Posted by: Home Strange Home | February 19, 2010

Coup d’état in Niger

Yesterday in Niamey, soldiers attacked the presidential palace as President Mamadou Tandja was holding a cabinet meeting.  After a short gun battle in which ten soldiers died, Tandja was captured along with his cabinet members.  While his exact whereabouts are unknown, there is speculation that he is being held captive at a military barracks west of Niamey.  

The coup d’état was organized by the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD), led by Colonel Salou Djibo and Colonel Djibril Hamidou.  Djibo controls about 40% of the Nigerian army and is in charge of the capital of Niamey and other regions.  After the coup, Djibo announced the suspension of the constitution and the dissolution of all state institutions.  

The coup is the culmination of the political tension that has built up over the six months since August 4th, when Tandja held a referendum to modify the constitution with the goal of extending his time in office so he could serve a third term.  He had already been in office for 10 years, since 1999, and served the maximum of two terms.  This action led to ECOWAS suspending Niger’s membership and the US cutting off all but humanitarian aid to the country.  (See my earlier post on this referendum.) 

France, the African Union, and ECOWAS have all condemned yesterday’s coup because they oppose all unconstitutional changes to the government.  This is slightly ironic, in light of Tandja’s own unconstitutional changes  last year which effectively amounted to a sort of slow coup d’état.  Rather than condemn it, one might argue that the coup could be an opportunity to salvage democracy in Niger and hold the elections that should have happened last year.  

That said, the CSRD gave no indication of how long they intend to stay in power or if and when they plan to hold elections.  It may be never, as is so often the case.  However, the fact that Hamidou is one of the leaders of the coup is perhaps reason for hope, given that he was also involved in the 1999 coup that led to the elections which democratically brought Tandja to power. 

 Outside of the presidential palace, people appeared to be going on with their lives as usual on Friday, with schools and offices reopening and only a few soldiers on the street.  Sadly, Niger remains desperately poor – it ranks in 182nd place out of 182 countries in the most recent Human Development Index, with a life expectancy of 50.8 years, an adult literacy rate of 28.7%, and a GDP per capital of PPP US $627 (Source: Human Development Report 2009).  Moreover, recent erratic rainfall has caused food shortages which are estimated to impact up to half of the population; the UN has pledged to provide additional funding of US$220 million to prevent the food crisis.

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