Niger's new leader faced coup attempt for pursuing corruption investigation

Niger's military ensured a peaceful transition of power after ousting previous leader, but when newly elected President Issoufou began investigating Army corruption, officers tried to kill him.

By , Guest blogger

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    France's President Nicolas Sarkozy welcomes Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou as he arrives at the Elysee Palace in Paris on July 6.
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In April, Niger’s newly elected civilian President Mahamadou Issoufou took office, marking an end to nearly 14 months of military rule. Senior military leaders had seized power from the previous civilian president, Mamadou Tandja, after he manipulated the constitution to remain in power past stated term limits. Both the coup and the civilian transition reflected what many say is a conviction among senior Nigerien military officers that they are the guardians or referees of the country’s democracy. This position – a complicated one indeed – is apparently not shared by all, though.

Yesterday, news surfaced that authorities in Niger had arrested some seven army officers accused of plotting to assassinate Issoufou.

[A security] official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the foiled assassination was to have taken place [on July 16] at a press conference addressed by Mr Issoufou to mark his 100 days in power.

Mr. Issoufou’s killing would have opened for the way for the military to recapture power, the official said.

Some sections of Niger’s military have been angered by Mr Issoufou’s attempts to end corruption, which has led to the dismissal of several officials, correspondents say.

Issoufou’s initiation of corruption proceedings against army officers have been bold, but they have, it’s clear, also already caused discontent. As I wrote earlier this month, “The junta itself had conducted investigations of the Tandja regime. But it is one thing to go after an ousted and disgraced administration, and quite another to go after a group that earned domestic and international plaudits for its efforts to create and facilitate a smooth transition to civilian rule.”

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Judging from the small number and relatively low rank of the soldiers who were arrested, this coup attempt does not seem to have been a serious threat to Issoufou. From what I can tell, his visit to Washington this week is still going forward. Still, I wonder whether this plot will slow or freeze the corruption investigations Issoufou has launched. A contact in Niger told me yesterday that the plot had become the subject of considerable discussion there. I imagine it is a topic of concern within the halls of power in the capital as well.

[Update] Looks like accountability/anti-corruption efforts will move forward. Capital FM:

Niger has created an anti-corruption body to step up the fight against graft in the impoverished nation, the government announced Wednesday.

The High Authority to Combat Corruption comprises representatives of the Niger administration, private sector and civil society, a government statement said.

The new body will be tasked with “centralising and processing complaints and information it receives relating to corruption,” the statement said.

The article makes no specific mention of prosecutions of military figures, so I’ll be waiting for more information on that.

Alex Thurston is a PhD student studying Islam in Africa at Northwestern University and blogs at Sahel Blog.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Africa bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Africa bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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