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Niger: Transition in Niger – Avoiding the Dangers of Stagnation

analysis By Hassane Koné and Djiby Sow

With ECOWAS sanctions lifted, the military authorities must rapidly set the course for Niger to return to civilian rule.

On 24 February, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) lifted the economic and financial sanctions imposed on Niger after its 26 July 2023 coup against former president Mohamed Bazoum.

The sanctions did not achieve their intended outcome: Bazoum remains in detention, and the interim government led by General Abdourahmane Tiani has still not adopted a transition roadmap. Instead, the embargoes brought the Nigerien economy to a virtual standstill, severely impacting an overwhelmingly vulnerable population.

In Niamey’s markets, retail food prices rose by an average of 75% during the six months of sanctions. This was despite economic operators circumventing the restrictions by obtaining goods through parallel routes into Benin and Nigeria – Niger’s two main suppliers. Heavy goods convoys had to use the Lomé-Ouagadougou-Niamey Economic Corridor, a longer (1 242 km) and more dangerous route due to the presence of armed groups.

ECOWAS’s decision to lift sanctions comes barely a month after Niger announced its withdrawal from the regional organisation, along with Mali and Burkina Faso. Sanctions against these two countries, which also recently experienced coups, were lifted too. ECOWAS extended the olive branch hoping to keep the three nations within its fold – especially after they formed the Alliance of Sahel States in September 2023.

Exiting ECOWAS allows Niger’s junta to evade the regional bloc’s requirements for a short transition

It remains to be seen how the military leaders of Niger’s National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland will respond. For now, political differences have resulted in borders with Nigeria and Benin remaining closed. Exiting ECOWAS ‘with immediate effect’ allows Niger’s junta to evade the regional organisation’s requirements for a short transition and potentially stay in power for three years, as announced last August.

Whatever Niger decides on its ECOWAS membership, the military leadership must quickly set the course and content for the transition. Until now, their priorities have been to mitigate the effects of economic sanctions on the population and strengthen the operational capacity of the defence and security forces.

The Solidarity Fund for Safeguarding the Homeland, the Economic and Fiscal Crime Commission, and the appointment of officers to head state-owned companies with instructions to collect money owed to the state, are some measures taken to raise internal resources.

Now that sanctions have been lifted, what will the next steps in the transition be? The inclusive national dialogue announced in July 2023 has still not taken place. Its aim was to collectively define the transition’s fundamental principles, priorities and duration. The participation of political parties in this exercise is vital, but has been hampered by the suspension of their activities since the July coup.

The inclusive national dialogue announced in July 2023 has still not taken place

There was also no consensus on the process for appointing regional delegates to the dialogue. Parts of civil society reject the local representatives of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, which many consider primarily responsible for the country’s dire situation.

Tiani’s long-awaited televised interview on 11 February also failed to inform Nigeriens about the military authorities’ vision for a return to constitutional order, or solutions to the country’s political, socio-economic and security challenges. Instead, the head of the junta focused on justifying the decision to withdraw from ECOWAS.

The main challenge now for Niger’s national council is to reconcile the political contradictions surrounding the transition.

Many in Niger believe Issoufou still exerts a strong influence on the country’s political life through his links with Tiani. Tiani led Issoufou’s presidential guard during his two terms in office from 2011 to 2021. Senior members of Issoufou’s political party – including allies of the ousted Bazoum – suspect him of colluding with Tiani to regain power after the transition or even install his son, Sani Issoufou Mahamadou, a former oil minister, as president.

Many believe Issoufou still exerts a strong influence on politics, through his links with Tiani

These dynamics threaten the junta’s cohesion and consequently Niger’s stability. They are likely to fuel divisions in the military based on ties to the main political figures. These are Issoufou and the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism on the one hand, and Hama Amadou, leader of the main opposition party, the Nigerien Democratic Movement for an African Federation, on the other.

To avoid these dangers arising from the stagnation of the transition, Niger’s military authorities must organise a national dialogue without delay. The dialogue must be as inclusive as possible, bringing together the entire political class, civil society and state institutions, including the army. Agreement should be reached on the duration and roadmap for the transition, and solutions found to the political, economic and financial governance problems at the root of tensions in Niger.

The authorities will then have to plan and start implementing selected priority reforms, which a democratically elected government can complete once the transition has ended.

Hassane Koné, Senior Researcher and Djiby Sow, Senior Researcher, ISS Regional Office for West Africa, the Sahel and the Lake Chad Basin

Read the original article on ISS.

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