Coup d’état in Niger: Bazoum attempts to “gain autonomy” from his presidential guard.

The Chief of Staff of the Niger Armed Forces has joined the military putschists who claim to have “ended the regime” of President Mohamed Bazoum, who has been held captive since Wednesday at the presidential palace. This coup comes amidst growing tensions between the president and his presidential guard, according to Nigerien researcher Abdourahmane Idrissa.

In Niger, the army command has sided with the military putschists. While President Mohamed Bazoum has been held captive by members of his presidential guard since Wednesday, the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces declared on Thursday, July 27, his support for the coup, stating that his aim was to preserve the stability of the country.

In a statement signed by General Abdou Sidikou Issa, the army affirmed its support for the declaration of the Defense and Security Forces, with the goal of “preserving the physical integrity of the President of the Republic and his family, and avoiding a deadly confrontation between different forces.”

Earlier, President of Niger Mohamed Bazoum had declared on X (formerly known as Twitter) that the hard-fought gains would be preserved and that Nigeriens who cherish democracy and freedom would ensure this.

This coup in Niger comes in a complex regional context, marked by the rise of terrorist groups along its western border and a series of coups in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, where the military has seized power. To analyze the causes of this new coup, interviewed Abdourahmane Idrissa, a Nigerien researcher at the African Studies Center in Leiden, Netherlands, and a specialist in political and security issues in the Sahel region.

: The presidency of Niger has accused elements of the presidential guard of being behind this coup. Several sources claim that President Bazoum wanted to separate from his chief, General Tchiani. What do we know about their relationship?

Abdourahmane Idrissa: Firstly, it should be explained that the current presidential guard predates President Bazoum’s arrival. It was his predecessor and mentor, President Issoufou, who formed this team. Internal sources claim that this presidential guard was imposed on Mohammed Bazoum against his will. During a visit to the presidential palace in Niamey, I myself observed that these security forces were the only ones in direct contact with him. So, it was very easy for them to take control.

Upon assuming power, President Bazoum tried to distance himself from his predecessor while claiming continuity in his policies. For example, he opted for a lighter security presence during his visits and gave interviews to the press, which Issoufou did not do. Nevertheless, the general feeling was that he struggled to break free from Issoufou’s legacy, to the point that there is talk in Niger of a “bicephalous presidency.” Many believe that it was to get rid of this label and gain autonomy that President Bazoum sought to remove General Tchiani, which the latter did not accept.

The “three borders area” (Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger) has seen a resurgence of terrorist attacks in recent years. The military has seized power in Mali and Burkina Faso. Is today’s situation in Niger related to this difficult security context?

In Niger, the security situation is less serious than in Burkina Faso or Mali because it is confined to the border region in the west. But people do not compare themselves to their neighbors and see mainly that the situation is deteriorating. Near the border with Burkina Faso, villagers claim that terrorist groups threaten to burn their villages if they refuse to leave. This is usually the final stage when these groups already have enough presence in these localities, indicating their progress.

Moreover, within the military, there is an ideology that civilians are not competent to handle this issue. It is this military ideology that has led to coups in Burkina Faso and Mali. In Niger, some generals believe that the security management is excessively politicized, that decisions primarily aim to protect the government, and that this approach hampers operations on the ground.

Coups d’etat in Niger are far from a new phenomenon. Since independence in 1960, we have experienced four, as well as numerous attempts, including one on the eve of the new president’s inauguration. Past coups have taken place in a context of political deadlock and issues of democracy. It seems that the current situation is more linked to the security issue, although these issues are interconnected.

Niger remains a strategic ally of France in a region where its presence is increasingly contested. Does the distrust toward Paris play a role in the current events, in your opinion?

President Bazoum, like his predecessor, is completely unapologetic about the partnership with France. He believes it is necessary and stands by it. Obviously, the Nigerien public opinion is influenced by the same ideological currents as other French-speaking African countries, with a part of the population highly critical of French politics, which weakens Bazoum’s power.

But once again, the question is mainly about what the military thinks. Some of them surely share this ideology, but for now, it is not an aspect they have emphasized. Many of them come from Bazoum’s inner circle who, before him, had established the partnership with France in 2011.

In Niger, the military tradition seems to be more pragmatic than ideological. Our model is Seyni Kountché (president from 1974 to 1987). He was indeed a nationalist who made the French military base leave after his coup d’etat, but he did not want to break ties with Paris and later reestablished cooperation. I hope, in any case, that the military’s actions are not guided by ideological principles because rationality should prevail in effectively combating the terrorist threat.

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