_
_
_
_
_

Niger’s Minister of Foreign Affairs: ‘The only way to prevent military intervention is for coup perpetrators to leave’

Hassoumi Massoudou, acting head of state of the overthrown government, says West African countries have experienced four coup d’états in two years. ‘They have said enough is enough’

Hassoumi Massoudou Niger
Niger’s minister of foreign affairs and acting president, Hassoumi Massoudou, before the interview on August 31, in Toledo, in a photo taken by the Spanish Foreign Ministry.Javier Hernández
Francisco Peregil

Hassoumi Massoudou, the 65-year-old minister of foreign affairs for Niger, has been acting head of state since the July 26 coup d’état staged by a military junta. On that day, President Mohamed Bazoum was held by coup perpetrators who demanded the withdrawal of the French ambassador and 1,500 French soldiers who were supporting the legitimate government in its battle against the jihadists. The European Union is progressing with a proposal to apply sanctions against the military junta, but at this stage it is not considering supporting a military intervention. European authorities regard the coup in Niger — and also the coup in Gabon — to be an African problem requiring African solutions. For this reason, the EU has chosen to adopt the same approach as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The organization, which comprises 15 countries and was founded in 1975, is currently pursuing the diplomatic route, although military intervention has not been ruled out.

Massoudou, who understands some Spanish because he studied it as a third language at school, attended the informal meeting of European foreign ministers being held in Toledo on Thursday as a guest, under Spain’s rotating presidency of the EU.

Question. What effect might the sanctions on the coup perpetrators being considered by the EU have on the military junta?

Answer. This is about putting pressure on the military junta. Because it was the head of the presidential guard, who was supposed to guarantee the security of the president [General Omar Tchiani], who took him hostage. From that point, the ECOWAS decided to impose economic sanctions. And it asked our partners, in particular the EU, to support it and to apply pressure as well. The ECOWAS heads of state have seen four coups d’état in just two years [in countries belonging to the organization] and have said enough is enough.

Q. What is the president’s health situation and is he standing by his decision not to resign?

A. I am in contact with him and his state of health is acceptable, despite being held hostage in his own house, together with his wife and son, and having their electricity cut off. There is no refrigerator to preserve food and it is quite hot. It is now over 40 degrees [Celcius] in Niger. There are a lot of mosquitoes and they are having difficulty sleeping. They have all had malaria because of the mosquitoes. Their living conditions are quite tough, but they are in good spirits, they are resilient and fighting.

Q. So he’s not intending to resign?

A. Absolutely not. There is no reason for him to do so. There has been no political crisis or social crisis. With respect to the fight against terrorism, our country is doing the best in the region. We have contained Boko Haram in the east, around Lake Chad. We have also contained terrorists in Mali and Burkina Faso. Niger is a hub of stability and success in the fight against terrorism. So there was no reason for this coup to take place. That is why we call it a coup d’état of personal convenience by the head of the presidential guard. It was simply an act of tyranny.

Q. Is there a possibility of reaching an agreement with the coup perpetrators?

A. Economic sanctions from the ECOWAS will be accompanied by a military intervention if the coup perpetrators do not renounce their positions. They must therefore surrender power and reinstate President Bazoum as president. From that point, everything is negotiable. His departure conditions can be negotiated. But there will be no solution without the return of Bazoum to the presidency of the Republic. The only compromise with the coup perpetrators is that they must leave.

Q. To what do you attribute the anti-French sentiment in Niger?

A. A new phenomenon has arisen in Africa in recent years. This is Wagner, a mercenary organization operating on behalf of Russian diplomacy. In addition to their military side, they mainly have a large disinformation machine focused on criticizing France. Their message has spread to the big African cities, where they stir up France’s colonial past. But it has not resonated with the broader masses of the population, but rather with unemployed young people who live in the cities, are idle and susceptible to any kind of rhetoric. Scapegoating the former colonial power will not work for very long. Because France is our primary economic partner and our main partner in the fight against terrorism. For that reason, we are successful. We have an intelligent relationship with France and the United States. But Russia has nothing to offer. It only has a military dictatorship that fights any democratic model. Russian-backed military dictatorship regimes are failures on all fronts, including the military front.

Q. How does this message reach young people in the cities?

A. Through social media channels. Without them this would not exist.

Q. What is your opinion regarding ECOWAS’s doubts, including those of Nigeria, about a possible military intervention in Niger?

