On July 26, 2023, Niger’s President Guards sieged the Presidential Palace and surrounding ministries, ousting the civilian President Mohamed Bazoum. General Abdourahamane Tchiani – the Head of Niger’s Presidential Guard declared himself to be the Head of the State after military seized power. The coup organizers claimed worsening security situation and poor economic and social governance as the prime reason for the military takeover. The international community including the United Nations, European Union, France, USA as well as the regional organizations such as African Union and ECOWAS condemned the coup and called for the immediate restoration of the constitutional order. Niger’s Military Junta has proposed a three-year transition of power after meeting the ECOWAS delegation. However, these proposals have been rejected by ECOWAS According to the ECOWAS Chair Bola Tinubu “The ECOWAS leadership will not accept any action that impedes the smooth functioning of a legitimate authority in Niger or in West Africa.”. The region which is usually disparaged as the coup belt has witnessed sixth military coup in less than four years following Burkina Faso, Mali and Guinea. The consequences of the current coup in Niger are going to be extremely adverse for the region as Niger was the last stronghold of democracy across the region.
In this context, it is important to understand what led to the military coup in Niger, implications for the region and regional and global responses.
What led to Military Takeover in Niger
The ouster of President Bazoum has posed a significant challenge not only to the country but also for the region which has witnessed several coups in the last couple of years. Niger itself has a long history of Military coups. Since it got independent in 1960’s Niger has witnessed four successful military coups (1974, 1966, 1999 and 2010). Niger was under the military rule for a combined 23 years before it returned to democracy in 2011[i]. President Bazzoum’s election in 2021 was a sign of a democratic order in an otherwise coup ridden West African region. Yet, when President Bazoum assumed office in March 2021 Niger witnessed a coup attempt just two days before his inauguration ceremony on the ground that the presidential elections were rigged. This pattern reflects Niger’s military’s continued involvement in politics and governance of the country. [ii]
In the recent coup, the Military Junta claimed that, takeover was in response to the continuously deteriorating security situation in Niger and that Bazoum’s government had failed to deal with the spread of violent extremism which has troubled the region in the past decade. In this context, it is to be noted that, Military Juntas in this region have often justified their actions under this claim, for instance, in Mali and Burkina Faso and present themselves as a strong security alternative against the deteriorating security situation. However, in case of Niger the security situation had improved significantly in relation to its neighbors during President Bazoum’s rein[iii]. In the first six months of 2022, political violence had decreased by 39% as compared to 2021. According to a report by Africa Centre for Strategic Studies- attacks on the civilians had declined by 49% in 2022. In this context, it important to ponder upon what really triggered the military coup in Niger.
The military takeover in Niger was the culmination of months of animosity between President Bazoum and General Tchiani. When President Bazoum came to power in 2021, he sidelined a large number of senior officials from military and government. Besides, he built a strong security partnership with France and USA -which stationed their troops in Niger and curbed the autonomy of the Nigerien military commanders. He also initiated some anti-corruption programs which targeted some of the former President Mahamadou Issoufou’s proteges, making enemies in the process. General Tchini has been the head of the Issoufou’s Presidential Guard since 2011.He helped thwart a military takeover just before President Bazoum assumed his office in 2021. He served as the Head of Presidential Guard-(most powerful force in Niger)- under President Bazoum. However, in the past couple of months President Bazoum curtailed the size of the Presidential Guard and started to securitised the budget allocated to it. He was also allegedly planning to reorganize the Presidential Guard, which involved ousting of General Tchiani from his role as the Head of the Presidential Guard.
Another major cause of the coup is the disconnect between President Bazoum’s official discourse- calling for more international troops to be stationed at Niger and the public opinion. [iv] Due to their continuously deteriorating relations with the military Juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso, the western powers considered President Bazoum’s democratically elected government as their fundamental partner in combating the further spread of terrorism in the region. Therefore, the foreign military presence in Niger multiplied in recent years More than 1,500 French Military personnel were deployed in Niger, at the Niamey air base while the US has two military drone bases and nearly 1,000 troops deployed in Niger. However, there was a growing public discontentment in Niger as the population was mot able to understand that in spite of increasing foreign forces, the terrorist attacks continued. They considered that France was only interested in plundering Niger’s vast uranium reserves to shore up its nuclear energy systems and to exploit other natural resources. They continued to have the view that western imperialism is the root cause of the further spread of violent extremism[v].
