West Africa: Putschists in Niger name prime minister

Almost two weeks after the military took power in Niger, the putschists have named a prime minister.

West Africa: Putschists in Niger name prime minister

Almost two weeks after the military took power in Niger, the putschists have named a prime minister. In a statement read on television late Monday night, a spokesman for the military junta named economist Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine as the new prime minister.

Lamine Zeine used to be Economics and Finance Minister in the cabinet of ex-President Mamadou Tandja, who was ousted in 2010, and most recently worked as an economist for the African Development Bank in Chad, according to a Nigerien media report.

No military intervention for now

After an ultimatum to the putschists had expired, a military attack against the new rulers threatened by neighboring states did not materialize. The West African community of states Ecowas announced that it would discuss the situation in Niger at a special summit in Nigeria's capital Abuja on Thursday.

Experts increasingly consider an intervention unlikely, but the situation remains very dangerous as all parties are under pressure. The federal government warned the junta sharply on Monday against acts of violence against Niger's detained President Mohamed Bazoum.

In the bitterly poor country with around 26 million inhabitants, the military removed the democratically elected president from power at the end of July and suspended the constitution. Under Bazoum, Niger was one of the West's last strategic partners in the fight against the advance of Islamist terrorists in the Sahel. The country, which is three and a half times the size of Germany, is also on a central migration route through the Sahara desert to Libya. The Bundeswehr maintains an air transport base in the capital Niamey, where around 100 German soldiers are staying.

High tensions triggered after coup

The coup has triggered high tensions in the region. The 15-state Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) called on the junta to restore constitutional order and reinstate Bazoum. The group, chaired by Nigeria, would otherwise take measures that could include violence, it said. Senegal, Ivory Coast and Benin announced that they would take part in an intervention.

In response to the threats, the military rulers in Niger closed the country's airspace. A spokesman for the junta said on TV Sunday night that any attempt to violate airspace would be answered immediately and vigorously. He accused Ecowas of preparing an attack from an unnamed Central African country.

The renewed blocking of the airspace hinders the withdrawal of the Bundeswehr from neighboring Mali. According to information from the German Press Agency, a flight of a Bundeswehr military transporter from Wunstorf (Lower Saxony), which was planned for a personnel change, could not fly to its destination on Monday.

Military governments alongside the new rulers

The military governments of the Ecowas members Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, who were suspended after coups, are on the side of the new rulers in Niger. The Malian Armed Forces said that Mali and Burkina Faso sent a delegation led by the Malian Minister of State, the Minister of Territorial Administration and the Government Spokesman to Niamey to express the solidarity of the two countries.

A spokesman for the Foreign Office in Berlin said on Monday that the putschists "must expect severe personal consequences should anything happen to the democratically elected President Bazoum and his family". We would perceive that as an escalation, just like our African partners." When asked, he mentioned sanctions and also national or international criminal prosecution as possible steps. The federal government also hopes that the putschists will respond to mediation efforts by the African Union and ECOWAS.

Top US diplomat meets members of military junta

Meanwhile, top US diplomat Victoria Nuland met with leaders of the military junta. Nuland met with the new armed forces chief of staff, Moussa Salao Barmou, and three other members of the military junta in Niger yesterday, she said in a booth with reporters after the meeting.

Nuland described the conversation as "very frank and at times quite difficult". Nuland said her request to meet the ousted and arrested President Mohamed Bazoum was denied. She was also unable to see the self-proclaimed new ruler, General Abdourahamane Tiani. "I hope that they will keep the door open to diplomacy," she said, referring to the putschists. "We made this suggestion."

Experts expect further attempts to talk. Sahel expert Ulf Laessing from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation considers a military strike unlikely. "I don't think there will be a war. Ecowas have too few skills and no task force," said Laessing of the dpa.

The element of surprise is now over. "Doing such an operation would be very risky, and the chance of it going wrong is very high - and the question is what comes after that. Then you would have a bazoum, which would be supported by foreign troops. Then there would be another coup, because he's so weak now." He thinks it is more likely that an agreement will be reached with the putschists on early new elections.