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Nigeriens Rally For Volunteer Mobilization Amid Growing Concerns Of Regional Invasion Against Junta



Nigeriens Rally For Volunteer Mobilization Amid Growing Concerns Of Regional Invasion Against Junta

The (volunteers in Burkina Faso) are fighting the Burkinabe who took weapons against their own brothers … The difference with us is our people will fight against an intrusion

Nigeriens are gearing up for a potential conflict against neighboring countries that pose a threat of invasion, just three weeks after mutinous soldiers overthrew the democratically elected president of the nation.

In Niamey, the capital city, residents are urging the widespread enlistment of volunteers to support the military amidst an escalating danger from the West African regional organization, ECOWAS. The organization has issued a warning of potential military intervention unless the junta restores ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. ECOWAS has already put its “standby force” into action, aiming to reestablish stability in Niger after the junta’s failure to meet the deadline for Bazoum’s reinstatement and release.

Led by a coalition of local residents in Niamey, the initiative seeks to mobilize tens of thousands of volunteers nationwide under the banner of “Volunteers for the Defense of Niger.” This effort aims to offer a multifaceted response, encompassing combat roles, medical assistance, and specialized technical and engineering support, among other functions. Amsarou Bako, one of the initiative’s founders, emphasized to The Associated Press on Tuesday that these volunteers stand ready to aid the junta if required.

“It’s an eventuality. We need to be ready whenever it happens,” he said. The recruitment drive will launch Saturday in Niamey as well as in cities where invasion forces might enter, such as near the borders with Nigeria and Benin, two countries, which have said they would participate in an intervention. Anyone over 18 can register and the list will be given to the junta to call upon people if needed, said Bako. The junta is not involved, but is aware of the initiative, he said.

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Escalating regional tensions persist as the impasse between Niger and ECOWAS remains unresolved, even as both parties express a willingness to seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis. In a recent development, the junta signaled its openness to engage in dialogue with ECOWAS, following a series of rejected attempts by the regional bloc to initiate discussions. However, this conciliatory gesture was quickly overshadowed as the junta proceeded to accuse Bazoum of “high treason” and recalled its ambassador from Ivory Coast, further complicating the situation.

Anticipated to convene this week, ECOWAS defense chiefs are set to hold their first meeting since the announcement of the deployment of the “standby” force. The timing and the possibility of an invasion remain uncertain; however, experts in conflict affairs caution that if implemented, the force could likely consist of several thousand troops and lead to grave repercussions. The potential consequences of such an intervention are deemed significant by conflict analysts.

“A military intervention with no end in sight risks triggering a regional war, with catastrophic consequences for the vast Sahel that is already plagued by insecurity, displacement and poverty,” said Mucahid Durmaz, senior analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, a global risk intelligence company.

Niger stood as a notable democratic stronghold within the Sahel region, south of the vast Sahara Desert. Regarded as a key collaborator for Western nations in their endeavor to counter the escalating jihadi violence associated with groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State. France, the former colonial power, along with the United States, maintains a presence of roughly 2,500 military personnel in the area. These forces provide training to Niger’s armed forces and engage in collaborative operations, with France also conducting joint military endeavors.

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Instances of coups have been distressingly frequent within the region, and the recent coup in Niger is regarded by the global community as another concerning occurrence. Nevertheless, experts assert that as time elapses, the likelihood of external intervention diminishes, as the junta further solidifies its control over the nation, potentially compelling the international community to acquiesce to the prevailing circumstances.

While a diplomatic resolution remains plausible, the pivotal query revolves around the extent of military leverage to expedite such a resolution. A Western official, speaking anonymously to The AP, underscored that the level of military pressure exerted will determine the viability of this diplomatic endeavor.

In a statement on Tuesday, United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken emphasized that diplomatic avenues remain open to guide the nation back to constitutional governance. He affirmed U.S. endorsement of ECOWAS’ dialogue initiatives, encompassing their contingency measures.

Kathleen FitzGibbon, the newly appointed U.S. ambassador to Niger, is anticipated to reach Niamey by the week’s end, as conveyed by a U.S. official. The United States has lacked an ambassador in Niger for close to two years, a gap which some experts specializing in the Sahel region suggest has curtailed Washington’s access to key stakeholders and vital information.

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“The U.S is in a difficult situation with no good choices,” said Michael Shurkin, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and director of global programs at 14 North Strategies. “It either sticks to a principled position and pushes for democracy while alienating the junta and risk pushing it into Russia’s arms, or we give up on principle and work with the junta in the hope of salvaging a productive working relationship,” he said.

Amid the scramble for responses from both regional and Western nations, a prevailing sentiment among many Nigeriens is a conviction that an invasion is imminent.

Although the specifics of Niger’s volunteer force remain unclear, comparable initiatives in neighboring countries have produced a range of outcomes. Volunteer combatants in Burkina Faso, enlisted to support the military in combating the jihadi insurgency, have faced allegations from human rights organizations and local communities of engaging in atrocities against civilians.

However, Bako, a key figure among the organizers of Nigerien volunteers, asserts that Niger’s circumstances are distinct.

“The (volunteers in Burkina Faso) are fighting the Burkinabe who took weapons against their own brothers … The difference with us is our people will fight against an intrusion,” he said.

Buhari Olanrewaju Ahmed, a seasoned investigative journalist and climate/environmental reporter with a decade of experience, unravels complex issues and amplifies critical voices. His in-depth investigative work and insightful reporting have earned him recognition as a trusted source of information. Ahmed's unwavering commitment to journalism and exceptional storytelling prowess make him a standout figure in investigative journalism. His work drives meaningful conversations, influences policy decisions, and inspires collective efforts toward a sustainable future.

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