Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Niger coup might be opportunity for democracy and development

BBC News: Niger: A coup for democracy?
AllAfrica.Com: Niger: UN, African Officials Meet with Coup Leaders during Mission
New York Times: Opposition in Niger Urges Junta to Hold Vote
New York Times: Palace in Niger Is Attacked by Soldiers

In most of the world, a coup d'etat has negative implications. But, that feeling is not shared by people everywhere. The recent coup in Niger provides a perspective that is not often understood. In Niger, the coup provides a means to transition away from a leader who has lost the trust of his citizens. It can also serve as a way to restore the country’s standing in the international community and begin the process of restarting aid programs that were suspended because of past governments.

Former president Mamadou Tandja was democratically elected. However, he has been under increasing pressure because recent policies have rolled back democratic reforms. Last year he suspended the country’s highest court, and the National Assembly. Then he implemented a new constitution that removes term limits and gives him three more years in his current term. This led leaders of a military unit outside of the capital city, Niamey, to stage a coup on February 18th. There were few casualties, and those that died were limited to the armed forces and were not civilians. The attack came while the president was at his cabinet meeting and he was quickly taken to military barracks outside of town. It was then announced that Capt. Djibril Adamou Harouna would be Niger’s interim leader.

Niger is no stranger to coups, with one recently in 1999. After that coup, the transition to democracy was quick and successful elections were held. Niger’s mood about coups is summed up by Mohamed Bazoum, the deputy president of the opposition PNDS Taraya party, “We have had coups before, and usually not many people die, so for us the military coup is not so traumatic as it might be somewhere else”. Many in Niger think that they are not the fault of the military, but rather of the politicians who have failed the country. So strong is the belief in the military’s trustworthiness, that even some in the party ousted feel that the coup leaders will follow through on an election and that they might be allowed to participate. The United Nations, African Union, and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have all been in communication with the coup leaders and are committed to helping the country successfully navigate a road to democracy.

Democracy has more than just intrinsic value for the people of Niger. The country ranks very low in the United Nations Development Index, and recently the country warned that 2.7 million people were at risk of food shortages due to poor harvests. During the rule of President Tandja, international sanctions drastically cut back the amount of aid that was available. The country has been kept afloat from its sale of uranium, but has been vulnerable to changes in price for the ore. Many both inside and outside the country feel that the only way for Niger to sustain itself right now is from international aid. There are hopes that this aid will start flowing again when a new democratic government is elected.

The new leaders have not set out a timetable for new elections. However, many in the capital are not concerned, and feel that the coup is one step forward. For those going hungry and in need of international assistance, the coup might be a live saver.

Discussion Questions:
1) Are coup’s ever justified? Or should the rule of law always prevail?

2) How can the international community help countries make a smooth transition to democratic elections?

1 comment:

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