Last Updated: Thursday, 21 August 2014, 11:05 GMT

Briefing: In Niger, soldiers out and civilians in

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 11 March 2011
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Briefing: In Niger, soldiers out and civilians in, 11 March 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4d7f25332c.html [accessed 21 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

DAKAR, 11 March 2011 (IRIN) - Even if Niger's 12 March elections pass off quietly and a new civilian administration is voted in as planned, the country can hardly say coup attempts, both successful and abortive, are definitively a thing of the past. Six republics have come and gone in Niger since independence in 1960. The seventh, backed by a constitution approved by referendum in October 2010, is meant to break decisively with this history. But the national army, the Forces Armées Nigeriennes (FAN), will remain a critical actor, particularly if serious security problems are not rapidly addressed.

There has yet to be any definitive resolution of the conflict pitting government troops against Touareg insurgents in the north. A rebellion that began in 1990 was fuelled by longstanding Touareg grievances, including a loss of grazing rights, and alleged discrimination by national and local authorities. Despite a ceasefire in 1995, the conflict flared up again in 2007. Accords brokered by Libyan leader Col Muammar Gaddafi in 2009 have been rejected by Touareg factions in Niger and neighbouring Mali.

There is also mounting concern over the activities in Niger of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM), which claimed responsibility for the abduction of two French nationals from a restaurant in Niamey in January, both subsequently killed in clashes between insurgents and French and Nigerien troops.

Security concerns within the humanitarian and diplomatic communities prompted the withdrawal of the US Peace Corps in January. Niger plays host to a large NGO community, much of it focused on efforts to find long-term solutions to food security problems. Niger came 167th out of 169 countries listed in the UN's 2010 Humanitarian Development Index (HDI).

The Sahelian food crisis in 2010 hit Niger particularly hard, with hundreds of thousands facing food shortages. NGOs and UN agencies have credited the newly arrived military regime, headed by Salou Djibo, for helping facilitate a prompt, constructive response. This contrasted with 2005, when then President Mamadou Tandja was accused of failing to raise the alarm, while signalling that he regarded a large-scale aid intervention as invasive and unnecessary.

The ousting of Tandja, a former senior military officer and minister of interior, in February 2010, was accomplished with few casualties and prompted as much relief as condemnation. Tandja had been widely criticized at home and abroad for his authoritarian approach to government and erratic pronouncements.

His dissolution of parliament in May 2009 and decision to hold a referendum on the extension of his mandate provoked mass demonstrations, strong responses from both judiciary and legislature and also compromised Niger's regional and international standing, leading to Niger's suspension from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and financial sanctions from the European Union, while the French government expressed its "worry and disappointment". Tandja was the fourth Nigerien head of state to be removed by force of arms.

Military coups

The country's first president was Diori Hamani, whose Rassemblement démocratique africain-Parti progressiste nigérien (RDA-PPN) dominated government and parliament for the first 14 years of independence (1960-1974). Diori won a presidential election with 99.98 percent of the vote in 1970, but was overthrown by a coup organized by military chief of staff, Seyni Kountché, in April 1974. Kountché became president of a newly created supreme military council, the Conseil militaire supreme (CMS).

Kountché, who acquired a reputation for strong-arm tactics and clamping down on dissent, survived three coup attempts, dying of natural causes in 1987. Under Kountché's successor, Ali Saïbou, also from a military background, a 2nd republic was established, with a revised constitution. The Mouvement national pour la société du développement (MNSD) became the ruling party of Niger in 1989. Saïbou formally became president after elections in December 1989.

Opposition emboldened

But like several other countries in francophone West Africa, Niger was hit by a wave of social protests and strikes in the early 1990s, with opposition politicians emboldened by the end of the Cold War, pushing for multiparty democracy. A specially convened national conference removed Saïbou's executive powers and paved the way for the introduction of a pluralist system. Elections in February and March 1993 saw the MNSD eclipsed by the opposition Alliance des forces du changement (AFC), while economist Mahamane Ousmane was elected president, defeating MNSD candidate Tandja.

Ousmane's time in office was complicated by his failure to win a majority in the national assembly and by bitter political rivalries in office. Ousmane was forced out by a coup led by Gen Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara in January 1996. Ousmane was allowed to stand in elections in July 1996, but lost to Baré, with Tandja coming third. Baré was killed, reportedly by members of his own presidential guard at the airport, in April 1999. Cmdr Daouda Malam Wanké headed an interim regime until elections in December 1999 when Tandja gained his first election victory.

While Tandja defeated former Prime Minister Mahamadou Issoufou in elections in 2004, his second term saw a serious erosion of popular support. A hostile parliament forced the dissolution of the government in 2007 after demanding the departure of Prime Minister Hama Amadou over embezzlement allegations. But it was Tandja's attempts to remain in office beyond his second term that led Niger into a political crisis. In May 2009 Tandja dissolved parliament, and won a referendum on the right to seek a third term of office in the face of strong opposition from the judiciary. His party won highly controversial legislative elections in October 2009.

Escorted to barracks

Officers from the Forces de Défense et de Sécurité (FDS) moved against Tandja on 18 February, escorting him to barracks. A Conseil Suprême pour la Restauration de la Démocratie (CSRD) set up under Salou Djibo announced the suspension of the latest constitution and all institutions deriving from it, effectively ending the short-lived 6th republic. The CSRD appealed for calm and called for "national and international opinion to support our patriotic action to save Niger and its population from poverty, lies and corruption".

Tandja remains in custody, despite requests for his release from ECOWAS and others. The CSRD has emphasized repeatedly that it will abide by its commitment to leave the stage once elections have taken place and a new government is installed. But the CSRD's unity has been fragile, with Salou Djibo moving against his deputy, Col Abdoulaye Badié, and other senior officers, accusing them of plotting a putsch.

A new constitution, approved overwhelmingly by referendum in October 2010, re-established a limit of two five-year presidential terms and banned soldiers from running for office.

While the CSRD has talked confidently of a new chapter in Niger's history, the elections are being contested by candidates with a long record of involvement in Nigerien politics. For example, former Prime Minister Issoufou is the candidate for the Parti nigérien pour la démocratie et le socialisme (PNDS-Tarraya). Issoufou took a clear lead after the first round of voting on 31 January and now has the backing of former Prime Minister Amadou, who fell from grace under Tandja. Issoufou is now in a stand-off against a third ex-premier, Seini Oumarou, who was prime minister under Tandja between 2007 and 2009, having held several other senior posts.

Theme (s): Food Security, Governance, Security,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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