Mon. Jul 15th, 2024

Zara Kada serves up dishes of rice, fish and vegetables in plastic bowls to her customers sitting on wooden benches in the capital of Niger’s capital, Niamey. This business is a lifeline for the widowed mother-of-seven but it’s under threat as food prices have shot up after economic sanctions were imposed after the military seized power.

“Not only has the price of rice increased but also that of cooking oil. It’s an increase of 2,500F CFA ($4: £3) in just one week,” she says standing by her small food stall. “This causes us problems because if I prepare the rice and I can’t sell it, there will be no profits, only losses.”

Two weeks ago, Niger’s army deposed the country’s democratically elected President, Mohamed Bazoum, attracting widespread international condemnation.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) is determined to stop yet another military takeover in the region – the sixth in just three years.

“We are drawing the line in the sand,” Ecowas security chief Abdel Fatau Musah tells the BBC.

“There is a contagion and if we do not determinedly stop what has happened there, then which country is next?” he asks.

So Ecowas has reacted quickly, by cutting off financial transactions, electricity supplies and, in a move particularly painful for landlocked Niger, closed its land borders, blocking crucial imports.

Now, after a second emergency summit on the crisis in Niger, regional heads of state have ordered the activation of a standby military force, ready to invade the country should the military continue their hold on power.

Protesters gathered outside a French military base after Ecowas announced the activation of a standby military force.
Image caption,Protesters gathered outside a French military base after Ecowas announced the activation of a standby military force

On the streets of Niamey, there is real anger at the way regional governments have reacted and the threat of military intervention.

“The Niger soldiers are ready to face any aggression against our country of any kind. They should count on our support, the support of the population and its partners. We are ready,” says Bana Ibrahim.

The 46-year-old is one of the leaders of a so-called self-defence unit that has been set up in response to the Ecowas announcement.

Another member of the unit, Moudi Moussa, agrees: “We are here to defend our country because the country is threatened by Ecowas mercenaries. I call them mercenaries in the pay of [French President Emmanuel] Macron. So we are here to protect our Niger and the people of Niger.”

While businesses like Ms Kada’s have taken a hit since the coup, Ibrahim Souleymane’s is picking up.

In his crammed tailor’s shop, he picks out white, blue and red pieces of cloth – the colours of the Russian tricolour.

Tailor sewing Russian flag
Image caption,Many protesters in Niger are calling for Russia’s support

“It was with the advent of the [General] Tchiani coup that I started sewing flags. Especially for Russia. People come to buy a lot of it because they use it to support our soldiers who have taken power,” he says.

Even though the flags of France, Niger’s former colonial ruler, and Russia have the same colours, some people’s feelings towards the two European powers couldn’t be more different.

“People buy it [Russian flag] because we are in conflict with France. For years, France has only caused us problems and the military wants to put an end to it,” Mr Souleymane adds.

The coup has unleashed widespread anti-French sentiment in the country. Paris is accused of continuing to wield undue influence in Niger long after independence and unfairly benefiting from its natural resources while most people live below the poverty line.

Moscow has built close ties with neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso – two other former French colonies which have seen recent military takeovers. Its propaganda networks promote Russia as a better ally for African countries.

France has lost public goodwill in many Francophone countries and it’s now backing the unpopular intervention by Ecowas in Niger.

In a statement, the government in Paris said it “affirms its full support for all the conclusions” of this week’s summit.

On social media networks, regional heads of state are facing accusations of working in the interests of Western powers – Mr Bazoum was a close ally of both the US and France and allowed them to have military bases in the country to help fight Islamist insurgents who are targeting the entire Sahel region of West Africa.

Protesters have accused Ecowas of being influenced by France.
Image caption,Protesters have accused Ecowas of being influenced by France

But how likely is it that Ecowas will carry out its threat to use force?

“They still say it’s on the table, but I think it’s up for negation,” argues Marie-Roger Biloa, a West Africa analyst.

“The military option will prove to be very delicate, and there are many voices against it. Even former prime ministers, former dignitaries of Niger are saying: ‘Please, please don’t launch a military attack against our country. That will be terrible for the population.'”

However Ms Biloa believes regional leaders will have to find a solution otherwise there could be more coups on the continent, especially where military elites can capitalise on the weaknesses of civilian authorities to seize power.

“African governments are having a hard time trying to deliver on the needs of the people,” she says.

“You have a huge population, which is very young, jobless, and they are not sure of the future. In this political context, you can always find people who support you when you overthrow the incumbent.”

Back at her food stall in Niamey, Ms Kada is worried an Ecowas invasion could open a deadly pandora’s box for her country.

“Conflicts like this one, we just know how it starts but the end, we don’t know.”

By Joy

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