Fact Sheet: Military Coup in Niger
LONDON - Last week's coup in Niger makes it the final central Sahelian state to succumb to a military takeover, following Mali in 2020 and 2021, and two coups in Burkina Faso in 2022, according to report by The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED).
While Niger's junta has cited rising insecurity as a justification for the coup, ACLED data indicate that violence has been on the decline: in the first half of 2023, conflict incidents decreased by an estimated 39% compared to the previous six-month period. The coup’s aftermath brings a high potential for domestic unrest and regional conflict, a surge in militant activities, democratic backsliding and restriction of civil liberties, and severe socio-economic consequences due to sanctions. Our new fact sheet maps key conflict trends in the lead-up to the putsch and assesses the coup's implications for security in Niger and the wider Sahel region.
On 26 July 2023, the Presidential Guard in Niger launched a coup and detained President Mohamed Bazoum and his family. Senior officers from various branches of the defense and security forces (FDS) formed a junta, named the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland (CNSP), and announced the seizure of power on a televised broadcast. Public response varied, with initial demonstrations in support of Bazoum being dispersed by mutinous soldiers, followed by subsequent demonstrations in support of the CNSP. By 27 July, the Nigerien Armed Forces joined the CNSP, citing their intent to avoid lethal confrontation and to safeguard the president and his family.
The coup has largely been condemned internationally, including by key stakeholders like the United States, France, the European Union, and ECOWAS. During a summit in Nigeria’s capital Abuja, ECOWAS considered military intervention, and threatened sanctions to pressure the junta to reinstate Bazoum by giving a one-week ultimatum. The West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) imposed immediate sanctions and froze Nigerien state assets.
Burkina Faso, Guinea, and Mali have declared their support for the Nigerien junta and expressed their refusal to apply any sanctions imposed on Niger. Burkina Faso and Mali further warned in a joint statement that any military intervention in Niger was a declaration of war against the two countries. The reactions in support of Niger from the junta-led states has set the stage for a deeper divide and potential break-up of the West African bloc.
The coup’s aftermath brings a high potential for domestic unrest and regional conflict, a surge in militant activities, democratic backsliding and restriction of civil liberties, and severe socio-economic consequences due to sanctions. Furthermore, the military junta has not consolidated its power grab and faces strong opposition by many international stakeholders. Bazoum not only enjoys support from the international community but also from a large segment of the population across Niger, with signs of supporters counter-mobilizing for mass demonstrations against the junta.
Underlying Discontent and Palace Politics
Niger represents the last of the three central Sahel states to succumb to a military coup, after Mali in 2020 and 2021, and two coups in Burkina Faso in 2022. While some interpret this event through the context of Russia’s increasing influence or its alignment with Western military training initiatives, the primary catalysts were essentially domestic in nature. The leader of the coup, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, was rumored to be on the verge of losing his position as head of the Presidential Guard – a role in which he had defended the regime against numerous attempted coups during the tenures of both former President Mahamadou Issoufou and his successor Bazoum. It is possible that growing discontent within the FDS had intensified over the years under the rule of Issoufou and his successor Bazoum.
This underlying dissatisfaction may have set the stage for the recent military coup, given the swift alignment of other senior military officers. Past coup attempts further underscore a fragile balance on which the regime had to perch and a threat that Bazoum may have underestimated. The decision by senior officers from various branches to join the junta does not necessarily mean unequivocal support for the coup. Instead, it may reflect a strategic move to manage the unfolding crisis, while seizing the opportunity to dismantle the entrenched political system established by the ruling party PNDS under the leadership of Issoufou and Bazoum.
Amid growing anti-French sentiments in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, as well as within Niger, the country paradoxically found itself increasingly set apart in the central Sahel, representing France’s last ally and counter-terrorism hub. While Bazoum’s rhetoric was candid, it was often perceived as publicly antagonistic and patronizing towards his Sahelian counterparts, whether or not his points were valid. This particularly applies to his critiques of Mali’s decision to partner with the Russian private military company Wagner Group and Burkina Faso’s strategy to mobilize self-defense militias – policies that have seemingly exacerbated violence and security issues within the two neighboring countries. Moreover, as the supreme commander of Niger’s armed forces, Bazoum’s recent interview, in which he suggested that militants were “stronger and more battle-hardened” than the region’s armies, was likely a misstep. This comment may have been seen as demoralizing, striking a nerve within the military and contributing to rising tensions in the lead-up to the coup.
