10 March 2011

Army steps down from rule in Niger

Niger's army returns power to civilians in presidential elections on Saturday but it will remain a key player in a coup-prone state facing a terrorist threat.
"Promise kept!" read posters in the west African country's capital Niamey, where the junta led by General Salou Djibo since a putsch on February 18, 2010 against president Mamadou Tandja can afford to be a little smug.
In spite of major internal differences, which appeared last October with the arrest for "plotting" of four senior officers including the deputy leader of the junta, the military has kept its word to restore civilian rule.
After a run-off second round of voting on Saturday between veteran opposition leader Mahamadou Issoufou and former prime minister Seini Oumarou, the new president will be sworn in on April 6.
The stakes are high for this vast country on the southern edge of the Sahara and which, in 50 years of independence, has regularly been shaken by army coups.
"For almost two decades, a culture of fearing soldiers and the subservience of civilians to the military has taken root in Niger," said Dodo Boukari, a law professor at Niamey University.
Since a 1974 coup against the first civilian president, Diori Hamani, the army has known about 20 years in power. And of the eight presidents since Hamani, five were soldiers installed by force of arms.
The junta from the outset justified the latest coup on the grounds of planning to resolve a political crisis born of stubborn bids by Tandja, an ex-officer, to keep power by changing the constitution.
"The army never got up one morning to say, 'I'll seize power,' for all the coups were motivated by threats to the country caused by the recklessness of the political class," a senior officer told AFP.
For former member of parliament Ali Hachimou, the fact that the junta took power in 2010 in the knowledge that it would step down once it considered the job done is "proof that the Niger army has become republican."
"To protect the republic, we need to set up forums of dialogue where the army can sit in and play a role in conflict prevention," said Moustapha Kadi, leader of a group of human rights organisations.
This was especially important because with the threat of Al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), "nobody can any longer ignore the army during the taking of decisions," he said.
Troops in Niger have been confronted in recent years with kidnappings of Westerners on their soil and AQIM activity in the north. Four French people kidnapped in September 2010 remain in the hands of the Islamic extremists.
In February the Consultative Council, a body in charge of the democratic transition, proposed that army "missions be clarified (in a) democratic and republican context".
It urged that the military be involved in humanitarian and development activities.
General Djibo, who has not disclosed what he plans to do when he steps down, has himself recommended that the military become involved in development in one of the world's poorest countries.
"If they're close to you, perhaps they'll avoid confronting you with coups d'etat," Djibo told politicians.
Once the military steps down, it will be time for more promises, some of a kind heard before. By signing a Republican Pact on Monday, civilians vowed to "respect the constitution" the junta saw through in a vote at the end of 2010.
For its part, the army has pledged "never to undermine republican legality", but lawyer Kader Chaibou warned: "The new leaders must not forget that the army is a sword of Damocles over their heads."

Source: rnw.nl

No comments:

Post a Comment