Niger: Military class gets mixed reactions after coup

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There is now an issue of militarism versus autocracy in the wake of Niger’s Coup d’état. The African Union and the international community condemn both forms of government and encourage democracy.

Niger’s military uprising was not unexpected. Tensions have been at a fever pitch since last year in the uranium-rich nation following President Mamadou Tandja’s decision to change the constitution in August to allow him stand for a third term. The country is now led by a group that calls itself the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD).

For Tandja the military has proven to be the defiant threat. The president was seized in a gun battle in Niger’s capital, Niamey and is now in captivity at a military barracks, reports have claimed.

Niger’s shift from autocracy to militarism has come with mix reactions. Regional group, Ecowas is weighing the situation in its member country. The organization’s political director, Abdel-Fatau Musah, said while the organization would never recognize a military takeover, it would maintain a constructive engagement with those in authority in Niger.

“If needed, Ecowas would be in the country as quickly as it could to ensure order was maintained and constitutional order restored as soon as possible,” Musah is quoted as saying.

A military class

But the military takeover is the mere glorification of the ideas of a professional military class and predominance of the armed forces in the administration or policy of the state.

The action of the military men now in charge of Niger complies with the theory of militarism which states that a country should maintain a strong military capability and be prepared to use it aggressively to defend or promote national interests.

Surrounded by a large group of soldiers, the spokesman for the coup leaders, colonel Goukoye Abdoulkarim, wearing a military uniform, called on the people of Niger to remain calm and stay united around the ideals postulated by the CSRD, to make Niger an example of democracy and good governance.

“We call on national and international opinions to support us in our patriotic action to save Niger and its population from poverty, deception and corruption. The Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy (CSRD)… has decided to suspend the constitution of the Sixth Republic and dissolve all its institutions,” colonel Abdoulkarim added.

Mamadou Tandja

President Mamadou Tandja became an autocrat after he pushed through a constitutional amendment scrapping presidential term limits, despite widespread criticism. He won two elections – in 1999 and 2004 – and was due to step down last December after 10 years in power, but insisted to stay on.

When the African Union and the International community challenged Tandja’s ploy to change the constitution for his own interest, he responded by saying he was “serving Niger and its people, not the international community.”

Tandja also said he needed more time to complete projects such as the country’s first oil refinery, the construction of a dam on the River Niger and the mining of new uranium sites in the north of the country Under his tenure, work has begun on the world’s second-biggest uranium mine, and energy deals have been signed with Chinese firms.

After dissolving parliament, Tandja forced parliamentary elections in October, which led ECOWAS to suspend Niger’s membership. The European Union suspended development aid and the United States sanctioned the country whose people are ranked last at 182 on the UN Human Development Index for 2009.

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