Niger: An Attempted Coup Raises Questions about Military Accountability [Updated]

In April, Niger’s newly elected civilian President Mahamadou Issoufou took office, marking an end to nearly fourteen months of military rule. Senior military leaders had seized power from the previous civilian president, Mamadou Tandja, after he manipulated the constitution to remain in power past stated term limits. Both the coup and the civilian transition reflected what many say is a conviction among senior Nigerien military officers that they are the guardians or referees of the country’s democracy. This position – a complicated one indeed – is apparently not shared by all, though.

Yesterday, news surfaced that authorities in Niger had arrested some seven army officers accused of plotting to assassinate Issoufou.

[A security] official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the foiled assassination was to have taken place [on July 16] at a press conference addressed by Mr Issoufou to mark his 100 days in power.

Mr Issoufou’s killing would have opened for the way for the military to recapture power, the official said.

Some sections of Niger’s military have been angered by Mr Issoufou’s attempts to end corruption, which has led to the dismissal of several officials, correspondents say.

Issoufou’s initiation of corruption proceedings against army officers have been bold, but they have, it’s clear, also already caused discontent. As I wrote earlier this month, “The junta itself had conducted investigations of the Tandja regime. But it is one thing to go after an ousted and disgraced administration, and quite another to go after a group that earned domestic and international plaudits for its efforts to create and facilitate a smooth transition to civilian rule.”

Judging from the small number and relatively low rank of the soldiers who were arrested, this coup attempt does not seem to have been a serious threat to Issoufou. From what I can tell, his visit to Washington this week is still going forward. Still, I wonder whether this plot will slow or freeze the corruption investigations Issoufou has launched. A contact in Niger told me yesterday that the plot had become the subject of considerable discussion there. I imagine it is a topic of concern within the halls of power in the capital as well.

[Update] Looks like accountability/anti-corruption efforts will move forward. Capital FM:

Niger has created an anti-corruption body to step up the fight against graft in the impoverished nation, the government announced Wednesday.

The High Authority to Combat Corruption comprises representatives of the Niger administration, private sector and civil society, a government statement said.

The new body will be tasked with “centralising and processing complaints and information it receives relating to corruption,” the statement said.

The article makes no specific mention of prosecutions of military figures, so I’ll be waiting for more information on that.

5 thoughts on “Niger: An Attempted Coup Raises Questions about Military Accountability [Updated]

  1. Thanks as always for your timely & perceptive analysis! I hadn’t known about the anit-corruption commission, though from this and other things I’ve heard, like the taxi union corruption arrests, it seems they’re taking it seriously.

    I have to wonder whether a a few low-ranking military would really have been able to establish a new regime (I don’t know what provisions are made for succession in the new constitution…) – especially if the military really values that reputation as a guardian of democracy (not sure how much that’s true either). Any case, it seems that Issoufou has pretty good intel.

    • It depends, more than a few coups over the past sixty years have involved low ranking officers. Qaddafi is just a colonel (technically) and Camara was a captain*.

      *There’s a reportedly good book on this named ‘coups from below’ though I sadly haven’t had time for it.

  2. Let’s remember that we’re relying on one report citing an unnamed individual. Of course I don’t have any reason to discard this news, but we should show some caution.

    • I would say it’s more than one report – I saw it covered in BBC, RFI Hausa, and elsewhere. And according to one contact in Niger people there were talking about it too. But you are right insofar as the story comes from government sources, and so I suppose it hasn’t been independently verified. Still, I think the chances are better than not that the authorities are telling the truth.

      I appreciate your skepticism, though – it’s definitely good to question these things.

  3. Pingback: Updates on Boko Haram Dialogue and Niger Coup Attempt | Sahel Blog

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