The recent recent coup in Niger, which resulted in the ousting of President Mohamed Bazoum, has left observers searching for the possible motives behind the military’s actions.
Many believe that the president’s support for European Union policies aimed at stifling migration routes through north Africa played a significant role in his downfall.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world and has long been a transit point for people heading to Libya and then southern Europe. In 2015, at the height of the European refugee crisis, the Nigerien government, with the support of EU authorities, implemented a law against people smuggling.
This legislation became known as the “Bazoum law,” named after Mohamed Bazoum, who was appointed as interior minister the same year.
Under the terms of a deal struck with EU leaders, Niger received aid money in exchange for taking measures to block migration routes north. This agreement was aimed at controlling the flow of migrants and refugees to Europe.
Bazoum’s role in implementing this law earned him praise from the international community, including France, Niger’s former colonial power.
However, the Bazoum law faced opposition within the Nigerien military. Prior to its implementation, some military figures had profited from bribes paid by people smugglers and those being smuggled.
The law significantly impacted the people-smuggling industry in Niger, particularly in the city of Agadez, a major transit point. Alkontchy Mohamed, a community leader in Agadez, stated that everyone involved in the people-smuggling industry had been affected by the law.
According to an unidentified university professor in the capital of Niger, Niamey, there were various reasons behind the military coup. These reasons included the loss of revenue from illegal migration and President Bazoum’s affiliation with a minority group in Niger. As a result of this coup, concerns have been raised regarding the stability of the Sahel region, which is currently grappling with jihadist insurgencies associated with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group.
Furthermore, Jérôme Tubiana, a French researcher and journalist who has extensively covered conflict and displacement issues in the Sahel region and Horn of Africa, has criticized the European Union’s migration policy in Niger.
Tubiana argues that EU countries such as Italy and Germany ignored warnings about its potential negative impact on democratic progress in Niger, instead prioritizing their goal of reducing migration.
As a consequence of these developments, there are fears that voices within the French establishment may reemerge, questioning whether Africa is ready for civilian democracy. This concern arises from observing how armies turn against France when it supports civilian democratic regimes.
In response to these events, members of Tuareg and Toubou communities held protests outside the offices of International Organization for Migration and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, urging for the repeal of certain laws.
These demonstrations shed light on how deeply ingrained migration-related activities had become within society. Previously, entire sectors relied on this business: army officers at checkpoints, drivers transporting migrants into Libya – everyone was involved.
Overall, these recent events underscore both regional instability due to jihadists’ activities linked to extremist organizations like al-Qaida and the Islamic State group and concerns about democratic progress amid migration-focused policies implemented by external entities like Europe.
A representative from the Economic Community of West African States characterized the coup leaders’ proposal for a three-year transition to democracy as unacceptable.
ECOWAS has decided to deploy a “standby force” if necessary to restore democracy in Niger and has expressed its readiness to take action, though it still prioritizes diplomatic efforts. However, no specific date or details regarding a potential military intervention have been provided by the regional bloc.