The implications of the recent coup in Niger
JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:
Military leaders in Niger seized power from the country's democratically elected president this week, making it the third country in as many years to fall to a coup in the Sahel region of Africa. Niger is a key partner in the West's fight against terrorism. Just a few months ago Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Niger and called it a model of democracy in the region. But with a new military government, it's unclear where the West and Niger go from here. Earlier today National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby told reporters that a military takeover in Niger could cause the U.S. to end security cooperation with the government there. To discuss the regional and global implications, Ousmane Diallo joins us now. He's a senior researcher at Amnesty International in Dakar. Welcome.
OUSMANE DIALLO: Thank you.
SUMMERS: With so many coups in the Sahel region in just the last three years, what does this coup in Niger mean for the region?
DIALO: I think the consequences of the coup d'etat in Niger are very dire not only for the region but also for international partners because Niger was the last stronghold of democracy in the Sahel, as you have mentioned in the intro. It was seen as a bulwark against authoritarianism in the region. And the fact that military leaders have taken over in Niger shows that the Sahel is in a very dire situation right now, whether on political governance, on the military response to the insurgency but also on human rights.
SUMMERS: Since the coup in Mali, the mercenary Wagner Group has stepped in for security assistance. What is the result of that partnership, and do you think the Wagner group will move in to Niger?
DIALO: Already, we can hear sources close to the Wagner Group in different Telegram channels saying that Wagner is ready to collaborate and assist the Nigerian authorities in tackling the insurgency, which shows their willingness to intervene in Niger. And I think we can conclude that the intervention of Wagner in Mali has been correlated with mass human rights abuses and violations but also in defiance by the authorities of Mali in international norms related to humanitarian law or human rights.
SUMMERS: I think upon hearing news of the coup in Niger, many were surprised to learn that the U.S. had a military presence in the country. But one of the reasons that the U.S. does have a military presence in Niger is to help the country fight the various terrorism groups in the region. At this point, do you have a sense of what may happen to these efforts now that the country is under new leadership?
DIALO: Yes. Usually, when there is a coup d'etat, there is a standard suspension of the U.S. military and defense partnership with the new authorities that have toppled democratic regimes, such as is the case in Niger right now. And I think the announcement made by Mr. John Kirby earlier that you mentioned in the intro shows that the U.S. intends to follow this policy. We are talking about hundreds, close to a thousand U.S. soldiers in Niger about important bases by the U.S. Air Force. And, of course, you have all these U.S.-trained personnel that are in the country that supports and train the Nigerian military in counterterrorist operations.
SUMMERS: And lastly, you are based in Senegal. Can you tell us what the regional reaction has been to what happened in Niger? What have you heard?
DIALO: I think the regional reaction has been stupor and surprise, in a sense, because Niger was seen as doing very well against the insurgency. And since 1990, there has been, like, incremental steps towards democratic consolidation. And all of this has been spilled on the ground by the military takeovers. And if you look at the reaction of regional bodies such as the Economic Community of West African States, they have strongly condemned the coup d'etat.
SUMMERS: Ousmane Diallo, senior researcher at Amnesty International. Thank you.
DIALO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.