Niger’s Mohamed Bazoum swore in as president on Friday, marking the country’s first peaceful transfer of power in a democratic waterway overshadowed by an alleged coup attempt earlier this week, underscoring fears of instability in the West African nation.
Bazoum’s inauguration marked Niger’s very first transition between elected presidents since the country gained independence from France in 1960. But the milestone was reached by an alleged coup attempt early on Wednesday, which was thwarted by several arrests, according to security sources.
Niger is already facing unsurpassed threats from Islamic extremists near its troubled border with Mali.
In his inaugural address, Bazoum referred to “terrorist groups whose barbarity has exceeded all bounds”. The jihadist groups, he said, “carry out large-scale massacres of innocent civilians, thus committing real war crimes.”
The leaders of these groups “come from other countries”, he said, adding that Niger was attacked for no reason.
“No terrorist leader has ever made a complaint against our state,” he said.
Bazoum, 61, was elected in two rounds in December and February.
He was previously the right-hand man of Mahamadou Issoufou, 68, who resigned after two five-year terms.
Diplomatic efforts to “center on Mali”
While Bazoum’s inauguration marked a milestone in Niger’s history, the poor West African nation faces several challenges.
Niger is hit by insurgents linked to al-Qaeda and the IS group, crosses from Mali and Burkina Faso in the west, and by Boko Haram, crosses from Nigeria in the southeast.
More than 300 people have been killed in three attacks in the west since the beginning of the year.
In the latest of these, 141 members of the Tuareg community were massacred on March 21 in Tahoua, a vast desert region adjacent to Mali.
Bazoum said Niger’s diplomatic efforts during his presidency “will focus on Mali.”
“The current situation in Mali has a direct impact on the domestic security of our country,” he said.
IS group-bound insurgents are based in Menaka and Gao, in eastern and central Mali, respectively, Bazoum said.
Fighting them “will be very difficult as long as the Malian state does not exercise full sovereignty over these regions,” he said.
Issoufous selected successors
The West African nation has suffered four coups in its history, most recently a coup in February 2010 that overthrew then-President Mamadou Tandja.
Security was tight in Niamey on Friday for fear that the inauguration could lead to more violence in Niger.
Bazoum is Issoufou’s chosen successor and a longtime prime minister who comes from Niger’s small ethnic Arab minority. He was previously Minister of the Interior in Niger and is also a teacher through education.
His main election rival, Mahamane Ousmane, has rejected the latest election results claiming fraud. Supporters of Ousmane have held mass demonstrations in recent days.
( Jowharwith AFP and AP)