On July 26, 2023, members of the presidential guard detained the democratically elected President of Niger Republic, President Mohamed Bazoum in an attempted military coup, seizing in the country. In a televised national broadcast, the leader of Niger’s presidential guard, General Abdourahamane Tchiani declared himself as the head of state, affirming another successful military coup in the West African sub-region. Following the recent coups in Guinea, Mali, Sudan, Burkina Faso, and Gabon, the military coup in Niger represents the eighth coup incident in West and Central Africa since 2020. This is not only signalling increasing military juntas in the continent, but it is also affirming the growing political instability in the region.
As seen in coups in other African nations, the coup plotters in Niger have justified their unconstitutional actions under the guise of addressing the deteriorating security situation as well as poor socio-economic and political governance in the country. As expected, the incident attracted condemnations from several regional and global blocs and actors, including ECOWAS, the African Union, the European Union, the US, and France, among others. This also includes sanctions and a threat of military intervention from ECOWAS if the military junta fails to relinquish power and reinstate President Bazoum. To consolidate power and deter any form of external interference, the military junta led by General Tchiani arrested top officials of President Bazoum’s government and shut the country’s land borders and airspace. The military junta has also garnered support from the military leaders in Burkina Faso and Mali, who publicly announced their intention to side with Niger in the event of any military intervention from ECOWAS.
Possible causes of the military coup
There are varying views on the exact causes of the recent military coup in Niger. However, there are some common arguments across several commentaries. First, Niger is plagued with severe socio-economic challenges and insecurity issues, indicating a governance gap in the country. Despite being one of the world’s largest suppliers of uranium, Niger ranks as the 7th poorest country in the world – with more than 41% of the country’s population living in extreme poverty as of 2021. With agriculture accounting for 40% of the country’s GDP, the increasing frequency and intensity of climate events is disrupting the country’s economic growth. More importantly, increasing attacks from insurgent groups on Nigeriens and the Nigerien military along areas bordering Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Mali are also worsening the security situation in the country. All these socio-economic challenges granted the coup plotters popular support, as the people erroneously believed that the military junta would put the country on the path of more sustainable socio-economic development.
Another notable driver is the lack of firm response from the regional blocs to previous coups on the continent. In particular, ECOWAS and the African Union failed to decisively respond to the military coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, giving the coup plotters in Niger a free pass to replicate this unconstitutional move in the country. With seven previous military coups on the continent since 2020 that have gone unchallenged, the Nigerien military junta fears no repercussions from regional actors. This is already playing out, as the military junta failed to comply with ECOWAS’ one-week ultimatum to immediately release President Bazoum and restore democracy in the country.
The presence of foreign troops and military bases in Niger is another driver of the military takeover. Earlier in 2019, the US established a USD$110million military drone base in Niger, which received recurrent criticism for worsening the security situation in the country. In 2022, more than 1500 French and European military troops were accepted by President Bazoume into Niger’s territory after withdrawing from Operation Barkhane in Mali. The presence of these foreign forces in Niger was allegedly to combat the jihadists’ activities in the Sahel. The military leadership in Niger was uncomfortable with this move, as they believe that the presence of foreign forces undermines their capability to maintain security in the country. The Nigerien military junta has been calling for the immediate withdrawal of French troops from the country.
How the coup is affecting migrant populations
The military takeover of Niger has worsened several human security challenges in Niger. With Niamey currently under military rule, the constitution and the rule of law have been suspended, raising concerns of unrestricted abuse of human rights, such as arbitrary arrests of critics, restricting freedom of movement, freedom of expression, and people’s right to choose political leadership, among others. In addition, the military coup has led to increasing terrorist attacks in Niger, as the insurgent groups are taking advantage of political instability in the country. This is evident in the recent attack in the Koutougou area of Niger, where 17 Nigerien military members were killed and 20 were injured.
In particular, the military takeover in Niger is significantly affecting migration patterns in the Sahel region, putting many migrant populations in vulnerable situations. With Niger holding a strategic location for migrants seeking access to Libya and further to Europe, the military coup has trapped more than 7000 migrants in the country as of late August. This is largely due to the military junta’s decision to shut down the country’s land borders and airspace. This decision makes it impossible for migrants to return home, further causing overcrowding in many shelters, and leading to food and water shortages in these facilities. For instance, IOM suspended its repatriation activities due to the border closure, causing its centres to experience 14% over capacity and placing increased stress on their limited resources, including availability of food and water. Additionally, the closure of land borders and airspace is making it difficult for humanitarian aid to reach vulnerable people in the country, significantly affecting the well-being of migrant populations in the military-ruled country.
ECOWAS and other international bodies have sanctioned Niger, calling for an immediate return to constitutional democracy. One of the sanctions of ECOWAS is to isolate landlocked Niger from international engagement, including cutting off vital trade routes with its neighbouring countries. For instance, Nigeria supplies more than 70% of Niger’s electricity, but Nigeria has recently cut off the country’s power supply, significantly affecting the survival of Niger citizens as well as migrant populations. Additionally, ECOWAS sanctions have put Niger and Nigeria – who are longstanding neighbours – at odds, deeply affecting people-to-people relations, especially in border communities. Specifically, many Niger citizens on business trips to Nigeria’s commercial cities are stranded and unable to access their country due to border closures. Other global responses to the military takeover include the World Bank’s suspension of its Safety Net funding programme in Niger – a funding programme that benefits more than 40 Nigerien communities and 66,000 households. Furthermore, the EU suspended its funding support and security cooperation with Niger, including the EUR294 million Stability Fund. All these sanctions and funding blockades significantly put migrant populations in vulnerable situations and threaten their survival.
The way forward
To protect the rights of citizens and migrant population in Niger, the following steps should be taken:
- The military junta in Niger should relinquish power to a constitutional government as soon as possible. Only with a legitimate government in place will local and foreign partners resume their engagement with the Nigerien authority in addressing the country’s socio-economic challenges.
- As recommended by the international NGOs represented in Niger, regional and international bodies should implement humanitarian exceptions to their sanctions against Niger. This will allow vulnerable populations – including stranded migrants, IDPs, and refugees – to gain continued access to humanitarian services.
- Finally, development partners should place the Nigeriens at the centre of their intervention. In other words, they should adopt a creative and flexible approach that will not deepen the existing humanitarian and development challenges in the country.