Niger: A Partial Cabinet Shuffle in Advance of the 2020/2021 Presidential Elections, and a Bit of Election-Related News

On 29 June, Nigerien President Mahamadou Issoufou partly reshuffled his cabinet. The move is, in my view, partly related to the informal, ongoing campaign for the upcoming presidential elections, whose first round is scheduled for 27 December 2020 and whose second round, if one proves necessary, is scheduled for 20 February 2021. The main news in this reorganization is the departure from government of Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum, presidential candidate of the ruling Parti Nigerien pour la Democratie et le Socialisme (Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, PNDS-Tarayya).

Issoufou, the outgoing president, is term-limited after his election in 2011 and re-election in 2016. Bazoum, Issoufou’s longtime political companion and the occupant of several senior posts in both of Issoufou’s administrations, was invested as the PNDS-Tarayya’s candidate at a party congress on 31 March 2019 – a move undertaken far in advance in order to “preserve party unity and avoid a multiplication of ambitions.” One particular ambition came from another PNDS heavyweight, current party Secretary-General Hassoumi Massaoudou, who now very publicly supports Bazoum.

I am assuming that Bazoum is now leaving the Interior Ministry in order to prepare a more intensive phase of the campaign.

In all, the partial reshuffle involved six appointments (see also here and here):

  1. Alkache Alhada, promoted from Deputy Interior Minister to Interior Minister; he has been Deputy since last September;
  2. Mohamed Boucha promoted from Deputy Minister of Livestock Farming (Elevage) to Minister of Employment; he replaces the late Mohamed Ben Omar, who died of COVID-19 on 3 May;
  3. Amadou Aissata switches from Minister of Population to Minister of Energy;
  4. Amina Moumouni switches from Minister of Energy to Minister of Population;
  5. Boureima Souleymane enters government as Minister of Youth Entrepreneurship;
  6. Ali Gonki (rendered Banki in some reports, but I think that’s a mistake) enters government to replace Mohamed Boucha as Deputy Minister of Livestock Farming.

The other major election-related news is that former military ruler Salou Djibo, head of the junta that ruled Niger in 2010-2011 immediately before Issoufou’s election, has announced his candidacy. Djibo retired from the military in May 2019 and, according to Jeune Afrique, thought initially that he might secure Issoufou’s endorsement for the 2020/2021 election. When that failed, he created a new party, Paix Justice Progrès (Peace, Justice, Progress, PJP). The party, unsurprisingly, declared him its candidate at a congress on 28 June. Djibo, according to the same report, hopes to embody “a third way” between Bazoum and  the Mouvement démocratique nigérien pour une fédération africain (Democratic Nigerien Movement for an Africa Federation, MODEN/FA-Lumana) of longtime presidential aspirant, 2016 runner-up, and former National Assembly President Hama Amadou.

Finally, it’s worth briefly mentioning that the defense procurement scandal continues to play out – a topic that I’ve covered a bit before, but that merits another whole post of its on. One of the latest developments is the public prosecutor’s announcement that his office will pursue charges related to the case, although perhaps not as aggressively as some citizens and observers had hoped. Whether the scandal will hurt Bazoum, as the opposition is hoping, remains to be seen.

Niger and Questions of Military Accountability

Two weeks ago, I looked at the question of whether the February 2010 military coup in Niger – which resulted in a transfer of power to civilian leaders just 14 months later – had restored or undermined democracy. This week, a related question surfaced: will Niger’s new civilian government hold the former military junta accountable for its actions, and if so, how?

Jeune Afrique (Fr) reports on a recent audit of the junta that has revealed billions of missing F CFA. Allegations of corruption date back beyond the junta to the regime of ousted President Mamadou Tandja as well. Here is my bad translation of a few key paragraphs:

Operation clean hands in Niger. For the first time, the management of the military junta, in power between February 2010 and April 2011, has been scrutinized. The State General Inspection is currently undertaking an audit of this period and, according to its first conclusions, close to 30 billion F CFA (close to 46 million Euros) may have been illegally taken from public accounts when Salou Djibo’s Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy was in power.But the era of Tandja is also being closely studied. Three high functionaries in Finance have been dismissed – a decision announced in the Council of Ministers on June 22, after the discovery of a misappropriation of 1.5 billion F CFA.

As the article goes on to say, 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.

The revelation that military rulers may have diverted state funds for personal use will shock few. The tricky question seems to be what comes next – will there be prosecutions? Or are the disincentives too strong against prosecuting military officers who regard themselves as guardians of democracy? Publicizing the results of the investigation already took substantial courage on the part of the civilian regime. Going further with efforts at demanding accountability will require more courage still.

Firings Continue in Niger

Last week, Niger’s military junta fired and arrested four top officers. This week, another major firing took place. The purge inside the junta, some commentators say, endangers Niger’s upcoming democratic transition and violates principles of transparency.

Tenere Desert, Niger by Alessandro Vanucci

Yesterday, the head of junta, Salou Djibo, fired and replaced Seyni Chekaraou, head of the secret service. State media gave no reason for Chekaraou’s dismissal, but the BBC reports that he is close to some of the officers arrested previously. If last week’s pattern of sackings followed by seizures continues, Chekaraou may soon find himself in jail as well.

Meanwhile, the democratic process is moving forward. Campaigning in advance of the October 31st constitutional referendum began yesterday, and analysts are praising the process. The proposed new constitution, which would replace the August 2009 constitution, represents the work of a broad spectrum of citizens. As VOA says, “If approved, this new constitution will set the stage for elections in January, delivering on the military’s promise to return Niger to civilian rule within a year of their taking power.”

