In a turn of events that unsettles an already volatile region, military officers in Niger announced on national television Wednesday night that they had overthrown President Mohamed Bazoum, throwing the nation’s future into uncertainty. The announcement came after a day of heightened tension and stalled negotiations, during which the presidential guard held the president, hostage.
Representing various branches of Niger’s military, the officers stated they had “put an end to the regime” of President Bazoum due to escalating insecurity and poor governance. Col. Amadou Abdramane of the Nigerien air force disclosed the move, adding that the country’s borders would be shut.
The shocking development could potentially destabilize the power balance in West Africa, a region already beleaguered with coups, civil unrest, and widespread insecurity. Niger, with its strategic location in Africa’s Sahel region, has been a pivotal ally for the West, especially as neighboring countries grapple with Islamist insurgencies.
The US and France, former colonial power, have a significant military presence in Niger with troops and drone bases. But with President Bazoum now held hostage and his wife at his residence in Niamey, the national capital, Niger’s partnership with these nations is uncertain.
Observers say the unfolding drama in Niamey might escalate the current power struggles in the region, with countries led by aging leaders desperately clinging onto power as ambitious young military officers jostle for control.
The immediate fallout of the coup saw the U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken call for President Bazoum’s immediate release. Blinken’s call adds to growing international pressure on the coup plotters to stand down, with the United Nations, European Union, and regional bodies joining the chorus.
News of the coup led to protests in central Niamey, with several hundred citizens demanding President Bazoum’s release. These protests turned violent as the presidential guard reportedly opened fire to disperse the crowd.
With President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Nigeria at the helm, the regional body ECOWAS finds itself at the epicenter of another political crisis, just weeks into Tinubu’s presidency. ECOWAS condemned the “attempted coup” and demanded Bazoum’s unconditional release.
If confirmed, the coup in Niger would be the sixth in West Africa since 2020, after similar developments in Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali.
Niger’s crisis also comes on the heels of the Sudanese coup in November 2021, which sparked a devastating conflict in April this year.
The European Union, which considers Niger a vital partner in curbing illegal immigration from Africa, pledged last year to provide $1.3 billion to diversify Niger’s oil-dependent economy. The EU has also invested in the country’s education sector. The recent turn of events will likely affect these partnerships.
In an interview Wednesday, Ulf Laessing of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation suggested that discontent within parts of the military might have fuelled the coup. He noted that sections of the military that did not receive funding from Western partners might have felt marginalized under President Bazoum’s rule.