General Abdourahmane Tchiani: The Unforeseen Consequences of a Coup in Niger

In a shocking turn of events, General Abdourahmane Tchiani has orchestrated a coup in Niger, unleashing a major crisis in West Africa. This military takeover has sent shockwaves not only throughout the region but also across the international community. Once a UN peacekeeper involved in peacekeeping efforts in war-torn countries, Gen Tchiani’s decision to seize power has far-reaching consequences.

Gen Tchiani, previously the commander of Niger’s presidential guard, broke free from the shadows to overthrow President Mohamed Bazoum, the very leader he was supposed to protect. This drastic move has left President Bazoum under house arrest, cut off from the outside world except for sporadic telephone contact with international leaders. Gen Tchiani has shown little inclination for compromise, rejecting all suggestions put forth by external envoys.

Numerous attempts to engage with Gen Tchiani have been met with resistance. Despite visits from dignitaries like Nigeria’s ex-central bank governor Muhammadu Sanusi and US Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, the general has displayed a stubborn and taciturn demeanor. His reluctance to engage with international envoys raises concerns about the potential impact of this coup on the region.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), of which Niger is a signatory, has threatened military intervention to restore democracy. However, there is hesitancy within the bloc to pursue this option, given the political opposition it faces in Nigeria and some other Ecowas states. Nigeria’s President Bola Tinubu, the current chairman of Ecowas, has emphasized the importance of diplomacy, hinting that a peaceful resolution may be preferable.

Amidst this uncertainty, Gen Tchiani has taken steps to solidify his position. The junta has appointed Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeini, a former finance minister and African Development Bank official, as prime minister. This move suggests their intention to establish a prolonged political transition, demonstrating their resolve to remain in power.

Ethnic tensions arising from the coup have been a source of concern. Some analysts feared that President Bazoum’s overthrow, belonging to the minority Arab community, could ignite divisions in Niger. However, prominent figures like Rhissa ag Boula, a former Tuareg rebel and senior minister, have called for Mr. Bazoum’s reinstatement on nationalist grounds. For now, the junta has refrained from pursuing a sectarian path, maintaining a sense of cross-cultural cohesion and national identity.

Gen Tchiani’s decision to stage a coup and detain President Bazoum was a high-stakes gamble. While the general’s actions have garnered support domestically, particularly among anti-Bazoum crowds in Niamey, they have strained relations with Ecowas and Western governments. Publicly denouncing defense accords with France and reportedly seeking assistance from controversial Russian mercenary outfit Wagner, Gen Tchiani has further antagonized key international players.

Throughout his military career spanning almost four decades, Gen Tchiani had limited exposure to civilian government leaders and international partners. His appointment as the head of the presidential guard in 2011 marked his first significant engagement with political and diplomatic considerations. His relative seclusion and reserved nature could suggest a lack of experience in navigating complex political landscapes.

Gen Tchiani’s coup has tapped into anti-French sentiment in Niger, aiming to rally support and defiance against Ecowas. As the standoff between the junta and Ecowas unfolds, the general will have to rely on his newly acquired political and populist skills. The imposition of sanctions by the international community will put pressure on the junta, potentially driving up living costs for ordinary Nigeriens.

The consequences of this coup reach beyond Niger’s borders. The stability of the entire West African region hangs in the balance as Ecowas grapples with how to respond to Gen Tchiani’s power grab. The resolution of this crisis will shape the future trajectory of Niger and may reverberate across other countries grappling with similar challenges.

Paul Melly, a consulting fellow with the Africa Programme at Chatham House, emphasizes the gravity of the situation. Niger’s coup has raised questions about France’s role and the presence of Wagner mercenaries. As the international community closely watches the developments in Niger, the need for a peaceful resolution becomes increasingly urgent.