African business, politics and lifestyle
When is a coup a good coup?
By David Lewis
Weeks after the African Union boldly announced the end of an era of coups on its continent, Niger’s military staged a spectacular overthrow.
Heavily armed in armoured vehicles soldiers blasted their way into the presidential palace, arrested the President Mamadou Tandja and dissolved every democratic institution in the uranium-exporting nation.
Niger’s new military rulers, the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (SCRD), faced the standard flurry of strongly-worded statements from Western nations and regional bodies that condemned people taking power through unconstitutional means.
But, more interestingly, there was no insistence on Tandja returning to his job. Instead, the focus appeared to be on looking towards elections and a new government. Tandja had drawn the ire of many Nigeriens and the international community over his successful campaign last year to change the constitution and extend his time in power by at least three years.
Spontaneous celebrations in Niamey after the military take-over were, therefore, not surprising. But, faced with the illegal ouster of a president many believed had become unconstitutional, the international community also seems to have been quick to recognize the opening the coup has offered.
Analysts cite members of the junta having been involved in a previous coup that swiftly led to elections as a reason for optimism. They also say Niger’s military is more professional than in place like Guinea, where soldiers have also grabbed power but failed to deliver elections despite over a year in power.
An aggressive, bold military operation has delivered a new dynamic that months of diplomatic and political wrangling failed to achieve.
Has the international community been too quick to jump at this opportunity? Or, if the politicians appear to be failing, should the military be allowed to play the role of arbitrator in crises like Niger’s?
Coups, especially in West Africa, seem to be alive and well. Niger’s takeover follows similar ousters in Mauritania and Guinea in 2008, and another one in Madagascar last year.
What impact are these actions having on confidence in a continent that is attracting unprecedented investment and is keen to draw a line under a violent and chaotic past?
Does swiftly accepting Tandja’s ouster not set a dangerous precedent for crises elsewhere?