The failure of the regional organizations such as the ECOWAS (Economic Community of the West African States) and African Union to take strong action against the military takeovers in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea has created an impression that there is no strong deterrence against military takeovers. In the last four years there have been seven coups in the region of which three were successful [vi]. The leaders of the ECOWAS and African Union have imposed sanctions on these states but nothing concrete has been done to deter other opportunistic military leaders[vii]. ECOWAS for instance has the history of sanctioning and suspending its member states later on only to readmit and allow them to take part in the activities of ECOWAS as long as they fulfill the requirement of holding democratic elections. For instance, ECOWAS lifted financial sanctions against Mali’s military government in June 2022, after it vowed to hold elections by February 2024.[viii]
ECOWAS strongly condemned the military coup in Niger and had given seven days’ timeframe to General Tchiani and other coup plotters to step down and reinstate the civilian President Bazoum . They have also threatened a military intervention if the Military Junta does not comply with the timeline. ECOWAS has imposed a strict economic and financial sanctions campaign against Niger whereby it has closed the borders between Niger and ECOWAS member states, instituting a no-fly zone for the commercial flights moving in and out of Niger. It has frozen Niger’s assets in ECOWAS central and commercial banks and has also enforced a travel ban on Niger[ix]. ECOWAS has dispatched envoys to Niger on August 2, 2023, however General Tchiani did not receive them. The military junta indefinitely postponed the visit of a tripartite AU- ECOWAS – United Nation delegation to Niger proclaiming that there was wide spread anger due to the economic sanctions imposed on Niger. The ECOWAS Chair Bola Tinubu has stated that, “No option is taken off the table including the use of force as the last resort. We remain steadfast in our commitment to supporting Niger’s journey towards peaceful democratic stability.” The Military Juntas in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea have however threatened that any armed intervention against Niger would be equivalent to a declaration of war against Mali and Burkina Faso. As of now Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Niger are suspended from ECOWAS. Given the numerous challenges such as the deteriorating security situation, economic crisis and the humanitarian challenges- which the region is facing today- the use of force by ECOWAS could spark a regional war as there are hard regional divisions at play now.
The African Union has also condemned in the strongest possible terms the military coup in Niger and the overthrow of the civilian government. It has also expressed deep concern over the alarming resurgence of military coups in Africa -as this undermines the democracy and stability on the continent. It had given 15 days’ timeframe for the military junta to restore the constitutional order. According to an official statement by African Union’s Peace and Security Council, “The military personnel have been asked to immediately and unconditionally return to the barracks and restore the constitutional authority within a maximum period of 15 days.”[x] African Union had also sent a joint mission with the representatives of UN and ECOWAS to Niger.
What are the Global Responses
The Military Junta led by General Tchiani has not been recognized by the international community as the lawful leaders of Niger.
France- the major partner of Niger- has suspended development aid and budget support to Niger and has asked for the return of constitutional order with immediate effect. France had provided development aid to Niger in 2022 of around US dollars 130 million. Niger’s Military Junta had revoked five military deals with France signed between 1977 -2022 and has accused France for planning strikes against the military Junta in an attempt to free President Bazoum. The French Government maintains that it only recognizes President Bazoum’s government as the legitimate authority and the legal framework for its defense cooperation with Niger is based on the agreements which it concluded with the legitimate Nigerien authorities. .[xi]
The United States which was the major humanitarian and security assistance provider to Niger -has paused all its humanitarian aid, security and assistance programs in Niger in the wake of the military coup. Niger was a critical partner of US in its counter terrorism measures and broader regional peace and security efforts in the Sahel region .US has provided unwavering support to President Bazoum and has cooperated with Niger on areas such as food security, economic development and military to military. In the year 2022, the US had provided Niger with a significant aid of more than US Dollars140 million for development and food security. In the fiscal year 2023, the United States had provided nearly US Dollar 150 billion humanitarian aid to Niger.[xii] However, the military coup in Niger has led to the shrinking of the US influence in the region. US Diplomat Victoria Nuland stated that, “If the Coup leaders are willing to return to Niger’s constitutional order, US is prepared to help with that.”[xiii]
While Russia has condemned the military coup in Niger and has demanded that the constitutional order must be reinstated[xiv]. It supports the mediation efforts being undertaken to assist Niger in overcoming this crisis. Moreover, it believes that a military intervention by ECOWAS in Niger will not contribute in the achievement of Peace and Stability in the West African region. According to Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Alexey Zaytsev, Russia believes in the principle that- African problems need African solutions.
European Union had called for the immediate release of President Bazoum and restoration of the democratic order. The European Union which is one of the biggest contributors to Niger has suspended its financial support and cooperation on security to Niger which has been set at Euros 503 million in 2021 to help improve the governance, education and sustainable growth to Niger[xv]. According to European Union’s High Representative, Joseph Borell, President Bazoum remains the only legitimate President of Niger and it is ready to support the future decisions taken by the West African Regional Bloc, ECOWAS including the adoption of sanctions.[xvi]
The United Nation’s Secretary General Antonio Guterres has strongly condemned the military takeover in Niger. The UN has called on all actors involved in the coup to exercise restraint and supporting the ongoing mediation efforts by the regional organizations such as African Union and ECOWAS.[xvii].
