New Niger prime minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine expressed willingness to hold talks with the West African Economic Community, ECOWAS.
However, he also stressed the military government would not allow a political path to be imposed on it, saying it was acting according to the will of the people and their desire for sovereignty.
Following the coup in Niger on July 26, 2023 – which saw President Mohamad Bazoum detained and held ever since – the West African regional bloc ECOWAS continues to rely on diplomacy to resolve the conflict between the new military junta in Niger and neighboring states.
So far, however, the military government has refused to receive official ECOWAS delegations. But with regard to negotiations, military strongman Abdourahamane Tchiani has “never closed his mind,” Zeine told DW.
Defending Niger’s sovereignty
DW: As head of government, aren’t you concerned about the sanctions ECOWAS has imposed on Niger?
Lamine Zeine: Why should we worry? A person’s life is made up of challenges, and we think that, even if this is an unfair challenge imposed on us, we can come together to overcome it. And we will overcome it! There are no fears in this regard. The Nigerien people are determined to do so, and I believe that under the leadership of the Head of State and the entire team around him, with the support of all our people, but above all with God’s help, it will go well.
Mr. Zeine, you have been at the helm of the Nigerien government for a few days. What is your message to the Nigerien people?
First of all, I would like to congratulate and thank the Nigerien people for the strong fighting spirit they have shown! Our people have shown that they are very mature and that they have chosen to defend their sovereignty and to put any authority that does not follow this approach in its place – those, you could say, who are on the wrong track.
I would like to tell the people that we very much appreciate this fighting spirit, this show of solidarity and this work of ensuring that national unity continues to be strengthened.
It [the population] must trust the new authorities, because we have directed our actions to serve it with full integrity and full competence, but also by working on the basic concept of our patriotism.
Basic principle of solidarity
You and the Head of State received a delegation of clergy from Nigeria. Can we say the momentum of rapprochement or even the start of negotiations with ECOWAS is underway?
Even before this delegation came, the Head of State had clearly said that he has never closed his mind. What interest would he have in closing himself off to initiatives that are meant to serve the population? Since this challenge has been imposed on us, he has said that we have to get together. And this delegation that has come – and they are the greatest ulama [theologians] of Nigeria and even of the continent – comforts us! It comforts us because they are the mouthpiece for a certain understanding of Nigerian society.
Apart from that, after all, Nigerian parliamentarians have clearly spoken out against the idea of attacking our country. And there are not only the parliamentarians and the ulama, but also the Nigerian people and the economic actors.We have heard the majority from them, and we are encouraged by that because Nigeria is our largest neighbor with 1,500 kilometers of shared border.
We [therefore] have a great interest in preserving this extremely important and historic relationship. Also, ECOWAS is working on purely economic issues first. Firstly, because the basic principle of solidarity is to enable all states belonging to ECOWAS to create the conditions for prosperity and its spread, and to ensure that each member benefits from the solidarity of the community.
If [however] we find that the political and military principle comes before this economic solidarity, we can only regret it.
The interview was conducted by Gazali Abdou.