Niger

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    Latest developments

    On June 26, 2023, the armed forces removed President Mohamed Bazoum from power. A few hours earlier, the Presidential Guard had arrested him. In a national live TV broadcast, Colonel Amadou Abdramane explained the coup by the need to put an end to a regime that had deteriorated the country’s security and socio-economic stability. On July 30, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) issued an ultimatum to the country: it must restore democratic order, or face external intervention by military force.

    On July 7, just before the expiration of the ECOWAS ultimatum, the military government closed the country’s airspace. The announcement came as thousands of supporters of the coup gathered in Niamey Stadium to support the military, now in power under the name National Council for the Safeguarding of the Nation (CNSP), led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani. On the same day, the US Acting Secretary of State Victoria Nuland visited the country to strongly urge the coup authorities to restore democracy. Nuland reported “frank and difficult” talks with military leader Moussa Salaou Barmou and three of his colonels. The Deputy Secretary did not meet with coup leader Tchiani.

    On August 16, the French newspaper Le Monde reported that the African Union opposed military intervention in Niger, thus dissociating itself from ECOWAS. At the same time, it suspended the country from all its activities. On August 18, ECOWAS announced that its standby force deployed to Niger was ready to intervene as soon as the Heads of State and Government of the Community gave the order.

    The following day, during a televised speech, General Tchiani declared that the transition period led by the military council would not exceed 3 years. Simultaneously, he warned that any foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs would be punished. On August 25, the military authorities gave US, French, and German ambassadors 48 hours to leave the country. The Nigerian ambassador was also expelled. The measure was justified by the diplomats’ refusal to accept an invitation to the Nigerien Ministry of Foreign Affairs and alleged actions by their governments against Niamey’s interests. France opposed the expulsion, stating that it could only be expressed by Niger’s legitimate authorities and not by the coup leaders.

     

    What are they fighting for?

    In 2022, Niger ranked 140th out of 163 countries analyzed by the Global Peace Index of the Institute for Economics and Peace, dropping two positions lower than the previous year. The insecurity in the country is fueled by the terrorist activities of jihadist groups, political instability, internal conflicts, and organized crime engaged in smuggling weapons, gold, and drugs. More than jihadist ideology, the emergence and resilience of non-state armed groups are due to a combination of factors, including the weakness of state institutions, endemic corruption, brutal repression of dissent, dysfunctionality, and violence of poorly controlled military forces.

    These are structural problems that go beyond the war on terrorism and religious extremism promoted by local and international actors. Additionally, extreme poverty levels, exacerbated by the effects of the war in Ukraine leading to increased inflation and the cost of living across the continent. Finally, the struggle for raw materials (especially uranium) and resources (starting from water) continues to be a reason for interest for many actors present in the country. The lack of water and food insecurity in a region devastated by climate change contribute to exacerbating the population’s plight and fueling the conditions in which terrorist groups thrive and recruit.

     

    General framework

    Like the other Sahel states, Niger struggles to achieve even a semblance of stability due to the profound difficulties associated with the overall insecurity of the region. Violence stems from jihadism, organized crime, drug trafficking, and smuggling activities. In 2022, the primary terrorist groups operating in the country remained the same. Boko Haram and ISWA (Islamic State in West Africa), which emerged from the split of Boko Haram, predominantly operate in the area surrounding Lake Chad, bordering Chad and Nigeria. JNIM (Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen), linked to al-Qaeda, and ISGS (Islamic State Greater Sahara), affiliated with the Islamic State, maintain their presence in the border regions with Mali and Burkina Faso. The number of their victims decreased compared to 2021, likely due to the redeployment of French forces in the Sahel. Following the fallout with the Malian military junta, Paris shifted its troops to neighboring countries, making Niger the focal point of French presence in the region.

    This situation led to the failure of initial, tentative attempts at dialogue between institutions and jihadist groups, which resumed their attacks. Moreover, much of the population remains dissatisfied with the new French presence in the country. Once seen as liberators, France is now accused of neocolonialism. Numerous anti-French protests have taken place, often accompanied by demonstrations of sympathy towards Putin’s Russia, amid a broader regional realignment following the Ukraine conflict.

    Nigerians also grapple with poverty, with over 40% of the population living below the poverty line, earning less than $1.90 per day. Food insecurity and water scarcity pose significant challenges for the country, exacerbated by the effects of climate change, including frequent and severe droughts, irregular precipitation, and desertification. Agriculture, upon which over 80% of the population relies, suffers as a result. Ecological threats further exacerbate tensions among communities vying for control of natural resources and arable land, exposing people to constant humanitarian crises.

     

    Key figure or organization: Mohamed Bazoum

    Mohamed Bazoum has been President of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism since 2011. He served as Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation, and African Integration from 1995 to 1996 and again from 2011 to 2015, and as Minister of the Interior from 2016 to 2020, when he resigned to run for presidential elections. On April 2, 2021, he became President of the country. In December 2022, he was appointed President of the West African Economic and Monetary Union. On July 26, 2023, he was ousted by a military coup and arrested. On August 13, the coup government announced its intention to prosecute him before national and international authorities for high treason and for threatening internal and external security of Niger.

     

    FOCUS 1 – Foreigners on Nigerian soil

    According to Reuters, France has between 1,000 and 1,500 soldiers in Niger, equipped with drones and warplanes, supporting national forces in border operations. Italy has a contingent of about 300 men. Rome has been in Niger since 2018 with the Niger Mission and as part of the Task Group Air Sahel rapid intervention force. It is also involved in the construction of the country’s Aeronautical Medicine Competence Center.

     

    FOCUS 2 – Desertification

    Niger is far from the sea and close to the Tropic of Cancer. Its territory includes a vast area of the Sahara and has a desert climate. Precipitation is scarce, especially in the north. This situation does not help to counter desertification, which has intensified in the last 50 years due to recurring droughts that have also caused severe famines.