Soldiers announce they have ousted Niger’s president

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Tit will last A seemingly strong Western-aligned government in the jihadist-plagued Sahel, a belt of impoverished Francophone countries sprawling across the Sahara desert, appears to have fallen to a military coup . Late in the evening of July 26 a group of soldiers appeared on Niger’s national television to announce that they had “decided to stop the regime you know”.

President Mohamed Bazoum, who took office about two years ago in the country’s first peaceful democratic transition of power, had reportedly planned to send the head of the presidential guard, General Omar Tchiani, out of office, who could be a new man now in charge. But there was still uncertainty. After the news, Mr Bazoum, who was reportedly but not yet publicly resigned, tweeted: “The hard achievements will be protected. All Nigeriens who love democracy and freedom can see it. “

Political chaos and violence in Niger, a country of 26m, could also seriously damage the region in general. Niger is the West’s only true ally and democracy in the fight against jihadists linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State who have slaughtered their way across much of Mali and Burkina Faso to the west – and a- into parts of Niger. He is also trying to stop jihadists from Boko Haram, another terrorist outfit, who are spilling over from Nigeria.

If it stands, this coup would be the sixth to succeed in West Africa in less than three years. None helped. In Mali soldiers overthrew civilian rule in 2020. In Burkina Faso soldiers seized power in January 2022, only to be overthrown by gunmen in September. In both countries they soon pushed out and destroyed French forces that were fighting the jihadists. Mali replaced them with mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group. But the result was even more violence. Last year in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger more than 10,000 people were killed, the bloodiest so far. This year could be even bloodier.

But there is much less carnage in Niger, where fewer people have been killed in the first six months of this year than in a similar period since 2018. The West has poured billions of dollars into the country’s aid . About 1,500 French soldiers have been fighting alongside the army; 1,000-plus Americans are employed there as well. And they have drone bases too.

Mr. Bazoum has not just relied on Western muscle. Fighting between ethnic groups plays into the hands of the jihadists, so he has supported peace agreements between local communities. His government has even reached out directly to jihadists to try to get them to lay down their arms.

Now this progress is in jeopardy. Even if Mr. Bazoum regains control, his army will be divided. Talking about the coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, he said The Economist in May: “The army, the institution we need most to deal with insecurity, is weakened by these coups, because they turn things upside down.” Unfortunately, his words apply to Niger as well.

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