By Bilyamin Abdulmumin
What initially appeared as rumours of a coup attempt in the Niger Republic gradually and eventually proved true. Even when the leader of the coup d’état, Presidential Guard Commander General Abdourahamane Tchiani, announced the overthrow and proclaimed himself the leader of a new military junta, there remained a doubt in the air due to the exclusion (or so it seemed) of the Nigerien Chief of Army Staff. However, all traces of doubt cleared when the military declared their support for the coup. They cited loyalty to avoid casualties from internal military clashes. Since then, news and developments have dominated the public discourse hourly. Small and major national and international media outlets pinched their tenths on this event.
The Nigerien coup has drawn significant attention compared to other recent similar operations. For instance, in Conakry, Chief of Army Mamady Doumbouya ousted his authoritarian leader Alpha Condé. In Mali, the junta overthrew its transitional president a few months after their appointment. In Niger’s neighbouring Burkina Faso, the junta toppled another transitional government they had installed months earlier.
The reasons for the global condemnation of the Nigerien coup differ among various blocs. France and its allies might be concerned about the potential loss of influence over their former colonies. The U.S. stance is partly rooted in their role as self-appointed global police guardians of democracy. It is also due to their military base housing thousands of soldiers within the country. Russia, on the other hand, seems to be benefiting from the situation. However, for organisations like the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the coup posed a direct threat to democratic leadership, reaching an alarming level. So the ECOWAS bigwig Nigeria, which not only shares proximity with Niger but also has its president as ECOWAS leader, tends to overreact. Bola Ahmed Tinubu was fighting from a dual role.
The Nigerian coup came as a surprising shock, sudden and unexpected. Unlike many similar military strikes, this coup lacked potential factors pointing to its occurrence. Such factors often include internal crises, insecurity, tension, hardship, prolonged presidential tenure, crackdowns on the opposition, and suppression of dissent. The renowned Ghanaian coup leader Jerry Rawlings once noted that the success of his coups was owed to the ripe situation in his country. He likened the atmosphere for coup success to a saturated atmosphere filled with gas, waiting for ignition to burst into flames. However, in the case of Niger, none of those factors seem to be in play.
One plausible theory regarding the reason behind the Niger coup has been put forward by a friend who also serves as an elder brother figure. This theory revolves around the wave of change sweeping through Francophone Africa. The leadership of France appears to be faltering due to its neo-colonial approach toward its former colonies. This approach doesn’t align with the interests of the affected countries, leading to increasing unrest. Both civilians and the military are discontented with this interference, creating an environment conducive to a coup. This theory gains weight considering the surge of support that followed the coup. The military cut all ties with France to bolster this perspective and sought to shift their allegiance towards Russia. But wait! President Basoum’s public statements aligned with this shift. His videos, circulating on social media, included threats to sever remaining ties with France gave rise to the conspiracy theory as the reason behind the coup. But with the current unfolding, the question arises: Is Basoum genuinely committed to this path, or is he merely putting on a facade?
Russia appears threatened by Western encroachment, mainly through proxy conflicts in its neighbouring countries. The most recent instance of this is the situation in Ukraine. However, suddenly, Russia found a windfall at the doorstep: developments in Africa. Aggrieved African countries with the West swiftly shifted their allegiances towards Russia as a rival to Western powers. This scenario offers an alternative to the dominant Western influence—a sort of counterbalance. The concept of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), akin to NATO or perhaps a stronger G7, also garners mass interest in joining. Six countries, namely Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, Egypt and Ethiopia, joined this movement in January 2024. Such a development holds promise for rebalancing global power dynamics. It provides other developing countries with an alternative.
Those who previously leaked atomic technology to Russia would be very happy with this development. After the United States successfully developed and detonated nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively ending Second World War II, some of the bomb’s developers had worries: the disruption of the global power balance. As a result, according to reports, they leaked the technology to their arch-rival, the USSR.
Bilyamin Abdulmumin is a Doctoral candidate in Chemical Engineering at ABU Zaria. He is also a social and political affairs commentator and science writer.