In the tensions after the coup in West African Niger, the fronts remain hardened. The military junta refused entry to a negotiating mission by the United Nations, the Ecowas confederation and the African Union.

A US diplomat spoke to members of the junta in the capital Niamey on Monday, but was not allowed to meet the detained President Mohamed Bazoum or ruler General Abdourahamane Tiani. Tiani yesterday received a delegation from Mali and Burkina Faso, who pledged their support. The junta announced a prime minister and other posts late Monday evening.

It is also unclear how the Ecowas international community will react to the coup d’état in the country of 26 million people, which was an important strategic ally of the West and the last democratically elected government inside the Sahel zone overrun by Islamist terrorist groups. The alliance of 11 neighboring states currently led by Nigeria had threatened measures up to and including an invasion if the constitution was not restored after the military coup on July 26.

Meeting of Ecowas Heads of State

The Ecowas heads of state plan to meet in Nigeria’s capital Abuja on Thursday to decide how to proceed. The important neighbor Nigeria stressed the hope for a negotiated solution. President Bola Tinubu believes diplomacy is “the best way forward” to resolve the crisis in Niger, his spokesman Ajuri Ngelale said. This represents “the consensus position of the Ecowas heads of state” – Tinubu is currently Ecowas chairman. At the summit, “far-reaching decisions” would be made about the next steps of the confederation of states, said the spokesman. He added that “no options had been taken off the table”.

Military chiefs of the Ecowas countries presented a plan for a possible intervention last week. The French broadcaster RFI reported that the plans include a force of 25,000 soldiers. In addition to Nigeria, Benin, Senegal and the Ivory Coast had declared their readiness for military action.

On the other hand, the military governments of Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea, which were suspended by Ecowas after coups, support the coup plotters in Niger. Mali’s Minister for Territorial Administration, Abdoulaye Maïga, after his meeting with General Tiani in Niger on Monday, reiterated “the active, effective and full participation of Mali and Burkina Faso in legitimate defense operations in the event of an Ecowas attack on Niger”.

Top US diplomat Victoria Nuland met with new armed forces chief of staff Moussa Salao Barmou and three other members of the military junta in Niger on Monday, 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 Bazoum was denied. But you could talk to him on the phone. Tiani couldn’t see her either.

“I hope that they will keep the door open to diplomacy,” she said, referring to the putschists. “We made this suggestion.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told RFI that diplomacy was the preferred way to resolve the situation. That is the approach of Ecowas. “That’s also our approach,” emphasized Blinken.

Nuland also pointed out to the military the consequences for relations with the United States if democratic order is not restored. She pointed out that aid to Niger had already been frozen.

Military junta appoints economists as new prime minister

On July 26, officers of the Presidential Guard in Niger ousted the democratically elected President Bazoum. The commander of the elite unit, Abdourahamane Tiani, subsequently proclaimed himself the new ruler. Shortly after Tiani came to power, the putschists suspended the constitution and dissolved all constitutional institutions.

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.