That’s what FP blogger Elizabeth Dickinson writes in her post “Has anyone else noticed there was just a coup in Niger?“, referring to a recent accretion of military coups in the region. The coup in Niger on Thursday – which resulted in the removal of Nigerien President Tandja from power by the military, the dissolution of political institutions and the installation of the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy – appears “textbook”, according to African politics scholar @texasinafrica. Steve Bloomfield, Monocle’s Nairobi correspondent (btw – what a great job that must be), riffs on this theme with a step-by-step guide to a successful military coup.
These tongue-in-cheek comments reveal an uncomfortable truth about West Africa: there’s a dearth of sound democratic leadership. The region has been experiencing democratic failings, ranging from Nigeria’s Yar’Adua’s disappearance from the political stage; Guinea’s leadership vacuum since the Sept 28th massacre; Laurent Gbagbo’s maneuvering to stall long awaited elections in Cote d’Ivoire; or the ongoing grumblings of bad governance in Equatorial Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. ECOWAS, the regional organization, continues to be relatively useless in resolving political conflicts: Niger’s leadership has been condemned several times by ECOWAS, the African Union, the US and the rest of the “international community”, but no substantive action was actually ever undertaken by ECOWAS or any other body to resolve the deadlock in that country.
During a summit in Abuja this week, outgoing ECOWAS President Mohammed Ibn Chambas said “the summit should take firm decisions to resolve those problems confronting some countries in the region, so that our region can be fully integrated into the global political, social and economic system.” President Wade of Senegal has been appointed to mediate the crisis – I wonder if he’ll do any better than Blaise Compaore (yet another glowing example of “democratic” leadership in the region) did in his mediation attempts with Guinea. As far as I’m concerned, ECOWAS is not instrumental in resolving political issues in the region. This is unsurprising, given the organization’s lack of “teeth”, or ability to implement any genuine actions beyond sanctions. Niger will likely have to navigate this crisis without much genuine international support.
The coup in Niger, however, seems to be receiving popular backing: the BBC reports that thousands of people have been demonstrating in support of the military’s takeover of power, and celebrating the removal of a president they did not trust. “It’s a hell of a way to resolve political deadlock”, wrote Dickinson. Perhaps Niger could be made into an “example of democracy”, as claimed by the leaders in the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy in the televised statement below:
I’m going to keep an open mind about this one, even though I think there is something fundamentally contradictory about wanting to restore democracy through a military coup. Niger, a uranium exporter, could also easily remain trapped in a cycle of poor governance, with neighboring countries and the rest of the world standing idly by, at a loss for solutions.