•AU says suspension in force until democracy is restored, Niger humanitarian crisis looms
•Niger junta orders forceful eviction of French ambassador, cancels envoy, family’s visas
THE African Union’s Peace and Security Council on Thursday suspended Gabon following the Wednesday overthrow of President Ondimba Ali Bongo by soldiers led by the head of the Republican guards, Gen Brice Nguema.
The continental body in a post on X, formerly Twitter, condemned the military takeover of power in the Central African country.
This came as Rwanda and Cameroon hurriedly retired 1, 029 senior officers in a surprise move against their respective militaries.
The Rwandan authorities approved the retirement of 12 generals, including two four-star generals, James Kabarebe and Fred Ibingira, two three-star generals, Charles Kayonga and Frank Mushyo Kamanzi, and several officers.
According to a Rwandan national newspaper, News Times, the government approved the retirement of 12 generals and many officers. The publication stated that the retirements were announced on Wednesday, in a statement issued by Rwanda Defence Force.
Among those retired are two four-star generals, James Kabarebe and Fred Ibingira, two three-star generals, Charles Kayonga and Frank Mushyo Kamanzi.
Kabarebe and Kayonga have previously served as Chief of Defence Staff of RDF, while the other two have been service chiefs previously
The statement partly reads, “The President has also approved the retirement of 83 senior officers, six junior officers and 86 senior non-commissioned officers, 678 whose contracts ended and 160 medical discharges.”
In Cameroon, President Paul Biya has also reshuffled the military with new appointments to the Controle Generale des Armees.
The new controllers are Capt Ajeagah Njei Félix Colonel and Colonel Nguema Ondo Bertin Bourger.
Appointments were also made to the positions of Technical Advisers, Bureau Commissariat, and Air Force Technical Inspector.
Disclosing its decision after a meeting of its Peace and Security Council, the AU said it “decides to immediately suspend the participation of Gabon in all activities of the AU, its organs and institutions.”
It said the meeting was chaired by the AU commissioner for political affairs, Bankole Adeoye of Nigeria, and the current holder of the council’s rotating chair, Burundi’s Willy Nyamitwe.
Nguema for inauguration
In a new development, the junta in Gabon has said Gen Nguema will be sworn in on Monday as the transitional president as the opposition called for its candidate to be recognised as the winner of weekend elections.
The military in a statement on Thursday sought to reassure international donors they would “respect all commitments” at home and abroad and “phase in” transitional institutions.
The spokesman for the new regime, Col Ulrich Manfoumbi, said on state television that the swearing-in of Nguema would take place at the constitutional court.
Gabon’s opposition Alternance 2023 alliance had remained silent since the coup, but on Thursday called on the military leaders to acknowledge its victory in the election.
The alliance “invited the defence and security forces to the discussion so as to work out the best solution,” following the vote.
Led by university professor Albert Ondo Ossa, Alternance had earlier accused President Ali Bongo of “fraud” and demanded he hand over power “without bloodshed”.
Ossa claimed the Bongo clan remained in control and there had not been a coup but a “palace revolution”. “Oligui Nguema is Ali Bongo’s cousin,” he told France’s TV5 Monde.
He stated, “The Bongos found that Ali Bongo had to be put aside to be able to properly pursue the Bongo system. Oligui Nguema is an underling. Behind him, it’s the Bongo clan keeping hold of power,” he said, urging international help to restore order.
Meanwhile, a serious humanitarian crisis is looming in Niger Republic as the vulnerable population, particularly, women and children, are facing hunger and other hardships in the aftermath of the sanctions imposed on the country by the Economic Community of West African States over the July 26 overthrow of President Mohamed Bazoum by the military.
This came to light as the Niger junta ordered the police to forcefully evict the French ambassador, Sylvain Itte, from the country.
Niger’s foreign ministry announced that Itte had 48 hours to leave, saying he had refused to meet with the new rulers and citing French government actions that were “contrary to the interests of Niger.”
The visas of the French ambassador to Niamey, Sylvain Itte, and his family had been cancelled and police were instructed to expel the envoy, the junta said in a statement dated Aug. 29 and confirmed as authentic on Thursday by its communications head, according to Reuters.
The latest communique sent by Niger’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Itte “no longer enjoys the privileges and immunities attached to his status as a member of the diplomatic staff of the embassy. The police have been instructed to carry out his expulsion.”
