Unrest in Niger: The 2023 Coup and Its Impact on Democracy and Stability

Every African country has its own political history, military or democracy; military rule however has a symbolic place in some of these histories as a result of the misuse of power, violence and bloodshed. Moreso, most African countries have adopted the democratic mode of government while the military on the other hand is most likely forgotten because it has been replaced by democracy owing to the fact that more preference is placed on democracy as it is ‘a government by the people, of the people and for the people’, whereas military regime centers on veto power.

Surprisingly, on the 26th of July 2023, a coup d’etat was staged in Niger and the democratic power was overthrown.

Niger (also called the Niger; citizens are called Nigerien) is a politically and economically unstable nation in the Sahel region of west Africa that gained independence from France on the 1st of August in the year 1960. It is also the largest inland country in West Africa – bordered to the Northwest by Algeria, to the Northeast by Libya, to the Southwest by Benin, also to the South by Nigeria with Burkina Faso and Mali to the West.

The independent country whose capital is Niamey is dependent on its significant source of uranium ore as well as intensive and export agriculture. Nevertheless, it is still one of the world’s poorest countries owing to very low levels of literacy, high levels of insecurity and insurrection, uncontrolled birth rate resulting in rapid population growth which cannot be sustained by the economy. Also 80% of the country is arid lands (Sahara) and even the vegetative part of the nation experience recurrent famine and logging; all of these factors hinder the prosperity of the nation, therefore bad economic stimulus and poor standard of living in the country.

Hence, 5 coup d’etats have taken place in the history of Niger. Major Amadou Abdramane, the spokesperson for a so-called “National Council for the Safeguarding of the Country (CNSP)”, in a broadcast after the 2023 coup d’etat said, “the defence and security forces have decided to put an end to the regime you’re familiar with”. In continuation, he said “this follows the continuous deterioration of the security situation, the bad social and economic management”. Definitely, the reason for the 2023 coup is as a result of instability of security and economy in Niger.

Moreover, the 2023 coup d’etat is the 5th coup since independence of the country and the first since 2010, it also seems to be the most significant of the 5 coups in the history of Niger. The first was the 1974 coup led by Lieutenant-Colonel Seyni Kountche who seized power from Hamani Diori who had ruled for 14 years since 1960, 20 lives were reported lost as a result of this. Followed by the 1996 coup staged by the Nigerien army which deposed President Mahamane Ousmane and prime minister Hama Amadou. The third was the 1999 coup d’etat which led to the assassination of the then President of Niger – Mainassara – in an ambush at Niamey airport by rebellious soldiers of the country. Then the 2010 coup d’etat led by General Salon Djibo seized power from Mamadou Tandju.

Recently, the presidential guards led by General Tchiani detained President Mohamed Bazoum on Wednesday 26th of July after which the coup was then declared. The fact that the coup was an internal operation and the ease with which the president was ousted from power was very shocking. The Nigerien army which was supposed to stand against such an act and apprehend the parties involved in the mutiny unexpectedly pledged their allegiance to the coup members on Thursday 27th of July stating that ‘it was necessary to avoid deadly confrontation between forces of the country’. Subsequently, General Abdourahamane Tchiani declared himself the incumbent head of states on Friday 28th July 2023 and all borders to the country have been closed with curfew imposed on the country by the military.

The United Nations, United States, European Union, France and ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) amongst other world nations condemned the act and are greatly opposing the junta, saying that the coup was ‘unconstitutional’. In an ECOWAS summit in the capital of Nigeria (Abuja) on Thursday 30th of July, the newly elected President of Nigeria/Chairman of ECOWAS – Bola Ahmed Tinubu – gave the junta of Niger a week ultimatum to release the detained President as well as relinquish power, failure to do so would call for immediate action from member states of ECOWAS. Meanwhile the President of Nigeria wrote to the national assembly of Nigeria requesting deployment of Army to Niger, this proposal was however rejected by the Senate of the country. The Senate said that such matters ought to be settled via diplomatic methods, not military.

The threats against Niger were futile as the Nigerien army refused to yield, they said that any actions against them will be countered in response. Mali and Burkina Faso disclosed their support for Niger by calling the threats a bluff warning that any military action against the country would be a declaration of war. For this reason, these countries have been suspended from ECOWAS.

Amidst the tensions ECOWAS has imposed sanctions on Niger, Nigeria as well has cut power supply to the country and West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) also has frozen all assets of the Niger states.

Opposition has forced Niger to sever ties with most African countries including France. Russia on the other hand is reportedly supporting the Niger junta due to the fact that Russian flags have been seen on streets in Niamey with slogans on posters of the coup supporters saying “down with France, long live Putin ”. However, delegations have been sent to Niger to bring about order and agreement between the Nigerian military and democrats.

Following the elapsed ultimatum given to Niger, the junta have made it clear that they’re not surrendering and moreover, any pressure on them could lead to the death of the hostage President. This has put all opposing sides on a hook but ECOWAS member states have all pledged support of their army ready for immediate deployment if necessary.

The 2023 Nigerien coup is a slap in the face to democracy because democracy has practically subdued military power which signifies democracy’s power and authority; therefore, a coup staged so easily is a mock to democracy and a challenge to its authority. This seems to be the reason democratic countries are in opposition to the coup and trying everything in their capacity to reinstate democratic power in Niger.

This crisis has raised a lot of tension amongst concerned citizens and nations as the fire of war could be kindled with the slightest spark. Apparently, a lot of citizens are in support of the coup d’etat in Niger hoping that a change of regime will bring forth good tidings for them. However, they all are dwelling in fear of what may come as anything could happen at any time.