Niger coup: Will Abdourahamane Tchiani hang on to power?

Niger coup: Will Abdourahamane Tchiani hang on to power?

General who led coup to depose Mohamed Bazoum is showing no signs of relinquishing control of Niger

By James Tasamba

KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) – Despite growing calls to cede power and the threat of military action by neighboring West African nations, Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani is entrenching himself as Niger’s new leader.

Tchiani, who led the July 26 coup against President Mohamed Bazoum, has conveyed his intent by unveiling a transitional government, naming Ali Lamine Zeine as prime minister with a 21-member Cabinet.

Tchiani, 62, is from Niger’s western Tillaberi region, which borders Mali.

Hailing from the majority Hausa ethnic group, a traditional recruiting base for the army, he has a military career spanning almost 40 years.

Tchiani attended military academies in France, the US, Senegal, Morocco and Mali, as he rose up the ranks without any obvious political connections.

He has held several command roles in Niger, while also being part of UN peacekeeping operations in Ivory Coast, Sudan’s Darfur region and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He also served as the military attache at Niger’s Embassy in Germany.

In 2011, he was appointed head of the presidential guards, a special unit of about 2,000 soldiers, by former President Mahamadou Issoufou, Bazoum’s predecessor.

He was promoted by Issoufou to the rank of a general in 2018.

In March 2021, just when Bazoum was about to be sworn in after an election, Tchiani is credited for having led the unit that foiled an attempted coup in Niger.

- Cause of the coup

There is a lot of speculation about the reasons for the coup against Bazoum.

Some reports say Tchiani moved after information leaked that he was about to be fired, while others claim there were grievances within the army.

Freddie David Egesa, a security analyst based in Uganda’s capital Kampala, believes Tchiani was “encouraged by the success of military coups in neighboring Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea to topple the person he was supposed to protect.”

While it is not clear how much backing the coup leaders have from the rest of the security forces, the junta has stoked anti-French resentment among many Nigerien youth to garner more support from citizens, he said.

“The regular protests by coup supporters in the capital Niamey have portrayed an acceptance of the coup, which is important to shore up the junta,” he said.

In justifying the coup, the military faulted Bazoum for failing to address security concerns in parts of the country, with Tchiani asserting that Niger needed to change course to avoid a “gradual and inevitable demise.”

However, Egesa emphasized that Tchiani himself will need an efficient security arrangement, particularly since Niger remains vulnerable to the threat of terrorism in the Sahel.

- Mounting pressure

Leaders of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have ordered the activation of the bloc’s standby force, signaling that a possible military response remains on the cards.

Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Benin have committed to send troops, while Niger has the backing of Mali and Burkina Faso, setting the stage for what could spiral into a wider regional conflict.

France and the US are supporting ECOWAS, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying Washington has “deep concern” for the security and well-being of Bazoum and his family.

In the first sign of internal resistance to the coup, Rhissa Ag Boula, a former Tuareg rebel, has launched the Council of Resistance with the goal to reinstate Bazoum and contribute “to the restoration of constitutional order.”

In a strongly worded statement on Aug. 8, Boula, a former senior minister, warned that the council will use all necessary means against “crooked and irresponsible soldiers.”

Boula appealed to the soldiers to “respect their oath … put an end to the mutiny and to proceed, without delay, to arrest Gen. Tchiani.”

Egesa, the analyst in Kampala, said it remains unclear whether “Tchiani will withstand the regional and international pressure.”

“But the fact that he appointed a transitional government is understandable. He wants to hang on with a long political transition like the juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso,” he said.

For Raphael Nkaka, a governance expert in Rwanda’s capital Kigali, the biggest challenge for Tchiani could be the actual management of the country.

He said the general could find it difficult to work with civilian leaders or handle political and diplomatic issues.

“He’s spent much of his career as a typical soldier deployed to specific military tasks. Addressing political, economic and governance issues is another matter,” said Nkaka.​​​​​​​

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