That said, the closure of the borders of Nigeria and other neighbouring countries has starved the francophone nation of food and other critical supplies, putting the beleaguered country on the edge of a humanitarian crisis.
To compel the junta led by Gen Tchiani Abdourahmane to restore the ousted president to power, the 15-member regional bloc imposed stringent sanctions on the Sahel nation and also threatened military intervention to restore constitutional order.
It suspended all commercial transactions with Niger, froze its assets in the regional central bank, including the assets of the state and state enterprises in commercial banks, and suspended all financial assistance with regional development banks.
A planned $51m bond issuance by Niger in the West African regional debt market was cancelled by the regional central bank following the imposition of sanctions. Niger had planned to raise $834 million from the regional debt market in 2023.
Nigeria also cut the power supply to the country on the 80mw Birnin-Kebbi line, while Ivory Coast suspended imports and exports of Nigerien goods.
West Africa’s regional central bank, the BCEAO, shut down its branches in Niger, citing risks to operations.
However, the Niger Country Director of the International Rescue Committee, Paolo Cernuschi, said these decisions were having disastrous humanitarian impacts on the most economically vulnerable people in the Niger Republic.
He disclosed in an opinion published by Euronews on Thursday that aid organisations cannot get critical supplies into the country.
The border closures, he noted, had further compounded the political crisis, preventing life-saving humanitarian supplies and essential aid from reaching the communities that needed them most, creating a barrier that separates people from the assistance they require to survive.
Cernuschi explained, “We have en route shipments of life-saving nutritional supplements for 2,300 children that we don’t know when we’ll receive. While we have contingency stocks in place, those will eventually run out.
“If border closures and sanctions persist, aid supplies running out will be all but a certainty, and the capacity of humanitarian actors to continue delivering will be jeopardised.
“By some estimates, supplies in the country at the time of the coup were sufficient for two to three months of humanitarian response. With supply chains requiring from a few weeks to a couple of months to replenish stocks, we are fast approaching the point where shortages will be inevitable.”
The country director said the sanctions had unintended adverse impacts on the lives of ordinary citizens who are already struggling to meet their basic needs.
He advised that humanitarian exemptions must be guaranteed to ensure continuity of humanitarian work in Niger.
He advised that “The international community and regional organizations must prioritize a ‘do no harm’ approach in dealing with this situation. Diplomatic efforts should focus on finding peaceful solutions that prioritise the well-being of all Nigerien citizens, regardless of their socio-economic status.
“The situation in Niger calls for a coordinated and compassionate response that upholds the principles of humanitarianism and ensures that no one is left behind. And the Nigerien people deserve that and a whole lot more.”
In response to the situation, the United Nations on Tuesday filed an exemption request for relief supplies to the Niger Republic to the ECOWAS.
The global organisation said sanctions on Niger were blocking vital humanitarian aid such as food and medicine.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative for Niger, Emmanuel Gignac, stated this at a press briefing during a visit to Geneva.
Reuters reported that trucks with food and humanitarian aid have been piling up at Niger’s land borders since the military coup on July 26, driving up food prices, in a sign of the impact of the sanctions.
Gignac noted, “There is no way to bring humanitarian aid into the country. The immediate goods (affected) are going to be food and then it’s going to be access to medicine, to drugs.”
He added that a formal letter from UN aid chief Martin Griffiths had been addressed to ECOWAS for exemptions.
UN aid flights have also been reportedly grounded because they cannot get access to jet fuel because of the sanctions, complicating aid efforts in the country.
Some agencies are using trucks, said World Food Programme regional spokesperson, Djaounsede Madjiangar, but that takes extra time.
Requests for special ECOWAS clearance for aid supplies have so far not been granted, he added.
A UNICEF spokesperson had told Reuters that the agency has about 50 containers with immunization, cold chain equipment, and therapeutic food stuck at different entry points, unable to get into the country, while more than a million doses of yellow fever and rotavirus vaccines cannot be flown in from Europe due to the airspace closure.
He added the agency was concerned about some 28 million vaccine doses stocked inside the country, with 95 percent of warehouses currently hit by power outages.
Gignac also voiced concerns about the security of Niger’s population, especially among its 700,000 forcibly displaced people, describing a sharp increase in protection incidents such as kidnapping and sexual violence since the coup.
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