What’s Going On Special: Everything we know so far about the coup in Niger

political wills and insecurity set the stage for tough times in the country

It has been more than one week since members of Niger’s presidential guard led and successfully seized power from the country’s leader Mohamed Bazoum in a coup. Since then, the seismic effects of their actions is still reverberating among its citizens, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and the international community at large.

On July 26, 2023, the Abdourahmane Tchiani-led band of security operatives (later to be known as the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland) launched the coup, declaring the closure of borders and a nationwide curfew. Tchiani later declared himself as the new head of state as group’s spokesperson Colonel Amadou Abdramane announced that the constitution had been suspended. 

The actions of the officers immediately drew criticism from ECOWAS and the African Union (AU). The United States, France and the United Nations also condemned the coup, with France, Niger’s former colonial ruler, calling on regional bodies “to restore the integrity of Niger’s democratic institutions.” ECOWAS, led by Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, gave the officers a week to release and reinstate Bazoum and also imposed sanctions, including the suspension of all commercial and financial transactions between Niger and other ECOWAS member states.

The one-week ultimatum has since elapsed with Tchiani still heading the affairs of the country. The EU and France proceeded to cut off financial support to Niger and the AU issued a 15-day ultimatum to the military government in Niger to reinstall Bazoum as president. While ECOWAS scheduled an emergency meeting in Abuja on Friday, July 30 (they have planned a second meeting in Abuja for Thursday, August 10), European countries began evacuating their citizens and other foreign nationals from Niger. 

In an opinion piece published by The Washington Post, Bazoum defended the legitimacy of this government and called on “the U.S. government and the entire international community” to restore him to office. “In Africa’s troubled Sahel region, Niger stands as the last bastion of respect for human rights amid the authoritarian movements that have overtaken some of our neighbours.

While this coup attempt is a tragedy for Nigeriens, its success would have devastating consequences far beyond our borders,” he wrote. “With an open invitation from the coup plotters and their regional allies, the entire central Sahel region could fall to Russian influence via the Wagner Group, whose brutal terrorism has been on full display in Ukraine.” Although Victoria Nuland, the US’s acting deputy secretary of state, recently held “frank and difficult” talks with Moussa Salaou Barmou, one of the officers in the coup, and three of his colonels in Niger’s capital, Niamey, Bazoum remains in detention.

While there has been displeasure about the overthrow of Bazoum’s government, the coup plotters also have supporters. On Sunday, thousands of Nigeriens gathered at a stadium in Niamey in solidarity with the military government. According to news reports, the atmosphere at the gathering was festive, with General Mohamed Toumba, one of the military leaders, denouncing those “lurking in the shadows” who were “plotting subversion” against “the forward march of Niger.”

The July 26 coup is the latest in Niger’s history of coups, which happened in 1974, 1996, 1999 and 2010. There was a coup attempt in 2021 (shortly before the inauguration of president-elect Mohamed Bazoum), led by Captain Sani Saley Gourouza, but the perpetrators were arrested. Over the years, Niger has grappled with multiple security challenges. According to The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), the country faces attacks from IS Sahel and the al-Qaeda-affiliated JNIM in the west, its southeastern Diffa region contends the Islamic State West African Province (ISWAP) and Boko Haram insurgency, and the central Tahoua region wrestles with IS Sahel militancy and banditry.

While being one of the world’s poorest countries, Niger, according to the World Nuclear Association, accounts for 5% of the world’s uranium output but the revenue of the mineral—that countries such as France, Spain, and Japan use for energy—doesn’t reflect on the wellbeing of the citizens. Since assuming office in April 2021, Bazoum has mostly focused on limiting the spread of insurgency in Niger.

Geographically, Niger is bordered by Nigeria and Benin to the south, Burkina Faso and Mali to the west, Algeria and Libya to the north and Chad to the east. After talks between ECOWAS and the Niger junta stalled, Nigeria, as part of the sanctions, shut its borders to Niger and also cut out electricity supply to the country, which depends on Nigeria for 70% of its power. Niger’s military government, in turn, cut ties with Nigeria, standing firm in its decision to hold power. In Nigeria, President Bola Tinubu has received backlash over his decision to use military force to restore democracy Niger, observers noting that the president must not “rush into an avoidable conflict with a neighbour at the behest of global politicking.”

At the moment, the impasse in Niger remains. Russia has increased its military presence in Mali and Burkina Faso while also calling for an “urgent national dialogue” in Niger.  The state of a country and its citizens hangs in the balance, with the decisions from its military leaders and other leaders in African and European countries proving to be key determinants in how quickly the situation is resolved or not. While the rest of the world watches, the safety and protection of lives must remain paramount in the minds of every stakeholder.

Featured image credits/NATIVE