After nearly three weeks of appealing to the United States and other allies for help restoring Niger’s president to power, friends and supporters of the democratically elected leader are making a simpler plea: Save his life.
President Mohamed Bazoum, leader of the last remaining Western-allied democracy across a vast stretch of Africa’s Sahara and Sahel, sits confined with his family in an unlit basement of his presidential compound, cut off from resupplies of food and from electricity and cooking gas by the junta that overthrew him, Niger’s ambassador to the United States told The Associated Press.
“They are killing him,” said the ambassador, Mamadou Kiari Liman-Tinguiri, a close associate who maintains daily calls with the detained leader. The two have been colleagues for three decades, since the now 63-year-old president was a young philosophy instructor, a teacher’s union leader, and a democracy advocate noted for his eloquence.
“The plan of the head of the junta is to starve him to death,” Liman-Tinguiri told AP in one of his first interviews since mutinous troops allegedly cut off food deliveries to the president, his wife and 20-year-old son almost a week ago.
“This is inhuman, and the world should not tolerate that,” the ambassador said. “It cannot be tolerated in 2023.”
Bazoum sits in the dark basement, the ambassador said. He answers the phone when a call comes in that he knows to be his friend or someone else he wants to speak to. The beleaguered president and his ambassador, whom junta members have declared out of a job, talk one or more times a day.
He has not been seen out in public since July 26, when military vehicles blocked the gates to the presidential palace and security forces announced they were taking power. It is not possible to independently determine the president’s circumstances. The United States, U.N. and others have expressed repeated concern for what they called Bazoum’s deteriorating conditions in detention, and warned the junta they would hold it responsible for the wellbeing of Bazoum and his family.
Separately, Human Rights Watch said Friday it had spoken directly to the detained president and to others in his circle, and received some similar accounts of mistreatment.
However, an activist who supports Niger’s new military rulers in its communications said the reports of the president’s dire state were false. Insa Garba Saidou said he was in contact with some junta members but did not say how he had knowledge of the president’s lot.
“Bazoum was lucky he was not taken anywhere,” Saidou said. “He was left in his palace with his phone. Those who did that don’t intend to hurt Bazoum.”
“There’s no intervention that can save Bazoum’s life. Bazoum wants to be president, right? They won’t save Bazoum’s life. I’m convinced of one thing. Even though the high officers of the junta won’t touch Bazoum, if one gunfire is shot at Niger’s border in order to re-establish Bazoum’s position, I’m sure there will be soldiers who will put an end to his life. It’s not a question of doing it. It is what it is. And therefore, ECOWAS will be accountable.”