The Military Junta in Niger will have to deal with the difficult security situation which is likely to deteriorate under military rule as happened in Mali and Burkina Faso where coups have led to rise in security concerns. In addition to this, the military coup in Niger will also reshape Niger’s relations with its external partners. The disengagement with the western powers will have severe consequences for Niger both economically and in terms of security. It is to be seen how regional organizations will bring about stability through diplomatic measures given that the Military Junta in Niger did not receive the envoys sent by ECOWAS and African Union. The recourse to military intervention in Niger by ECOWAS also seems unlikely given that not all the members of the grouping are supportive of the military intervention. Therefore, it is to be seen how the regional organizations will bring about stability in Africa.
*Dr. Gauri Narain Mathur, Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
[i] Olayinka Ajala. ‘Botched Coup in Niger points to deep fissures in Country’ The Conversation. 2 April 2021. https://theconversation.com/botched-coup-in-niger-points-to-deep-fissures-in-the-country-158330
[ii] Meryl Demyunck, Mathis Bohm. ‘Unravelling the Niger Coup and its Implications for Violent Extremism in the Sahel.’ ICCT. 4 August 2023.
[iv] Olayinka Ajala.’ What Caused Coup in Niger. An Expert Outlines Three Driving Factors.’ The Conversation. 31 July 2023. https://theconversation.com/what-caused-the-coup-in-niger-an-expert-outlines-three-driving-factors-210721
[v] Ellen Loanes. ‘Niger’s Coup and the International Community’s Opposition Explained.’ VOX 30 July 2023. https://www.vox.com/world-politics/2023/7/29/23812389/niger-coup-africa-ecowas-tchiani-bazoum
[vi] Meryl Demyunck, Mathis Bohm. ‘Unravelling the Niger Coup and its Implications for Violent Extremism in the Sahel.’ ICCT. 4 August 2023.
[vii] Olayinka Ajala.’ What Caused Coup in Niger. An Expert Outlines Three Driving Factors.’ The Conversation. 31 July 2023. https://theconversation.com/what-caused-the-coup-in-niger-an-expert-outlines-three-driving-factors-210721
[viii] Leoni Mills, ‘ The Effectiveness of ECOWAS in Mitigating Coup in West Africa.’ International Peace Institute. 2 August 2022www.ipinst.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/Leonie-Mills-Effectiveness-of-ECOWAS.pdf
[ix] [ix] Alexandra Sharp. ‘Niger’s Coup is West Africa’s Biggest Challenge Yet’. Foreign Policy. 4 August 2023.https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/08/04/niger-coup-ecowas-military-intervention-mali-burkina-faso-nigeria-wagner/
[x] ‘ AU Demands Nigerien Military Restore Constutional Authority Within 15 Days’. CGTN. 30 July 2023. ews.cgtn.com/news/2023-07-30/AU-demands-Nigerien-military-restore-constitutional-authority-within-15-days-1lQWqx4zHMI/index.html
[xi] France- Deals Revoked by Niger military were Signed with Legitimate Government’. Aljazeera. 4 August 2023. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/8/4/france-deals-revoked-by-niger-military-were-signed-with-legitimate-govt
[xii] What Sanctions have been imposed upon Niger Since Coup,’ VOA. 8 August 2023. https://www.voanews.com/a/what-sanctions-have-been-imposed-on-niger-since-the-coup-/7217354.html
[xiii] ‘ US Diplomat Visits Niger to meet Coup Leaders, Push for Bazoum’s Release’. Al Jazeera. 7 August 2023. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/8/7/us-urges-niger-coup-leaders-to-step-aside-in-direct-contact#:~:text=If%20the%20coup%20leaders%20are,for%20Bazoum%20to%20be%20reinstated.
[xiv] Chimaka Okafor. ‘ Russia Opposes Military Action Wont Deploy troops,.; Premium Times. 2 August 2023. https://www.premiumtimesng.com/news/headlines/613688-niger-coup-russia-opposes-military-action-wont-deploy-troops-ambassador.html
[xv] ‘ What Sanctions have been imposed upon Niger Since Coup,’ VOA. 8 August 2023. https://www.voanews.com/a/what-sanctions-have-been-imposed-on-niger-since-the-coup-/7217354.html
[xvi] EU, African Union Escalate Pressure on Niger’s Coup leaders. Aljazeera 29 July 2023. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/7/29/blinken-offers-nigers-ousted-leader-bazoum-unflagging-support
[xvii] ‘United Nations Meeting Coverage and Press Releases’ . 26 July 2023. https://press.un.org/en/2023/sgsm21890.doc.htm#:~:text=The%20following%20statement%20was%20issued,peace%20and%20stability%20in%20Niger.