A. The ECOWAS is determined to carry out the military intervention. So far it has favored the diplomatic route, which is normal. But if all negotiations fail, the ECOWAS can only propose a military decision. It was all the ECOWAS heads of state, including Nigeria, who decided on this resolution. Nigeria currently chairs ECOWAS and is as committed as the others. It is now a matter of time. Intervention is being put in place and the only way to prevent it is for the junta coup perpetrators to leave.

Q. The coup junta accuses the ECOWAS of being an organization on a French payroll.

A. Do you honestly believe that Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone, which are not former French colonies, are being influenced by France? Is that reasonable? That is exactly what this galaxy around Wagner is saying. That is the campaign against France. And the France of today has nothing to do with the France of yesterday, which has not existed for such a long time. To think that Nigeria or Ghana will be run by the French is nonsensical. In a sense, it is racist.

Q. What is the reason for the coup? You previously mentioned personal interest.

A. Yes. That is the only one. [The head of the personal guard] revolted because he thought he was going to be relieved, because he had not been appointed by President Bazoum, but by his predecessor. Secondly, he lives poorly and there is a question of money, that is what has been leaked. But we did not see real reasons, we were surprised. In other places there are social movements, political conflicts, electoral crises. But President Bazoum was elected two years ago and there were no problems.

Q. If the coup proves successful, will the military junta allow Wagner’s mercenaries to enter Niger?

A. I think that is the path they would follow. What is more serious is that if the coup succeeds, which seems very unlikely to me, is that the fight against terrorism will be abandoned. The terrorists will advance because our whole strategy will be thwarted. Secondly, they are weakening national cohesion and that would entail a disintegration of the country as a whole, particularly in the north. And there would be a boom in all criminal activities, especially migrant smuggling. Because what is reducing this traffic to Europe today? Two states are resisting: Niger and Algeria. Niger borders Libya, Chad and Sudan. We are the last stronghold [against irregular migration]. And obviously that is why this coup should also be of concern to Europe.

Q. Is the Sahel becoming a second stage, after Ukraine, of the conflict between the West and Russia?

A. I don’t know. But I do know that the generation of the various coups is a fundamentally anti-democratic one, which detests Western values. And they have found that in Russia there is a way to secure their power by means of mercenaries. And we cannot accept that our country and this region fall and surrender democracy, surrender freedom, that our people are taken hostage.

Q. What do you think will happen in the next few days?

A. I think that in the coming days military pressure will continue to be exerted on the junta. And I think the only solution they have to avoid military intervention is to leave.

Q. And will they leave?

A. If they do not, they will leave through force.

Q. To what do you attribute there being up to 10 successful coups in Africa in the last four years?

A. There is a new phenomenon [in reference to Wagner]. There is also an economic issue and a security issue. In Mali, the democratic government could not handle the partition of the country in the north. Islamist movements took advantage of the security void. This in turn led to political and social protests. But things have been completely different in Niger, because we have managed the security on the borders with Chad and Mali very well. We are a democracy with an alternation of power. Niger is the counterexample that impedes the existence of a single model. The military regimes in Mali and Burkina have not been as successful in the fight against terrorism as Niger’s democracy has been. So this poses problems for these regimes and their protectors, such as Wagner. They don’t want a democratic model that is more successful than the authoritarian version. And this man who took the president hostage was looking for an ideological outfit to wear, something other than his own personal convenience. When he took the president hostage, the outfit was there, mass-produced and ready to wear. It was the anti-French discourse and the whole rhetoric of Wagner.

Q. Do all these coups have a common component?

A. Yes, the new phenomenon has been Wagner. They have offered a mass-produced ideological outfit for a large number of people to wear.

Q. What do you think about the position of the United States, which has yet to call the removal of President Bazoum a military coup?

A. They did not call it a coup d’état because, in their opinion, that would mean the removal of the government from power. It is just a question of their legal mechanisms. They believe that the coup did not take place and that the legal and legitimate president remains Bazoum. In addition, they condemn what happened and support the decisions from the ECOWAS, therefore they are on the same line as the whole international community.

Q. Where were you on July 26, the day of the coup?

A. In Niger, in Niamey. I found out quite early in the morning. The first day I was arguing with the chief of staff to negotiate and get the head of the presidential guard to prevent the coup. When I saw that he was determined to stay, I had to go into hiding and I realized that action had to be taken quickly from the outside to put an end to this affair. I went to Nigeria to attend the ECOWAS summit on August 3 or 4, where the sanctions regime was approved. Since then, I have been in Nigeria and I am following everything that is happening in the ECOWAS.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition

More information

Archived In

Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
Recomendaciones EL PAÍS
_
_