On 26 July, a group of soldiers detained President Mohamed Bazoum and declared the suspension of the constitution along with the dissolution of the government. At the same time, they announced the closure of the country borders, airspace and the implementation of an overnight curfew.
As the situation unfolded, International SOS provided vital intelligence, assistance, and expert advice to impacted clients. This included both those on the ground, as well as those with regional operations who may have been impacted. We facilitated and successfully executed evacuations out of the country, including overland evacuations when airspace was closed, ensuring the safety and well-being of our clients’ employees.
Although the overland evacuation option presented its own set of challenges, International SOS’ meticulous contingency planning, access to information and our network of security partners on the ground enabled the successful execution of this mission.
Preparation Before the Coup:
International SOS’s approach to security starts with operational planning. We regularly assess and re-evaluate all of the countries where we operate. We conduct these assessments by analysing trend data, leveraging local expertise, assigning risk ratings, and looking at evolving or forecasted developments. This could include the likelihood and impact of events such as elections or natural hazards. Critically, International SOS prioritises the routine in-country deployment of our security team members to evaluate the situation on the ground and build out our network of credentialed security partners. Laying this foundation enables us to be ready to respond to any crisis.
We don't just react; and through the work of our information and analysis teams, we are also able to provide our clients with important information in the build-up to incidents occurring, enabling them to make informed decisions.
In this vein, ahead of the coup in Niger, International SOS had already established a network of credentialed security partners who were ready and available to support. Our security team was also gathering and analysing information and published relevant reports to raise awareness of the instability in the region. They additionally acknowledged the increasing insecurity by raising the risk rating for parts of the country to HIGH and EXTREME risk in September of the previous year. At the time of the coup, we were then able to rapidly publish alerts to notify our clients of the developments. Using a range of intelligence and monitoring tools, and corroborating information with our in-country contacts, we were able to apprise clients of the implications of the coup and how we could support the resilience of our clients in country.
Throughout the Coup - Evacuations and Repatriations
As the coup unfolded, we faced the complex task of evaluating and executing various evacuation options in light of the associated logistical constraints. Despite an initial airspace closure, several Western governments commenced authorised repatriation flights. We were able to notify our clients about these options, and in some cases, ensure that they were included on the flight manifest. After many European and US citizens were repatriated by their respective governments, we then addressed the logistical considerations for other foreign nationals, based on visa permissions or regional African visa-free access.
With gradual airspace closure, we were also able to assist clients with obtaining limited commercial flights, as well as exploring charter options. However, on 7 August, a complete airspace closure was once again implemented, making air evacuations nearly impossible. Although an overland evacuation was not our preferred option, it soon became our only one.
Due to border closures imposed by the regional economic body, ECOWAS with some bordering countries, and security considerations for accessing others, Benin became our preferred land evacuation destination as the border crossing was originally confirmed to be open. The road movement from Niger’s capital Niamey to Benin’s capital Cotonou is at least 17 hours and required an overnight stay.
We conducted a thorough risk assessment of the journey and developed a contingency plan mapping out all known security incidents along the route over the last two years and factoring in in the likelihood of road traffic accidents, vehicle breakdowns, medical emergencies and - as we ultimately encountered - the border closure. At the same time, we deployed a security team member to Benin to work closely in coordination with our in-country security partner which was conducting the movement to validate information on the border access and to receive clients once they crossed the border. Due to the ultimate border crossing, this required our clients to wait at secure accommodation near the border for two nights before being able to cross the border by foot during a limited window of opportunity.
The situation remained fluid, requiring constant monitoring and adaptation. Once clients were able to cross, we transported them to the city of Parakou in Benin, where they were able to overnight before continuing to Cotonou, from where they took onward international flights.
Even as we are more than a month since the coup, the situation remains protracted and challenging to decipher. We have continued to monitor developments and provide ongoing support to organisations operating in Niger. The evolving nature of the situation underscores the importance of our commitment to keeping our clients informed and safe.
In summary, our proactive approach to security, thorough preparation and adaptability were crucial elements in supporting clients before, during, and after the Niger coup. We emphasize the value of continuous monitoring and communication in ensuring the safety and well-being of our clients in complex and dynamic environments.