Niger's Troubled Democracy

Niger, a landlocked West African nation, has been struggling with political instability and a raging jihadist insurgency, making it one of the most impoverished countries in the region.

In a recent coup attempt, President Mohamed Bazoum was detained by members of his presidential guard. Bazoum, although, defiantly vowed to protect the “hard-won” democratic gains after he was detained by elite troops who declared they had taken power in the troubled West African nation. In a social media post, he said, “All Nigeriens who love democracy and freedom would want this.”

However, in a stark contrast, Abdourahamane Tiani, a Nigerien general, identified as the “President of the national council for the safeguard of the homeland.” on state television- Télé Sahel, as the country’s new leader.

What exactly led to this attempted coup? 

The Sahel region, mainly comprising Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mauritania (G5 Sahel), faced instability after the NATO-led takedown of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.

This led to an inflow of arms and armed groups, energizing Boko Haram (an Islamist militant organization based in northeastern Nigeria), which later spread to parts of Niger. Central Mali, northern Burkina Faso and the western Niger border area became the epicenter of conflict.

Frustration with the government’s handling of security and French soldiers’ ineffectiveness led to a change in leadership in Bamako, leading to french troop withdrawal. Anti-French sentiment in the region escalated, and Niger courted Western partnerships to protect economic interests and deter African migration to Europe.

Despite this, criticism of governance and military corruption remained. The recent coup attempt in Niger reflects the longstanding failure of the political class to address economic and security challenges in the country.

Detention of President Bazoum

Dissatisfied members of the elite Presidential Guard closed off all access to the president’s residence and offices in Niamey’s capital on 27th July 2023. Thereafter, they announced the suspension of “all institutions,” the closure of borders, and the imposition of a night-time curfew.

President Bazoum came to power in 2021 through Niger’s first-ever peaceful transition of power since independence in 1960 from France. His election took place just days after the security forces avoided an attempt by an army unit to seize the presidential palace. However, the nation has a history of coup attempts; this was the second attempt against Bazoum’s presidency.

Niger Foreign Minister Hassoumi Massoudou said, “We ask all the fractious soldiers to return to their ranks. Everything can be achieved through dialogue, but the institutions of the republic must function.” 

Bazoum is seen by many as the last potential ally for the West in the Sahel region. This perception arose after Mali rejected assistance from its former colonial ruler, France, and instead sought backing from the Russian mercenary Wagner group.

The Reaction of Nigeriens and the International Community

As news of the coup attempt spread, thousands of Nigeriens expressed their support for President Bazoum, gathering near the official complex where he was being held. However, the situation escalated when the Presidential Guard dispersed the crowd with warning shots, leading to one person’s injury.

The African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and other global leaders condemned the attempted coup, expressing their support for the democratically elected president and urging the military to step back. The United States and the UN Secretary-General also supported President Bazoum and denounced the seizure of power by force.

The Jihadist Insurgency and Regional Impact

Niger has been battling two jihadist campaigns, one in the southwest, which swept in from Mali in 2015, and the other in the southeast, involving jihadists from north-eastern Nigeria. Both have led to mass displacement, economic strain and an increased need for humanitarian aid.

The coup attempt and the resulting uncertainty have raised concerns over the region’s stability and the effectiveness of counterterrorism efforts.

Mediation Efforts and Way Forward

 “I spoke with President Bazoum earlier this morning and made clear that the United States firmly supports him as the democratically elected president. We call for his immediate release. We condemn any effort to seize power by force.” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a visit to New Zealand.

There have been five successful coups since 2020 in West Africa, a region afflicted by the growing influence of violent extremists and food insecurity brought about by climate change, including two in neighboring Mali and two in Burkina Faso.

The international community closely monitors the situation and urges dialogue to restore democratic order in the area, which might fall into the hands of Islamic State al-Qaeda if the UN doesn’t develop a permanent solution soon.



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