Niger is celebrating its 63rd independence anniversary from France on Friday, but the mood is sombre as the country faces a political crisis following a military coup that toppled President Mohamed Bazoum last week.
Bazoum, who was elected in February in the country’s first democratic transition of power, has been held by the presidential guard at his palace in Niamey since July 26, when they declared a coup and suspended the constitution.
The coup leader, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, said he acted to restore security and stability in the face of rising insecurity, poverty and corruption. He also accused Bazoum of violating the constitution by appointing members of his party to key positions and excluding the opposition.
The coup has been widely condemned by the international community, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU) and the United States. They have called for the immediate release of Bazoum and the restoration of constitutional order.
ECOWAS has also sent a mediation team led by Nigerian Bola Tinubu, who is also the chairman of the regional bloc, to Niger to try to resolve the crisis peacefully. Tinubu met with Tchiani on Thursday and urged him to respect the will of the Nigerien people.
Niger, which gained its independence from France on August 3, 1960, has a history of military coups and instability. This was the fifth coup since independence and the first since 2010, when former President Mamadou Tandja was ousted after trying to extend his rule.
The landlocked country, which ranks at the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index, is also facing multiple security challenges from armed groups linked to al-Qaeda, Islamic State and Boko Haram, which have killed thousands of people and displaced millions in the Sahel region.
Nigeriens, who had hoped for a new era of democracy and development under Bazoum, are now uncertain about what to expect with weight of sanctions trolling in from different international bodies. Many fear that the coup will worsen the already weakened economy.
As Niger marks its independence day, many are asking: Will Niger ever get to restore its democracy?
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