Violence and Conflict Trends
Niger confronts an array of security challenges: in the west, it faces the Sahelian insurgency driven by IS Sahel and the al-Qaeda-affiliated JNIM, while the southeastern Diffa region is affected by the ISWAP and Boko Haram insurgency. The central Tahoua region is seeing a mixture of IS Sahel militancy and banditry. In Maradi, along the southern border with Nigeria, organized bandit gangs are also highly active. The Agadez region, rich in gold and smuggling routes that stretch along the border with Libya, Algeria, and Chad, has additionally attracted a plethora of armed groups, among them Chadian and Sudanese rebels, drug traffickers, and organized criminal gangs, all contributing to widespread rural banditry.
The Tillaberi region remains most affected by conflict, although there is a notable geographic shift from the northern to the western parts of the region. This shift in violent activity may be attributed to several converging factors. Notably, IS Sahel, the most active armed actor in both the country and the Tillaberi region, refocused its efforts on the Malian side of the border in early 2022. This strategic redirection coincided with France’s withdrawal of forces from Mali and the subsequent reconfiguration of its mission to Niger, where operations were primarily concentrated in northern Tillaberi. IS Sahel and JNIM also engage in simultaneous campaigns in neighboring Burkina Faso, with the border areas in western Tillaberi being used as staging ground. Furthermore, Nigerien authorities have been making concerted efforts to resolve long-standing intercommunal conflicts in Ouallam and Banibangou, the departments previously most affected by violence. The combination of these factors likely contributed to the observed shift in armed engagements.
Despite these challenges, Niger has statistically fared better than its neighbors in terms of violence and conflict. The military junta cited the “continually deteriorating security situation” as a core justification for the coup. The years of 2019 and 2020, during Issoufou’s reign, were particularly devastating for the Nigerien FDS as they suffered heavy losses due to a series of mass-casualty attacks perpetrated by IS Sahel. In 2021, Niger experienced a record year of conflict coinciding with its first democratic transition when Bazoum succeeded Issoufou. Ever since, Niger continues to see high numbers of conflict incidents, although levels of lethal violence are in steady decline, and significantly reduced in comparison to Mali and Burkina Faso.
As the dust from the coup begins to settle, Niger stands at a crossroads. The success of the junta in maintaining power and building legitimacy are not guaranteed, with significant opposition domestically and internationally. The junta is yet to consolidate its position and the situation is far from stabilized. Persistent support for Bazoum brings the potential for continued unrest, mass demonstrations against the junta, and violent contestation among pro-junta and pro-regime camps, adding additional layers of uncertainty. The potential fallout of this instability may affect the entire Sahel region, exacerbating existing security challenges and possibly giving rise to new threats both domestically and regionally due to the ramifications of the current crisis. Ongoing insurgencies and armed groups like JNIM, IS Sahel, ISWAP, and Boko Haram (JAS) may exploit and profit from such instability and discord, leading to escalating levels of violence.
The consolidation of power by the Nigerien junta would represent the further spread of democratic backsliding in the Sahel. Should this occur, all central Sahelian states would be effectively ruled by military juntas, marking the end of democracy in the subregion for the time being. Niger will likely face similar consequences as have already been observed in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, where the ascension of military governments led to the erosion of civil liberties and fundamental rights, including freedom of press and expression. Furthermore, all three countries have so far failed to suppress a growing regional insurgency expanding across West Africa. Niger is also at risk of severe socio-economic repercussions due to anticipated sanctions and suspension of development and budgetary aid. These pressures are likely to further strain Niger’s already fragile economy.
- Niger has experienced continuous growth in jihadist activity since 2018, with a record year for violence in 2021 measured by fatalities
- While the number of political violence incidents increased further in 2022, the lethality of the violence has steadily declined, with a significant overall decrease in fatalities last year
- In the first six months of 2023, political violence decreased by an estimated 39% when compared to the previous six-month period from July to December 2022
- Attacks on civilians decreased by 49%, and resulting fatalities decreased by 16%
- Operations by the Nigerien security forces increased by 32%, however, as part of a continuous effort to counter insecurity
- Cases of looting and property destruction were the most common type of incident during this period, suggesting that militant groups like IS Sahel and JNIM increasingly see Niger as a key target for resource extraction
- The western Tillaberi region is the most affected by conflict, although there has been a notable geographic shift from the north to the west
For maps and illustrations, visit: https://acleddata.com/2023/08/03/fact-sheet-military-coup-in-niger/