what a day
Yesterday could not have been more strange. I woke up to the news that an attempted coup d'etat was in progress in Niamey, then saw a Facebook post from a friend who'd witnessed the immediate aftermath of the attack on the IRS office in Austin. (The latter hit particularly close to home; that building is in my old neighborhood and my bus passed in front of it.) The terrorist* in question turned out to be unstable; the coup turned out to be real.
Then to top it off, on the way home from work, I got stuck in traffic that was apparently caused by an escaped circus zebra that was wandering the freeway.
You can't make this stuff up.
Since the ostensible topic of this blog is African politics and development, let's talk about the coup. Here's what we think we know:
- At about noon local time, armed soldiers witnesses described as "trained commandos" stormed President Mamadou Tandja's weekly cabinet meeting.
- They removed Tandja to an undisclosed location, which is likely some army barracks outside of town.
- Three soldiers were killed. It's not clear whether the three were allied with the coup plotters or were defending the president.
- The gunfire was mostly over by 4pm local time.
- The coup appears to have been successful.
- The military announced the suspension of Niger's constitution, the dissolution of all political institutions, and declared itself the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD is the French acronym).
- The leader of the coup is Major Amadou Harouna.
Second, and more importantly, President Tandja had angered many Nigeriens in 2009 when he dissolved parliament and enacted constitutional reforms that gave him broad powers with few checks or balances. Tandja was constitutionally required to step down from office in December, as that was the end of his second five-year term in office, but the changes he made to the constitution allowed him to stay in office for three more years. These moves were extremely unpopular; 10,000 protesters came out on Sunday to dispute Tandja's actions.
Clearly, this coup is the result of the ongoing political crisis. While I won't be so bold as to claim that the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy has pure ambitions for the future of this mineral-rich country and its political institutions, it is important to remember that coups are not always bad things. They have been used from time to time as a means of restoring democracy and the rule of law. Such an outcome is not likely in this scenario, but it is within the realm of possibility.
For updates on the situation, I'll be keeping an eye on the Sahel Blog, an excellent source of information on politics in West Africa. You might also check out the BBC's Niger Country Profile for basic background information.
*There's a big debate in political science and policy circles over how to define "terrorism," but the definition I usually give my students is "an act of violence directed at civilians that is undertaken with a political and/or religious motivation." Based on what we know so far, this incident seems to fit the bill. Thank goodness he was not more successful.