Members' Research Service By / July 31, 2023

Niger: another Sahel country hit by a coup

On 26 July 2023, part of the Nigerien presidential guard removed President Bazoum from office.

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Written by Eric Pichon.

On 26 July 2023, part of the Nigerien presidential guard removed President Bazoum from office. The coup was later supported by the army’s chief of staff Abdou Sidikou Issa. On 28 July, the head of the presidential guard, General Abdourahamane Tiani, declared himself president of the ‘National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland’ (CNSP, the military grouping that took over the power). This risks further destabilising the country, on top of existing issues such as regional instability, the proliferation of violent jihadist groups, a surge in refugees and internally displaced people, and the already dire effects of climate change on access to resources, a further trigger for conflict.

Before the July 2023 coup, Niger ranked 119th of 137 economies in the Normandy Index (which measures resilience to threats to peace and democracy) and 189th of 191 countries in the UN Human Development Index. It is the third most vulnerable country to climate change in the ND-GAIN index. The country’s riches (5 % of the world’s uranium resources) still overwhelmingly benefit foreign mining interests. Climate change and poorly adapted agricultural practices, combined with rapid population growth, have contributed to scarcity and unequal sharing of natural resources in Niger. In contrast with its neighbours, Niger experienced a relatively peaceful transition in 2021, with the election of Mohamed Bazoum, former Minister of the Interior, as President of the Republic. However, the opposition challenged the results of the election and an attempted coup was reportedly thwarted on 31 March 2021, two days before the new president took office. Two years later, the new coup has overthrown President Bazoum.

New threats for the country and its partners

The July 2023 coup further destabilises the Sahel and questions the EU and Western partners’ strategy to invest Niger as the main security hub in the region. President Bazoum had continued Niger’s military cooperation with Russia – although it opposed any presence on its soil or propaganda by the Russian Wagner paramilitary group. The coup, hailed by Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Wagner, might increase Russia’s influence on the country. Food insecurity, aggravated by the pandemic and the Russian war against Ukraine, as well as population displacement across the country, exacerbate tensions between communities and grievances against the government. Violent extremist groups (including Boko Haram, the Islamic State in the Sahel, ISIL/Da’esh West Africa, and Al-Qaeda) exploit these tensions, especially in the border areas with Chad and Nigeria (Lake Chad) and with Mali and Burkina Faso (Liptako-Gourma). Niger reportedly devotes more than 17 % of its budget to the security and defence sector, which has allowed it to prevent too wide control of its territory by non-state armed groups.

EU involvement

The EU ‘condemn[ed] the coup in the strongest possible terms’ and supports the efforts of the African Union and West-African regional organisation ECOWAS for the return to constitutional order in Niger. The EU, which adopted a new strategy for the Sahel in April 2021, has suspended security cooperation and budgetary aid after the coup. Niger is the most populous country in the Sahel and has been a key partner for EU policy in the region. Its role in regional security cooperation was strengthened in 2022, as Mali left the G5 Sahel regional group and France’s Barkhane and Euro-Canadian Takuba forces withdrew from Mali. The European and Canadian military anti-terrorist support effort in the Sahel then shifted to Niger and the Gulf of Guinea. A new CSDP mission, the EU Military Partnership Mission in Niger funded by the European Peace Facility, was launched in December 2022 to provide expert advice and training to the Nigerien armed forces. The EU and Member States together are the main ODA donor to Niger and its second main trading partner after China. At the crossroads of several migration routes, Niger has strengthened its policy to combat irregular migration with EU support, as part of the EU’s new partnership with third countries (2016).

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