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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Mohamed Bazoum, Niger President Ousted in Coup, Stays Imprisoned at House


When mutinous troopers seized energy within the West African nation of Burkina Faso early final yr, the president of neighboring Niger struck a dismissive be aware.

“That is nonsense,” President Mohamed Bazoum advised two Western diplomats who sat in his workplace as information of the coup got here by way of. How cynical was it, Mr. Bazoum remarked, that the troopers liable for securing Burkina Faso had overthrown the federal government within the identify of restoring safety.

Now Mr. Bazoum faces the identical destiny. Deposed final month by troopers who accused him of failing to guard Niger towards Islamist teams, he’s nonetheless a hostage in his own residence three weeks on, working out of meals and disadvantaged of water and electrical energy.

Mr. Bazoum’s Western and African allies are attempting to barter his launch, and West African military chiefs on Friday had been set to finalize a potential navy intervention in Niger. However their hopes of restoring him to energy are quickly fading.

Mr. Bazoum was lauded in overseas capitals for his democratic credentials and hard stand towards Islamist militants. However the coup and its aftermath have revealed his critics at house: the activists banned from protesting, the conservatives who objected to his advocacy of women’ training, and the highly effective generals he sought to sideline.

“Bazoum was on an island surrounded by alligators,” mentioned Rahmane Idrissa, a Nigerien political scientist. “He had been haunted by the opportunity of a coup.”

Niger is now within the palms of Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani — the chief of the navy unit that turned towards the president it was supposed to guard.

It’s a brutal fall for Mr. Bazoum, 63, a one-time highschool instructor who served as overseas minister and inside minister earlier than being elected in 2021 as president. He performed a key function in turning Niger into a well-liked Western ally, whilst critics forged doubt on the legitimacy of his victory and frustration mounted over insurance policies that many noticed as tailor-made to please Western companions.

Niger is without doubt one of the world’s poorest international locations, and the broader Sahel area has turn out to be the worldwide epicenter of Islamist militancy, regardless of a decade of Western-led navy operations. For safety companions like america and France, Mr. Bazoum provided the hope of regional stabilization. The navy takeover has left them with no essential ally.

When troopers surrounded Mr. Bazoum’s residence within the capital, Niamey, on July 26, he fled right into a protected room together with his spouse and son and known as Western allies, alerting them to his plight, but in addition providing assurances. Mr. Bazoum believed that pleasant military items would come to his rescue by dusk and that he would return to energy unscathed, mentioned a former U.S. official who spoke with him that day, and described the dialog on the situation of anonymity to keep away from alienating his contacts within the Nigerien navy.

The cavalry by no means arrived. Western-trained Particular Forces near Mr. Bazoum had been dispatched to a distant desert space to organize for Independence Day celebrations on Aug. 3, the previous U.S. official mentioned. The mutineers led by Common Tchiani rapidly established management.

Now, guards have barricaded Mr. Bazoum inside his house with additional locks, in response to a member of his cupboard who requested anonymity to debate Mr. Bazoum’s detention. He has refused to resign, however the junta in energy has dissolved his authorities and named a brand new one.

After West African international locations threatened navy motion to free Mr. Bazoum, the brand new navy junta mentioned it might kill him within the occasion of an intervention. It has additionally threatened to prosecute Mr. Bazoum for treason.

“The putschists have strengthened their grip on the state equipment,” mentioned Fahiraman Rodrigue Koné, a researcher with the Institute for Safety Research, in Mali. “Bazoum should be nicely conscious that he misplaced energy.”

At first, Mr. Bazoum didn’t see eye-to-eye with Washington. On his first journey to america as Niger’s overseas minister in 2011, he criticized the Western intervention in Libya, which, he predicted, would unleash a wave of instability within the area, mentioned J. Peter Pham, a former Sahel envoy for the U.S. authorities, who hosted Mr. Bazoum in the course of the journey.

