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Why the Coup in Niger May Be a Good Omen!

Mon, 22 Feb 2010 Source: Pryce, Daniel K.

I was perusing the BBC News Web site on Thursday, February 18, 2010, when I came across the rather depressing and distressing news item of yet another coup d’état on African soil, this time in the landlocked country of Niger, a country considered by economists one of the world’s poorest, where more than half of the citizens live on less than one dollar a day. According to members of the junta presently running the country’s affairs, the insurrection was necessary to restore democracy in the country. Perhaps to round up as many members of the civilian administration as possible, the soldiers in question made their move while the president, Mamadou Tandja, was presiding over a cabinet meeting. It now appears, however, that all but the president and two members of his cabinet have been released.

Before the reader wrongly assumes that this writer generally supports coup d’états, let me declare matter-of-factly that I do not. In fact, I had written a few articles, carried by pro-Ghanaian Internet conduits, denouncing coups on the African continent. Sadly, I support the present coup in Niger, not because the putschists would be better managers of this impoverished nation, but because Mamadou Tandja had refused to leave office, after his constitutionally mandated second term ended in December 2009. Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to do the same thing in Nigeria, but Nigerians, fortunately, took a stand against dictatorship and forced Obasanjo to relinquish power. There are still many dictators in Africa, Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe being perfect poster boys for democrats who later became dictators! I am assuming that Mamadou Tandja may have felt a sense of entitlement to the Nigerien presidency, except that he gravely underestimated the country’s soldiers in the process!

The spokesman for the Nigerien junta, Colonel Goukoye Karimou, has informed the rest of the world that the coup was necessary to help prepare the stage for a return to democratic governance. We expect these soldiers to honor their word, even as the rest of the world watches and waits. Without a doubt, the illegal Mamadou Tandja-superintended referendum to extend the president’s stay in office by abolishing presidential term limits was the principal reason for the revolt, but we certainly hope that the putschists will not renege on their promise to return the country to civilian rule in the near future.

While the African Union and the European Union were quick to condemn the coup, perhaps these notable bodies did not remember what Kibaki’s dishonesty and Mugabe’s stubbornness did to the citizens of both Kenya and Zimbabwe. I would have to admit, albeit painfully, that perhaps the Colonel Salou Djibo-led coup in Niger may have saved thousands of lives in the long run, for no one knows what would have happened had Mamadou Tandja found a way to entrench himself life president of Niger.

We also ought to remember that Niger's Coordination of Democratic Forces of the Republic (CFDR), an alliance of several political parties; trade unions; and human rights advocacy groups have hailed the overthrow of the Tandja administration. Under normal circumstances, I would condemn a revolt in all of its forms, but not this one, as then-president Tandja had no constitutional mandate to rule beyond December 2009, but had found a way, not atypical of African leaders, to extend his stay in office. Tandja’s reason? So he would be able to “complete major investment projects” (BBC News, 2010). Whew! I guess Mr. Tandja was the only Nigerien with enough brain power to successfully negotiate contracts on behalf of the Nigerien people! No wonder the ubiquitous Chinese have taken over Niamey – and are presently negotiating one dubious contract after another, to the detriment of ordinary Nigeriens!

Fortunately, ECOWAS, under the stewardship of Ghana’s Ibn Chambas, did not condemn the coup outright, but had asked that the coup leaders act “quickly to restore civilian rule” (BBC News, 2010). I must confess that I support Chambas’ position.

What can Ghanaian leaders learn from this sad event in Niamey? That Ghanaian soldiers will not interfere with our democracy, in a country where twenty-two million citizens deserve to always choose their own leaders via the ballot box. At the same time, however, Ghanaian soldiers have a duty to make sure that no crook comes to power via a rigged election, or that no rogue stays in office beyond what the constitution permits. Ghanaian soldiers are some of the finest and bravest in the world, and they will honor the tenets of our present democracy, unless something terribly goes wrong with the democratic process. I pray that such a dark day never comes, for it is still better to elect our leaders than have an unelected group foist itself on millions of ordinary citizens. Sadly, the Nigerien people would have to endure the often unpredictable nature of military dictatorship for the foreseeable future. I can only wish them the best of luck!

Written and submitted February 19, 2010.

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, holds a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at dpryce@cox.net.

Columnist: Pryce, Daniel K.