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Niger following Mauritania’s blueprint for an African coup

February 22, 2010

“We didn’t launch a coup,” said Colonel Djibril Hamidou Hima, spokesman for the military group which had days earlier overthrown the president of Niger, “We just re-imposed legitimacy.”

The statement was almost a carbon copy of the one I heard in Mauritania in 2008, where the soldier who had hustled an elected head of state out of the presidential palace spent the first few days denying his actions amounted to a coup d’etat.

Far from it, General Abdel Aziz said. He had in fact restored democracy.

Niger is the second military takeover in West Africa since the Mauritania coup – Guinea followed less than six months later — and the strongest indication yet that Abdel Aziz’ putsch is becoming the blueprint for aspiring presidents who don’t want to waste time standing in an election.

The Aziz model: For a start, you don’t shoot the man whose power you’re taking. That looks bad. Get him out of the palace and under house arrest, but keep bloodshed to an absolute minimum. The first pictures you want broadcast are of crowds cheering the coming of the liberator of the people, not of soldiers in shades firing machine guns.

Mauritania got away without a shot being fired and Guinea there was nobody to shoot anyway as the president had died. In Niger, at least three soldiers were killed, but ousted president Mamadou Tandja was captured without taking a bullet.

From here, the Mauritanian model shows how to make it stick. Once you’re in power, don’t do anything silly. If there are opposition parties, let them be. If people march against you, let them march. Keep the country running, talk about elections, allow the international community to have its say and to get involved.

In Guinea, even wild-eyed coup leader Dadis Camara was on the right lines for the first few months, confrontations with foreign investors aside, until the paranoid violence he had threatened erupted and his troops killed 150 demonstrators: exit Dadis.

Mauritania held elections less than a year after Abdel Aziz took over, and though the opposition grumbled about the result, former colonial power France welcomed the country back into the international fold and Abdel Aziz’s descriptor went from “junta leader” to “President”.

If Niger’s de facto head of state Salou Djibo chooses to play his cards like Abdel Aziz did, it might only be a matter of months before he is voted in as leader of a country that’s bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index, but one that’s not without cashflow, and very much on the radar of the West and of China.

Niger matters not just strategically, but also economically. Mauritania ships iron ore, and Guinea bauxite, but from Niger comes the uranium that goes into France’s nuclear power stations, and France’s nuclear weapons. Thanks to a few billion dollars of money from China, soon enough Niger will have its first oil refinery.

So, on top of dealing with a rumbling Tuareg insurgency, Djibo has a lot to look forward to. As long as he remembers, whenever the next gang of men with guns kicks in his door, it’s not a coup. It’s a restoration of democracy.


Considering the last guy got in via a coup, how do we no this one wont outstay his welcome, if he is an honourable person. The first thing he would do is to form a constitution on the basis of a free press, fredoom of speech, tolerance. Then start the election process; what ever you do do not get the african union to observe the election. Remember this was the same bunch of idiot who said the zimbabwean election was free & fair, best thing to do is look up the global index the most honest country in the world (i think it is sweeden or norway) & get them to overlook the election process if you win the opposition cant grumble. After that try not to outsay your welcome, dont come up with pafectic excuses like my country well fall in to civil way if I leave or my personal favourite I have not finished what I intended in the first place (in order words I havnt bleed this country as mush as the last guy I need more time to steal my share)

Posted by rzaXL | Report as abusive

This is not much of a theory, I’m afraid. Abdel Aziz was not just a serial coup leader, he was a serial power taker. “Pele” Hima Hamidou et. al. are serial coup leaders who have serially turned over power rapidly. Not to guarantee they’ll do it the same again, except that they’re saying they do it EXACTLY the same as Wanke, and they’re understood in their respective nations to mean something entirely different from Abdel Aziz. Abdel Aziz means “the President broke our power sharing deal”. Salou Djibo means ” the President pulled a coup and threw the nation in eight months of chaos and international isolation.” And lumping up of Guinea, Mauritania, and Niger because they’ve had coups is lazy and ahistorical. Conte died after being in power for twenty years, having let the army get out of control in his late rule. Mauritania, even when the was a ‘democracy’ had the generals in charge (and generals of specific clan networks). Look to Ould Taya for the pattern. One could go on. But saying: they’re African, they’re military, they overthrew the government kinda bloodlessly, kinda contemporaneously, and say there will be elections — ergo a pattern — is pretty cheap and pretty meaningless.

Posted by thomas.l.miles | Report as abusive

Ooo it’s that nice Mr Sarkozy, smiling away like it’s all lovely and the lights of France will still be on in a few years thanks to the restoration democracy in Niger.

Posted by robinoi | Report as abusive

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