Sunday, May 22, 2022

After coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, will Niger be next?

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Speculation that Niger may become the next Sahel nation to suffer a coup has surged since Burkina Faso underwent a putsch last week, less than 18 months after a military takeover in Mali.

The three former French colonies share many characteristics.

They are deeply poor, their armed forces are struggling with a bloody insurgency and all have a history of political volatility.

Critics of President Mohamed Bazoum’s regime, angry at perceived corruption and failures to end the security crisis, are flooding social media following the January 24 coup in Burkina.

Some predict that Niger could go the way of its neighbours — and others are going so far as to urge the army “to shoulder its responsibility” and seize power.

Niger outwardly seems to highly vulnerable to a coup.

The landlocked arid state ranks as the poorest country in the world, according to the UN’s Human Development Index.

It is battling two militant campaigns — one on its border with Mali in the west, the other on its frontier with Nigeria in the southeast.

And the country has endured four coups since independence in 1960, beginning with the ouster in 1974 of its first president. The last was in February 2010, although there were attempted takeovers between 2011 and 2021.

Even so, analysts caution against buying into the idea of coup contagion.

“Everyone fears a spread but frankly, popular discontent has not reached the level of Burkina Faso or Mali,” said Nigerien analyst Amadou Bounty Diallo.

President Bazoum has been in office for less than a year.

He was elected in February 2021, taking over from Mahamadou Issoufou, who stepped down after two elected terms, opening the way for the country’s first peaceful handover of power since 1993.

Diallo warned against complacency, though.

“President Bazoum has to take stock of the depth of discontent stirred by the massacres and fix it,” he said.

Diallo also said Bazoum needs to tackle corruption — including a notorious military procurement scandal that involved tens of millions of dollars in overbilling.

Coup Mali Burkina Faso Niger

No ‘dominos’

An African diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, similarly ruled out “the theory of a domino effect” in Niger.

“The cocktail is not as explosive” as in its neighbours, the diplomat said.

Bazoum “isn’t facing opposition in the streets,” unlike the presidents who have recently been unseated — Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Mali and Roch Marc Christian Kabore in Burkina.

Ornella Moderan, head of the Sahel programme at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) based in Bamako, agreed.

“It is true that the country has a long tradition of coups d’etat, and that it is facing a security crisis that’s going from bad to worse,” she said.

“However, it seems to me that the immediate elements which served as triggers in Mali, Burkina or even Guinea (where the military also took power in September) are not present.”

The “triggers,” she suggested, include “a long-standing social crisis made worse by the lack of response from governments, an open post-election crisis, and the extent of the failure of the Malian and Burkina governments to counter the threat.”

Army question

One point, argued others, is that Niger’s armed forces enjoy better morale than their counterparts Mali or Burkina, and are thus less likely to mutiny.

“We have a strong army, which is present across the country,” said a source at the presidency.

Bazoum is “showing more signs of a desire to improve governance,” said Nigerien constitutional scholar Amadou Boubacar.

“He took the gamble of going into the field to pay tribute to soldiers (fighting the militants) and he is showing a willingness to establish dialogue and fight corruption.”

Souley Oumarou, a civil society leader, also noted that Niger lacks a strong political opposition.

In both Mali and Burkina, a groundswell of public protests served as the spark for a coup.

In Niger, “the conditions aren’t there,” Oumarou said.

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