Niger reopens borders with five neighbours a week after coup

All of Niger’s borders had been closed after an announcement by the coup makers on state television last week when President Mohamed Bazoum was removed.

Niger has announced the reopening of its borders with several of its neighbours a week after a coup that has been condemned by foreign powers and raised fears of a wider conflict in West Africa’s Sahel region.

“The land and air borders with Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Libya and Chad are reopened from August 1, 2023,” a spokesperson for the transitional military government said on state television.

The government closed the borders on July 26 while announcing that it had removed democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum from power.

The borders that have reopened are mainly in remote desert areas. Niger’s key entryways for trade and commerce remain closed due to restrictions imposed by the regional bloc.

Niger’s coup was the seventh military takeover in less than three years in Western and Central Africa.

On Sunday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened to use force if soldiers do not reinstate Bazoum after a one-week ultimatum.

In response, Burkina Faso and Mali, which have seen two coups apiece since 2020, banded together in opposition to the rest of the 15-nation regional bloc, saying they would consider external aggression in Niger as a declaration of war.

Defence chiefs from ECOWAS are set to start a two-day meeting in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on Wednesday to discuss the situation in Niger.

A delegation from the regional bloc was also expected to arrive in Niger’s capital Niamey on Wednesday to start talks with the military government, led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani.

Already, the first military planes carrying mostly European nationals landed in Paris and Rome on Wednesday, although there has been no announcement of foreign troops being withdrawn so far.France, the United States, Germany, and Italy have troops in Niger on counterinsurgency and training missions, helping the army to fight groups linked to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).

Germany’s Defence Minister Boris Pistorius said on Wednesday there were no concerns about the safety of German soldiers.

Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani also said any Western military intervention to restore democracy must be ruled out as it would be “perceived as a new colonisation”.