Coup in Niger: On the ouster of President Mohamed Bazoum

France and the U.S. must push for talks to restore democracy 

August 03, 2023 12:10 am | Updated 12:45 am IST

The ouster of Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum on July 26 is a blow against political stability in the nascent democracy and efforts to counter fast-spreading Islamist insurgency in the Sahel region. Mr. Bazoum, who became President in 2021 in the West African country’s first peaceful democratic transition since it got independence from the French in 1960, was a symbol of democratic order in an otherwise tumultuous coup-ridden region. He had built strong security partnerships with the U.S. and France, which have troops based in Niger. But pressure was also building on Mr. Bazoum as his rule was struggling to meet people’s expectations. Sections of the military were frustrated with the spread of insurgency in the south and unhappy with his over-reliance on France. The President had also taken steps to curtail the military’s influence — he forced some generals into retirement, sent others abroad and cut back on the perks given to the Presidential Guard. But the public was also growing weary of the administration amid rising jihadist attacks and a cost of living crisis. The Presidential Guard exploited this public resentment when it moved in to oust the President citing the “deteriorating security situation and bad social and economic governance”.

The U.S. and France see Niger, the largest country in West Africa, as a bulwark against Islamist insurgency in the region. Al Qaeda, the Islamic State and several other jihadist groups operate in the Sahel region, with Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali particularly hit. In Mali and Burkina Faso, which saw coups in 2021 and 2022, the putschists ousted UN peacekeepers and French troops, and moved to build closer security ties with Wagner, Russia’s notorious military company. In Niger, supporters of the coup staged demonstrations in the capital Niamey, holding Russian flags and demanding the ouster of French troops. The long French presence and the lack of results in the West’s fight against terrorism seem to have added to the resentment among the militaries and people in the affected countries, which power-hungry generals with a disregard for democratic practices have exploited to seize power. France and the Economic Community of West African States, a regional grouping, have issued an ultimatum to the putschists to restore President Bazoum. But a military intervention would further destabilise the country, helping the insurgents exploit the chaos. Instead, the U.S. and France, which still have influence in Niger, should push for talks between the generals and the presidency, seeking an amicable settlement of the disputes and the restoration of democracy.

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