By Editor, July 29th, 2023.
Abdourahmane Tchiani, the chief of Niger’s elite presidential guard, has named himself head of an acting transitional government in the West African country, two days after his unit overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum who had been elected in a democratic election.
He made the announcement on Friday on state-run television, saying he was the “president of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland”.
The 62-year-old general also said the intervention had been necessary to avoid “the gradual and inevitable demise” of the country. He said while Bazoum had sought to convince people that “all is going well… the harsh reality (is) a pile of dead, displaced, humiliation and frustration”.
“The security approach today has not brought security to the country despite heavy sacrifices,” Tchiani said.
There was no mention of a timeline for return to civilian leadership.
Tchiani who was drafted to lead the elite unit in 2011, is from Niger’s western region of Tillaberi, close to the border with Mali. He remains a close ally of former President Mahamadou Issoufou – the politician who led the country until 2021.
The general reportedly led the resistance to a thwarted coup attempt in March 2021, when a military unit tried to seize the presidential palace days before Bazoum, who had just been elected, was due to be sworn in.
On Wednesday, Tchiani’s unit detained Bazoum in the presidential palace in the capital, Niamey, provoking a flurry of condemnation from leaders within Africa and beyond. It remains unclear where Bazoum is or if he is still being detained.
Colonel Amadou Abdramane, spokesperson of the group which took power, said on state TV on Friday that the constitution had been suspended. He added that Tchiani, head of the ruling council was also head of state.
On Wednesday, Abdramane had appeared on state TV to announce that security forces had decided to “put an end to the regime that you know due to the deteriorating security situation and bad governance”.
Meanwhile in Washington, the United States and its Western allies are faced with a difficult conundrum as they navigate potential responses to the military takeover in Niger if democratic rule is not restored.
Under US law, if the US State Department formally classifies that takeover as a coup, it would require the US to cut foreign and military assistance to the Nigerien government, which could have serious consequences for the fight against terrorism and stability in the region.
The Biden administration has not yet made such a determination, with State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel saying Thursday that “this continues to be an evolving situation and it is quite too soon to characterize the nature of these ongoing developments.”
US officials stress that they are focused on diplomatic efforts to restore democratic rule, but on Friday, John Kirby of the National Security Council warned that a military takeover would imperil US assistance to Niger.
Experts told CNN that punitive measures could push Niger toward Russian mercenary groups like Wagner and away from its partners in the West. It is also likely that the Wagner group, which has a significant presence in Africa, and its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, may seek to exploit the situation for their own benefit. US officials have said there are no indications that the organization was involved in the military takeover.
A senior US government official told CNN that “there is a risk of Wagner trying to claim credit for anything that happens in Niger, but this is a domestic internal issue that Wagner did not instigate.”
However, the official did acknowledge that the Wagner group is “opportunistic, and they do look for new avenues for them to gain influence and take advantage of instability around the world, including on the African continent.”
“Washington has to thread a very difficult needle right now, because we have real hard security interests in Niger,” said Cameron Hudson of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Sources: Al Jazeera, MSN, CNN.