Niger's junta reopens airspace, PM hopes for deal with ECOWAS
Niger's military has decided to reopen the nation's airspace after assuming control on July 26.
The junta in Niger announced, on Monday, that it had resumed permitting commercial flights in the country's airspace. This airspace had been sealed off since July 26 when Nigerien military officers ousted President Mohamed Bazoum's government.
Why was Niger's airspace closed?
Niger's airspace was initially reopened on August 2 but was subsequently closed again on August 6 due to concerns about a potential invasion by the West African bloc ECOWAS.
ECOWAS had issued a threat to use force if President Bazoum was not reinstated, although no action had been taken on this threat as of yet.
The closure of the airspace resulted in the suspension of certain flights and the adoption of longer routes by Air France and other European carriers.
Niger is a vast country, more than twice the size of France, and the second-largest landlocked country in Africa, covering an expansive area of 1,270,000 square kilometers. Under normal circumstances, numerous flights across the African continent would traverse Niger.
The authorities in Niger did not provide an immediate explanation for their decision to reopen the country's airspace.
PM aims for ECOWAS deal
Prime Minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, appointed by junta leader General Abdourahamane Tchiani, expressed hopes that Niamey would be able to strike a deal with ECOWAS.
He stated during a press conference, "We have not halted our communication with ECOWAS; we are maintaining these contacts. We are optimistic about reaching an agreement in the coming days."
However, he also emphasized the junta's readiness to defend itself if ECOWAS proceeds with its threat. He stated, "We are prepared for a potential attack at any moment, and all necessary preparations have been made. It would be an unjust war, but we are resolute in defending ourselves if such an attack occurs."
Nigerian President Bola Tinubu, the current chairman of ECOWAS, has suggested that Niger's military leaders implement a nine-month transition period if they are genuinely committed to returning power to a civilian government. Algeria has proposed an even shorter six-month transitional period. While Niger's junta has not responded to these suggestions, they have stated that their rule will not extend beyond three years.
Recent developments in Niger
In the latter part of last week, supporters of the junta in Niger's capital, Niamey, called for the withdrawal of the 1,500 French troops stationed in the country. Paris has thus far disregarded the junta's August 3 announcement that it had terminated its military agreements with France, citing the lack of legitimacy of Niger's military rulers and reaffirming its support for the restoration of President Bazoum's government as a pretext.
Niger's junta additionally issued an order to cease uranium exports to France, which it heavily relies on for its nuclear power.
The Republic of #Niger, led by General Abdourahamane Tchiani and supported by its people, declared the immediate suspension of uranium and gold exports to #France on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/7F6sNJRJS2— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) August 1, 2023
Several African countries have experienced coups in recent years, including Gabon, where the government was ousted by military officers just last Wednesday. Three of Niger's neighboring nations -- Mali, Chad, and Burkina Faso -- are under military rule, as are Sudan and Guinea.
EU diplomats have stated that they are preparing sanctions against Niger's military leadership, with organizations backing the junta potentially facing sanctions as well.