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Thu, Sep 28, 2023

Niger Closes Airspace to French Aircraft

Rekindling Old Hostilities

The military rulers of the Republic of the Niger—a landlocked West-African nation of some 25.4-million inhabitants—have banned "French aircraft" from over-flying the nation’s airspace.

So states the Agency for the Safety of Air Navigation in Africa and Madagascar (ASECNA), a Dakar, Senegal-based air traffic control agency managing 16.1-million-square-kilometers covering the Flight Information Regions (FIRs) of Antananarivo (Madagascar’s capital city), Brazzaville (the Republic of the Congo’s capital city), Dakar (Senegal’s capital city) Oceanic and Terrestrial, Niamey (Niger’s capital city), and N’Djamena (Chad’s capital city).

A statement on ASECNA’s website set forth Niger’s airspace remains "open to all national and international commercial flights except for French aircraft or aircraft chartered by France, including those of the airline Air France.”

Moreover, the ASECNA website stated Niger’s airspace remains closed to "all military, operational and other special flights,” unless such flights received prior authorization from the appropriate Nigerien authorities.

In a press statement, Air France disclosed only that its aircraft were "not flying over Niger airspace."

Since declaring independence from France in December 1958, Niger’s people have dealt with the ratification and negation of no fewer than five constitutions, and endured three periods of military rule—the most recent of which commenced by way of a 26 July 2023 coup d'état during which the country’s presidential guard removed and detained President Mohamed Bazoum. Subsequently, Presidential Guard Commander General Abdourahamane Tchiani declared himself the leader of a military junta and established the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland.

The United States, France, and a number of additional nations have involved themselves in Nigerien affairs on account of the Islamic insurgency in the Sahel, which led, in turn, to a Nigerien Jihadist insurgency spearheaded by Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and Boko Haram. In 2022, Niger became a hub of French anti-terror operations. Increased French military presence reignited latent anti-French sentiment, thereby paving the way for increased Russian influence and the entry of the Wagner Group operatives into the region. Additionally, France has openly and repeatedly supported the West African bloc—a position that, since the coup, has occasioned the deterioration of relations between Paris and Niamey to an all-time low.

As the aforementioned West African bloc threatened military action to restore the administration of deposed Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, Niger’s military government—fearing the "threat of intervention from neighboring countries”—closed the nation’s airspace on 06 August 2023.

On 04 September, in the absence of reason or rationale, Niger reopened its airspace to commercial flights. The military regime’s receptiveness was short lived, however, and the country’s airspace was again closed on 24 September 2023.

FMI: www.brookings.edu/articles/what-underlies-the-coup-in-niger

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