Despite progress on the democratic front, the arrests are making some members of civil society uneasy. The BBC says, “There are fears that the splits in the junta could threaten the transition to civilian rule.” AFP delves into this theme, writing that politicians in Niger are disturbed by rumors of in-fighting, corruption, and arguments over the length of the transition among the junta officers. With the government providing little explanation for the arrests, the press is left to speculate about the causes, and human rights activists are concerned about the lack of transparency the junta is showing.

As I wrote before, Djibo appears to be maintaining tight control over the government. But as the purge widens it raises more and more questions. Is this simply a factional dispute? A struggle over power? Is there an anti-transition (i.e., anti-democratic and in favor of a longer-term military government) faction within the junta? How serious was/is the threat of a coup against Djibo? And what does all this mean for the democratic process?

One answer to the last question is that the constitutional referendum could be a major turning point in all this. If the arrests slow down and the referendum goes smoothly, I imagine many inside and outside the country will breathe a sigh of relief. If the purge continues, though, or if the referendum goes badly (violence, fraud, etc), then it will definitely be time to diagnose a serious problem with Niger’s attempt to re-start its democracy.

Turmoil Inside Niger Junta

Over the last week the military junta in Niger arrested several top officers. Reports emerged that those officers had been planning a coup. Coming shortly before a planned October 31 referendum on a new constitution and only a few months before new elections on January 31, the incident could trouble Niger’s plans to return to democracy. The divisions within the military also suggest that some top officers in Niger do not view the military simply as custodians of democracy, and on the contrary desire a longer-term role for the military in government.

Reuters (linked above) has details on the arrests:

Abdoulaye Badie was the second-in-charge of the junta and Abdou Sidikou was a top commander in the national guard. There was no immediate comment from either officer.

The junta, led by General Salou Djibo, has been in power in Niger since a dramatic February putsch against former President Mamadou Tandja who had angered many Nigeriens for altering the constitution to lengthen his rule.

Djibo has since won international plaudits for pledging a return to civilian rule within one year.

An official at West African regional bloc ECOWAS said on Friday he was aware of rumours of arrests within the junta but had been assured by Djibo the talk was unfounded. The junta has not commented publicly.

A senior police official told Reuters Badie and Sidikou were arrested for having planned to unseat Djibo in September during his trip to the United Nations General Assembly in New York. He did not say how the alleged plot was discovered.

Djibo has also sacked his minister of equipment, Amadou Diallo, according to an announcement on national television on Friday. No reason was given.

AFP reported yesterday that a total of four officers were under arrest – Badie, Sidikou, Diallo, and Lieutenant Colonel Sanda Boubacar. AFP adds, “Rumours of a coup have swirled in Niamey over the past few weeks. For several days, the military presence in the capital and its suburbs has been stepped up with larger patrols, particularly at night.” Afrique en Ligne says there is an “uneasy calm in Niger.”

How seriously did the (alleged) coup plot threaten Djibo? Maybe not very much. The pattern that emerges is one where Djibo first fires officers and then arrests them, indicating that he felt in control the whole time. He acted methodically and does not appear to have panicked. That so many officers have been arrested points to a real split, but Djibo has for now come away with the larger piece of the pie.

Still, divisions in the military could convince Djibo to delay the hand-off of power, or a more serious coup attempt could really challenge his position. This does not seem to be over yet. And as I said above, if the potential for a coup means that some officers are not content to bow out quietly and leave things to civilians, then assessing the military’s motives and goals during this transition becomes more difficult.

International Community Reintegrating Niger?

Three months after the military coup in Niger, is the international community ready to reintegrate the country?

The World Bank is reopening aid flows:

The World Bank has restarted aid to Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, after suspending donations in the wake of a military coup in February, the bank said on Wednesday.

It said it would give $40 million in budgetary assistance to Niger, which despite being an exporter of uranium and target for billions of dollars of investment in oil, faces severe food shortages, according to United Nations humanitarian agencies.

And France is extending de facto recognition to the junta:

France on Tuesday invited the leader of a February 18 military coup in Niger to its Africa summit later this month, welcoming his promise to hand over power of the uranium-producing state within a year.

[…]

Separately, a Nigerien delegation will travel to Brussels next week to seek to persuade European Union officials to lift a Tandja-era suspension of some $450 million of development aid.

With plans in motion to transition back to civilian rule, Niger’s military rulers seem to be back in the international community’s good graces. That’s no surprise, and it’s not necessarily a bad thing – would it be better to have Tandja still in office? Still, this kind of recognition sends a signal to other would-be coup leaders in Africa and elsewhere: if you conduct the coup and manage the transition in a certain way, the penalties from the outside will be light. That could have unfortunate consequences.

Niger: 11 Months to Transition

VOA:

A consultative council appointed by Niger’s military rulers says civilian government should be re-established by March of next year.

After more than one week of debate, Niger’s 131-member Consultative Council called for the return of democratic rule by March 1, 2011.

Council President Marou Amadou now passes on that proposal to the military’s ruling Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy, which toppled President Mamadou Tandja in a February coup.

Military rulers are likely to accept that proposal since they are represented on the consultative council and have already pledged to restore civilian rule within a year.

The council made no formal recommendation on the dates of presidential and parliamentary elections, but Amadou says a referendum on a new constitution should come sometime in October.

[…]

Regional diplomats believe [military ruler Major Salou Djibo] is serious about returning to democracy, in part, because many of the soldiers behind this coup were also involved in a 1999 coup that organized elections won by former President Tandja […] Niger has past experience with this process following the 1999 coup that also restored civilian rule within one year.

I am not endorsing the coup, but it seems the transition might go smoothly.