West African Political Crisis: What Our Silence Means for the Average Nigerien?

West African Political Crisis

Police confront protesters in Conakry, Guinea, following the government's decision in July 2022 to bar the opposition party from holding a peaceful march. Cellou Binani/AFP via Getty Images

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The epigraphy Dan Brown uses in his novel Inferno is a derivative of a quote from the famous Italian poet Dante Alighieri. It reads: “The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” The quote reminds us that no greater sin exists than inaction during dangerous times. This story is all about the West African political Crisis the upside down in the politics moments.

In the movie adaptation of the book, the protagonist gives us another powerful quote. He tells the antagonist, “Geniuses don’t come with extra rights.” This quote reminds us that those with power, money, or knowledge should not get to dictate the trajectory in which the rest of us live our lives. Simply put, he’s calling for democracy in decisions that affect everyone.

Both quotes prove relevant to the Crisis that is unfolding in West Africa. On the 26th of July, Gen. Tchiani, commander of Niger’s presidential guard, emerged from the shadows to overthrow the man he was charged with protecting, President Mohamed Bazoum. Since then, Bazoum, democratically elected in 2021 in Niger’s first peaceful power transfer, has been held under house arrest and isolation.

In a televised broadcast just days after the coup, Tchiani claimed he had taken the country to stop “the gradual and inevitable demise” because “the security approach today has not brought security to the country despite heavy sacrifices to Islamic terrorists.”

Of course, Tchiani also brought up France’s troubled relationship with Niger. Niger, a former France colony, is part of “Françafrique”- France’s sphere of influence in Africa. It was sold as a cooperation pact but has been criticized for perpetuating neo-colonial practices. For example, the controversy Central African franc (CFA) is used by 14 nations in Africa including Niger. Countries using CFA Francs are required to store 50% of their currency reserves with the Banque de France, and the currency is pegged to the euro, a move some say allows France to exert economic control over countries using it.

Unrest in Former French Colonies: Power Shifts and Regional Tensions

France produces 70% of its electricity from uranium, of which Niger supplied 18% of France’s uranium imports from 2005-2020. This collaboration has long been a subject of contention since 80% of Nigeriens are without electricity as their natural resources power France.

This abuse isn’t unique to Niger. Several former French colonies have expressed resentment towards the country because large French corporations such as the construction company Bolloré, the oil giant Total, and the telecom group Orange maintain a massive presence in ex-colonies with no tremendous economic development to show for it.

That feeling of helplessness has made a few men overthrow their governments to “liberate Africa.” This is where the quote on geniuses comes in. Military juntas have seized five former French colonies in the past three years. Mali had a coup in 2021 and is now under Assimi Goita, Burkina Faso is under Ibrahim Traore out of a 2022 coup, the current head of state of Chad is Mahamat Deby after the failed coup of 2021, and Guinea is still under Mamady Doumbouya who took power in 2021.

France, is not to be absolved of its complicity but these men (geniuses in the quote) feel like only they can solve the problems of their countries. They have thus, against their constitutions, disregarded the peaceful transfer of power and votes of millions of people and seized power. The “there was no other way” notion that some pro-junta apologists use is ill-advised. It is not up to the military to decide who should rule. That right belongs to the people. And to the people only.

Apart from the fact that no junta has brought about any real change, these coups serve as breeding grounds for more coups: This is Niger’s fifth coup since independence, a 2020 coup preceded Mali’s 2021 coup, and Burkina Faso had two coups in 2022. These geniuses should let the people decide!

The quote on neutrality comes in the reaction to said coups. Since Tchiani took Niger, he has been reluctant to give control back. On the weekend of the coup, leaders of the economic block ECOWAS met and gave Tchiani seven days to step down and reinstate Bazoum, with the threat of military intervention should he not comply within the timeframe. They went further and immediately closed ECOWAS borders to Niger and established a no-fly zone for commercial flights into the country.

With immediate effect, the EU withdrew the $554 million in aid it had allocated to Niger. France, which has about 1,500 troops, has called for “the re-establishment of the democratic institutions of Niger.” But up to date, the junta has remained resilient, warning of dire consequences should any external forces interfere. It has even garnered support from the meetings in Mali and Burkina Faso.

ECOWAS can’t afford to be passive. Some believe it’s because its leaders are afraid of being overthrown themselves, thus drawing lines in the sand to warn other generals of coups. Regardless of their agenda, they are right to condemn the coup. And so is the West.

Much of the rest of Africa, however, has been silent. Though the AU has called for the soldiers to return to barracks, individual countries have not voiced their side of the coin. Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and much of the SADC block have not offered statements.

Perhaps some are choosing to steer clear because Niger is too far, but we should remember an atrocity on any part of Africa is an atrocity on all of Africa. Our history, culture, and even struggles are similar. We know what it’s like to have a few powerful men make decisions for millions of us. We’ve all been helpless under a dictator or a colonialist, some under both.

We can’t sit idly without condemning the junta because West African Political Crisis and coups always hurt ordinary citizens the most. In Mali, for instance, extreme poverty has increased to 19.1% in 2022, with sexual assault being used to spread terror. After their coups, Amnesty International reported widespread abuses in Chad, Burkina Faso, and Guinea. We should condemn them because we’ve seen these stories before, and they end the same always. Juntas take control and then cling to power after promising fair elections and ends, sending the country into further chaos and poverty.

Tanzania’s Move as a Peacemaker in Africa

This past June, Tanzania relocated 150 medical students to Muhimbili University from Sudan after the outbreak of war. Boldly, our government stood by its chosen side in April when the Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemned the violence in Sudan. That is what we need to do right now: to call out the junta and plead allegiance to the peaceful transfer of power. We can’t be the people who receive refugees without acknowledging what created them in the first place.

We should never forget that ordinary citizens are hurt the most in the West African political Crisis when we remain silent in such times and that silence is choosing to side with the oppressor. And heaven- if you believe in it- is not for the oppressor or the neutral.

Read more political insights here.

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