Tchiani is not Niger’s Sankara: The military coup won't bring revolutionary change to the people

Tchiani is not Niger’s Sankara: The military coup won't bring revolutionary change to the people
Whilst some may cheer on the anti-France feelings seen in protests in Niger, the military coup is unlikely to provide the people with relief from the current poverty, let alone put the country on a democratic path, argues Yasser Louati.
7 min read
23 Aug, 2023
Protesters hold an anti-France placard during a demonstration on independence day in Niamey on August 3, 2023. [GETTY]

The ongoing coup in Niger has meant that the relatively unknown country - and one of the poorest in the world – is all across international headlines. On 26 July, general Abdourahamane Tchiani, head of the presidential guard, overthrew the country’s president Mohamed Bazoum citing a “deteriorating security situation”. A junta rapidly seized power, arrested the president and his family, shut the borders, and engaged in war of words with neighbouring countries, the US and the country’s former colonial power: France.

While demonstrations rocked the streets of the capital city Niamey, calls for Mohammed Bazoum’s reinstatement were noticeably absent. Whilst this is unsurprising given the former leader engaged more with the West than he did with his own people, the events that have led to his removal from power are nothing to cheer about.

A volatile political history

Prior to the coup, despite all its problems, including extreme poverty, terrorist attacks, corruption and foreign interference, Niger still managed to experience its first peaceful transition of power between two democratically elected presidents. Furthermore, to his credit, though former president Mohamadou Issoufou hasn’t been vocal in opposing the ongoing coup, he kept his promise not to re-run and didn’t change the country’s constitution to fit his political ambitions as was attempted in Senegal.

'"Whilst France and its allies certainly deserve to be booted out, there is nothing to cheer about the coup against Bazoum. It is not a path to decolonisation. The Junta is simply attempting to capitalise on the anti-France feelings.''

It is difficult to take the putschists’ justifications seriously. Bazoum has inherited a situation he has certainly failed to improve but how much could be accomplished in two years, when the country has been going from bad to worse for ten years under the former president?

Niger has indeed been the theatre of many terrorist attacks by Al Qaida, Boko Haram and other ISIS affiliate groups and the situation for the country and region has only worsened. With 214 violent events in 2021, Niger saw a 43% increase in violent events in 2022. However, the blame for the deteriorating situation is not Bazoum’s alone, his predecessors have also played a role.

Furthermore, the military cooperation agreements currently being denounced in the name of regaining sovereignty, were in fact signed prior to Bazoum’s election.

The country has had five coups since its independence from France in 1960. The last one, which had failed, took place in 2021, just days before Bazoum took office. Following such a start to his term, the president struggled to break free from his predecessor. And, since ethnicity plays a major role in political alliances in Niger, Bazoum was discredited for belonging to the Arab speaking Oulad Souleymane tribe.

To assert his authority, he began replacing the heads of the military and people in key administrative positions, including the chief staff of the Niger Armed Forces. In this process he unsurprisingly made enemies. There are therefore reasons to believe that US trained general Tchiani, along with several other key figures of the junta, who had been appointed under Issafou, also feared such a fate, hence proceeding to overthrowing the president.


External players

Since the coup began, international outlets, especially in the West, have dismissed Nigeriens’ aspirations and only worried about access to resources and the ‘war on terror’. France and the US expressed their “legitimate” concerns about the situation given the country is home to two French and US army bases from which drones and special forces operations are carried out against in the Sahel.

The French Minister of Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna declared that “the putsch had no popular support”. In reality, France has been exploiting Nigerien uranium for decades on behalf of state owned company AREVA and has even pledged to invest a further $550m in the region’s mining sector. Of course, very little has trickled down in terms of benefits to Nigeriens themselves.

Even Germany warned of drastic consequences should Bazoum be harmed. Neighbouring nations, especially The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), were quick to react with threats of military intervention to supposedly protect status quo. Just days after the coup and though unsuccessful, a seven day ultimatum was issued collectively demanding Bazoum be reinstated. The regional bloc did not hide its opposition to the coup in Niger following others that took place in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea which saw the arrival of pro-Russian military juntas.


Anti-French sentiment, seen in demonstrations in front of the French embassy and military base, has been a visible element in the events that have unraveled. But, absent from public and media discourse in France is the root of such feelings. The French government and its supporters are accusing Russia for this whilst ignoring their country’s exploitative role. It’s as if Nigeriens could not think for themselves and only reject France because outside forces are pushing them to.

In truth, France had decades to properly severe ties with its colonial practices, put an end to its meddling in African affairs and take note of this changing landscape, but it failed miserably. The country’s military presence in the name of a failed ‘war on terror’ – which has also led to the killing of civilians in the process – the presence of the CFA franc, a colonial relic, has all helped the ruling regime and not trickled down.

However, whilst France and its allies certainly deserve to be booted out, there is nothing to cheer about the coup against Bazoum. It is not a path to decolonisation. The Junta is simply attempting to capitalise on the anti-France feelings.

Niger does not have a long established democracy and accepting this military coup will plunge the country into further instability. Elsewhere on the continent, the examples in Algeria, and more recently Egypt, of military coups reversing a democratic process, respectively led to a decade-long civil war that claimed over 100,000 victims, and to a bloody dictatorship supported by France.

Any military intervention from ECOWAS is not a solution either, after all, it’s not as if the regional bloc is composed of exemplary democracies where popular sovereignty, accountability and transparency are upheld and protected.

Ultimately, sending troops will only mean acting on behalf of France and the US, which will likely set the region ablaze and turn it into a proxy war battlefield where the two Western nations, China, Russia and terrorist groups are all implicated.

As for those turning to Russia, it is far-fetched to imagine Putin supporting Nigeriens in their quest for sovereignty and prosperity. Vladimir Putin, the current invader in chief of Ukraine, has been ruling Russia with an iron fist for two decades and his track record of repressing his opponents are an indication of the kind of regime, if given a chance to, he would push for.

Nations that are rivals to the West will not help Africans, they will only exploit them for their own interests. Decolonizing Africa does not mean trading one colonial power for another. China’s active presence in Africa is not meant to be a helping hand for Africans towards sovereignty, security and prosperity. Though it has no military presence, its massive investments aren’t charitable donations but loans to tie countries through debt and push them towards concessions on infrastructure, access to resources and diplomatic support against Taiwan.

Ultimately, if Bazoum is deposed for good, it will be a terrible setback that will initiate a new long cycle of instability. The popular fervour after the ousting of Bazoum will soon be replaced by demands for meaningful change and those now in power will be hard pressed to address them. After all, General Tchiani is not Thomas Sankara, despite his grandiose speeches before cameras, it is likely he will fail to deliver. Military coups don’t exactly lead to a burgeoning democracy.

Yasser Louati is a French political analyst and head of the Committee for Justice & Liberties (CJL). He hosts a hit podcast called "Le Breakdown with Yasser Louati" in English and "Les Idées Libres" in French.

Follow him on Twitter: @yasserlouati

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.