What’s happening in Niger? And what does it mean for President Mohamed Bazoum?

The nation’s leader has been toppled in a coup backed by the country’s military leadership

Faiza Saqib
Thursday 27 July 2023 12:32 BST
<p>President Mohamed Bazoum was elected in 2021  </p>

President Mohamed Bazoum was elected in 2021

Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum has made a defiant vow to protect "hard-won" democratic gains a day after he was toppled in a military coup.

The country’s foreign minister Hassoumi Massoudou also issued a rallying cry on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, for “all democrats and patriots” to make the coup fail.

However, in the wake of the president’s vow, sent via social media, Niger’s army command declared its support for a coup. The army needed to “preserve the physical integrity” of the president and his family and avoid “a deadly confrontation... that could create a bloodbath and affect the security of the population,” it said in a statement signed by the army chief of staff.

The statements followed a late-night address on Wednesday by soldiers on national television announcing that Mr Bazoum had been removed from power and all institutions of the republic suspended, marking the seventh coup in West and Central Africa since 2020.

Mr Bazoum’s supporters tried to approach the palace where he was being held, but were soon dispersed after warning shots were fired by members of the presidential guard – which had first moved against Mr Bazoum.

The incident triggered condemnation by the United Nations, the European Union and the United States.

Who is Mohamed Bazoum?

Mohamed Bazoum is the tenth president of Niger and first assumed office in April 2021.

Mr Bazoum had promised to improve the country’s security and education, in an inauguration that was noted as the country’s first democratic transition of power since independence in 1960.

Before taking his position as president, he had served as the president of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism. From 1995 to 1996 Mr Bazoum served as the minister of foreign affairs, doing so again from 2011 to 2016.

In 2016, he was briefly minister of state at the presidency and was later appointed minister of state for the Interior serving until his 2021 presidential election.

On February 2021, Mr Bazoum had secured 55.75 per cent of the votes cast, beating former President Mahamane Ousmane who garnered 44.25 per cent.

At the time of his win, the US State Department congratulated Mr Bazoum and said it was “marking a historic transfer of power”.

The statement said: “We value the strong relationship between the United States and Niger and look forward to working with President Bazoum’s administration to expand bilateral relations including in the areas of development, humanitarian assistance, security, and trade.”

Why is a coup taking place?

Supporters of Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum demonstrate in Niamey

“This is as a result of the continuing degradation of the security situation, the bad economic and social governance," air force Col. Major Amadou Abdramane said in the video, with nine other officers present on Wednesday.

However, the removal of Mr Bazoum from a leadership position would undermine the West’s efforts to stabilise Africa’s Sahel region. This military takeover marks the seventh couple in the West and Central African region since 2020. Mali and Burkina Faso have had four coups since 2020, facing regular attacks from extremists linked to al-Qaida and Isis.

Niger is a key ally of France and the US in the war against such jihadist groups in the region. The country’s role has grown since a souring of relations with Burkina Faso and Mali’s military governments.

Back in Niger, in March 2021, there was another attempted coup when a military unit tried to seize the presidential palace days before Mr Bazoum was due to be sworn in.

If the government is overthrown, it can cause major issues for Western powers who have invested the country’s money and security.

The US has said it has spent $500m since 2012 to help Niger boost its security and in April of this year, Germany announced that it would take part in a three-year European military mission aimed at improving the country’s military.

"Bazoum has been the West’s only hope in the Sahel region. France, the US and the EU have spent much of their resources in the region to bolster Niger and its security forces," said Ulf Laessing, head of the Sahel programme for Germany’s Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung thinktank.

Mr Laessing said the coup would create an in for Russia and organisations to spread their influence in Niger.

Niger Colonel statement in full

Major Abdramane addressed the people of Niger on national television and said: “Today, 26 July 2023, we the defence and security forces gathered as the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, CNSP, have decided to put an end to the regime you know.

“This follows the continuing deterioration of security and poor economic and social governance. Land and air borders are closed until the situation has stabilised.”

What have people said in support of Mr Bazoum?

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) pictured President Mohamed Bazoum during their meeting at the presidential palace in Niamey, Niger on 16 March 2023

The African Union and West African regional bloc ECOWAS condemned what they called an attempted coup d’etat.

The president of neighbouring Benin, Patrice Talon, flew into Niger on Wednesday afternoon to see the situation after meeting with Nigerian President and ECOWAS Chairman Bola Tinubu.

"All means will be used, if necessary, to restore constitutional order in Niger, but the ideal would be for everything to be done in peace and harmony," Mr Talon told reporters in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital.

US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, reportedly spoke to Mr Bazoum and “conveyed the unwavering support of the United States … the strong US economic and security partnership with Niger depends on the continuation of democratic governance and respect for the rule of law and human rights”.

Mr Blinken added: “I spoke with President Bazoum earlier this morning, and made clear that the US resolutely supports him as the democratically elected president of Niger. We call for his immediate release.

“We condemn any efforts to seize power by force. We’re actively engaged with the Niger government, but also with partners in the region and around the world, and will continue to do so until the situation is resolved appropriately and peacefully.”

Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat condemned the coup attempt “by members of the military acting in total betrayal of their republican duty”.

Additional reporting from agencies

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