provide more than $200 million to Niger to help it address security, socio-economic and migration challenges.

Anitta Hipper, a spokeswoman for the European Commission, could not say yesterday whether cooperation on migration had been suspended, saying only that the EU would continue to “monitor and evaluate the situation.”

Sahr John Yambasu is one of the migrants who, after three months of crossing the desert and watching other migrants die at sea in his failed attempt to reach Europe, gave up on getting across the Mediterranean and decided to go back home but got trapped due to the border closure.

The 29-year-old from Sierra Leone reached Niger in June on his return journey, but United Nations officials said he had to wait for packed migrant centres to empty out before he could be repatriated.

Then mutinous soldiers toppled Niger’s president a few weeks later, bringing regional tensions and the shuttering of the borders.

Momo Kmulbah is another of those trying to get back home in Liberia. He says many of them have nowhere to turn for help, and that UN officials have told him to be patient.

The 36-year-old has been sleeping on the pavement in Niger’s capital, Niamey, with his two daughters and wife since June and now begs for food.

Destabilisation of Niger’ll have consequences on Libya — Bathily, UN Envoy

Meanwhile, the United Nations has said the destabilization of Niger Republic would undoubtedly have consequences on Libya, and vice versa.

UN Special Envoy, Abdoulaye Bathily, told the U.N. Security Council yesterday that Libya’s border with Sudan had been open to armed groups, mercenaries and gang leaders dealing in illegal migration, illegal mining, drug trafficking and other criminal activities.

For Niger, Bathily said, like other countries in Africa’s Sahel region, it had been affected by the crisis in Libya, as some Nigeriens have joined mercenaries in Libya, with armed elements in Niger active along the border.

He fears this could spread to other countries bordering Niger, should the situation in the country escalates.

UK demands immediate release of ousted Niger leader, Bazoum

The United Kingdom also yesterday called for the immediate release of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum of Niger Republic.

In a statement by Atinuke Akande-Alegbe, a senior communications officer at the British High Commission, the UK condemned the illegal detention of Bazoum by the junta.

Speaking against the coup, the UK said: “We stand with ECOWAS in condemnation of the illegal detention of President Mohamed Bazoum, his family, and members of the government, as well as the unacceptable conditions under which they are being held, and call for their immediate release.”

According to the statement, the UK recognises Nigeria’s diplomatic efforts to restore democracy in Niger, through its membership of ECOWAS, and condemned the coup against Niger’s elected leadership.

It disclosed that the UK’s Minister for the Armed Forces, James Heappey MP, yesterday met with Nigerian defence leaders and military chiefs to discuss the situation in Niger.

He also met with the President of the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS, Commission, where he reiterated the UK’s support for ECOWAS’ ongoing diplomatic efforts to ensure a peaceful return to democracy in Niger.

“The UK and Nigerian armed forces have a longstanding partnership through which we continue to tackle violent extremism and other security threats in West Africa and the Gulf of Guinea.

“The UK supports ECOWAS in calling for the peaceful restoration of constitutional order and democracy in Niger and we’ll work with both ECOWAS and our partners across West Africa to support them in that aim,” Heappey said.

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