By Dr. Diana Rangaves, PharmD
The recent coup in Niger has brought political unrest and uncertainty to the nation ant the neighboring countries. The organizers of the coup have attributed the country’s stagnant economic growth and increased insecurity as the main reasons for their intervention.
They claim that their actions were necessary to prevent the “gradual and inevitable demise” of the nation. This blog post will delve into the implications of the Niger coup and the potential consequences it may have both domestically and internationally.
The presidential guard’s early-morning confinement of President Mohamed Bazoum and his family to the presidential palace on July 26 caused great shock. That morning, Bazoum’s faithful interior minister was also detained. Units from the defense and security forces were stationed in key areas of the capital. On Twitter, the presidency warned the mutinous presidential guard that the army and national guard would attack them if they did not surrender.
Hundreds of Bazoum supporters gathered outside the National Assembly that afternoon to demonstrate. Then, a number of them made their way to the presidential palace. The presidential guard fired warning bullets to disperse the crowd, injuring several demonstrators. The leaders of Niger’s security and defense forces met in the barracks to talk about the dangers of engaging the city’s presidential guard, the best-equipped military force, in combat. After hours of deliberation, the officers opted to forgo a fight that may split the defense and security forces and put the lives of the president and his family, who are being held hostage at the palace, at peril.
Later, the military chiefs joined the presidential guard in forming the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP). This junta is currently in charge of the country on an interim basis. The removal of Bazoum was announced on national television that evening by a group of ten senior officers from the major branches of the defense and security forces.
What led to the coup?
There is little doubt that the rise in insecurity and the country’s decreasing economic prospects contributed to the country’s fragility. Despite increased foreign forces, particularly from the United States and France, as well as military bases in Niger, the government has been unable to halt insurgent attacks. Various insurgency groups operate in the country, including Al-Qaeda, Islamic State affiliates and Boko Haram.
Thousands of people have died and been displaced due to these attacks during the last decade. Hundreds of young people, however, gathered in Niamey to celebrate the July coup, waving Russian flags and screaming “Wagner.” This shows that some Nigerians believe the military, backed by Russia and the private military contractor Wagner Group, will do a better job battling rebels.
In addition to insecurity, the ethnicity and legitimacy of Bazoum were debated during the recent election campaign. Bazoum is a member of Niger’s ethnic Arab minority and has always been identified as having foreign origins.
Even though Bazoum received roughly 56% of the vote and is from the same party as former president Mahamadou Issoufou, this did not sit well with the military circle, which is largely constituted of the larger ethnic groupings. The country places a high value on ethnic military makeup; recognizing this aided Issoufou in serving two terms as president.
The military has also been critical of the many foreign military soldiers and bases stationed in the nation. They believe this weakens them. Despite complaints, the US opened a drone station in Niger in 2019. Niger is a significant ally of Western countries in the region’s struggle against insurgency. Another reason for France’s involvement in security is its massive investments in Niger’s mining sector.
France and other European allies withdrew their military from Mali in 2022. Bazoum was quick to invite them to Niger. The Nigerian military leadership and other significant persons have condemned the surge in foreign forces.
The Sahel comprises Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mauritania, collectively known as the G5 Sahel. However, Senegal, Nigeria, and the two Sudans are all covered in various categories. Over time, the border area between central Mali, northern Burkina Faso, and western Niger has become the epicenter of the region’s violent war.
There have been seven coups in the region in the last four years. Three of them were successful. ECOWAS and African Union authorities have threatened sanctions on these three countries, but little has been done to prevent other opportunistic military commanders. If the coup plotters do not reinstate Bazoum, ECOWAS officials have threatened to use force to restore him.
Effects of the coup on Niger and the surrounding regions
For Niger and the broader Sahel area, the most recent coup d’état has had dire effects. In the fight against economic crisis, insurgency and preventing illegal immigration to Europe, Niger is a steadfast partner of Western countries, particularly France, the US, and the European Union. The attempts to deal with these problems will be impacted. Additionally, the new military authorities will try to use these problems as a negotiating chip and pressure people to accept the new regime.
To counter the Islamist insurgency, the new leaders in Niger might cooperate with the Wagner organization. The group’s commander has already praised them for assuming control. Russia and Wagner might have a bigger impact on the area. Wagner, however, was unable to stop the spread of terrorism in Burkina Faso and Mali.
So far, all negotiation efforts to persuade the junta to relent have been unsuccessful. ECOWAS gave the CNSP a week to free Bazoum and reestablish constitutional order, but that deadline expired on the evening of August 6. Slowly but unsettlingly, Niger’s main international allies are starting to think that military action in the country would be the only way to resolve the crisis, even if doing so carries the risk of escalating the conflict and having an unpredictable end.
Only by communication can a dispute be avoided. Bazoum’s side might, in the interest of maintaining unity and peace in Niger, propose a compromise: a transition during which civilians and the military, PNDS-Tarayya leaders, and CNSP members would consent to a months-long ceasefire. They might all utilize that time, along with the rest of the political elite and the civil society, to promote their ideas for the future of Niger.
A successful military coup in Niger would be disastrous for democracy in the area and throughout Africa. Plans for a “military alliance” between Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso’s military administrations have already been announced. African leaders must do more to demonstrate that they are serving the needs of the people.