Mr. Bazoum warned Obama administration officers that the navy motion in Libya was going to “throw all kinds of actors to the winds,” and that america wanted to “assist Niger earlier than that sandstorm hits us,” Mr. Pham mentioned.

The message was “not well-received,” Mr. Pham added. “The administration was very defensive and didn’t wish to discuss collateral harm.”

Mr. Bazoum’s prophesy was partly borne out, as Islamist militants expanded throughout the area utilizing weapons that, in some instances, spilled out of chaotic Libya. France deployed 1000’s of troops within the Sahel, and america arrange main drone bases in Niger as a part of a rising counterterrorism effort.

Mr. Bazoum, then inside minister, grew to become the general public face of that relationship in Niger. “All I do know is that they’re American,” he advised The Instances in 2018 a couple of newly established C.I.A. drone base within the nation’s northeastern desert.

As president, Mr. Bazoum championed causes that additionally endeared him to Western companions. He promised to construct 100 boarding faculties throughout the nation to teach women and scale back early marriages. His aim, he mentioned, was to carry down Niger’s birthrate of seven kids per lady — the world’s highest.

Backed by Western navy assist applications price a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of {dollars}, Mr. Bazoum ramped up a drive towards teams tied to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. He additionally promoted utilizing dialogue to steer extremists to put down their arms in alternate for skilled coaching and financial improvement.

Whilst Mr. Bazoum partnered with the West, he courted different overseas powers in search of to construct their affect in Africa. He bought armed drones from Turkey and superior the development of a China-backed oil pipeline that might turn out to be a serious financial boon to Niger.

His strategy appeared to be bearing fruit this yr when, over the primary six months, assaults on civilians in Niger dropped by 39 p.c, in response to the Armed Battle Location & Occasion Knowledge Challenge. In neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, the place troopers seized energy in 2021 and 2022, violence soared.

However Mr. Bazoum’s enthusiastic help from the West was not mirrored at house, the place critics asserted that his election had been rigged. (Observers from the African Union judged it a good vote, and Niger’s high court docket later confirmed the consequence.)

He tried to maneuver away from the lingering affect of his predecessor, Mahamadou Issoufou, visiting victims of terrorist assaults whereas his administration prosecuted dozens of officers on corruption, an strategy seen as each extra caring and harder than Mr. Issoufou’s.

However regardless of his educating expertise, Mr. Bazoum didn’t adequately clarify concepts, like his help for educating woman, to the general public, observers mentioned.

“He imposed his strategies with a paternalistic strategy, telling Nigeriens what can be good for them,” mentioned Mr. Idrissa, who had Mr. Bazoum as a highschool instructor and is now a senior researcher with the African Research Heart of Leiden College within the Netherlands.

As a rising variety of Nigeriens grew resentful of Niger’s navy ties to France, the previous colonial energy, Mr. Bazoum’s administration confirmed little tolerance for protest.

There was additionally rising pressure together with his navy. Some officers resented Mr. Bazoum for releasing Islamist insurgents who had killed their males, analysts mentioned. And a few generals pressed for a better partnership with the junta in neighboring Mali, who had introduced within the Kremlin-backed Wagner paramilitary group. Mr. Bazoum wished no a part of that.

Mr. Bazoum meant to fireside Gen. Tchiani, head of the 700-strong Presidential Guard, at a cupboard assembly that was scheduled for July 27, in response to two advisers to the president and a Nigerien intelligence officer who spoke on situation of anonymity to debate Mr. Bazoum’s plans about Gen. Tchiani.

As an alternative, a day earlier, on July 26, Gen. Tchiani struck first.

Now, few Nigeriens dare voice public help for Mr. Bazoum. The junta has arrested a lot of his allies, whereas others have fled overseas. Hundreds of principally younger Nigeriens have twice crammed a sports activities stadium to help the navy.

In the future within the capital this month, a girl in a taxi may very well be seen shouting out the window, “We want Bazoum!”

Dozens of younger junta supporters overturned the taxi and attacked the girl. She was rescued from the crowds by troopers standing close by.

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