Niger: The Very Very Democratic Republic of Tandja

Tandja in 2008

The President of Niger releases his “new” constitution. Can the opposition slow him down?

President Tandja Mamadou‘s aspiration to be President for life got a bit more clear today, with the release of his proposed Constitution of the 6th Republic of Niger. His plan for a 4 August referendum, opposed by political parties, civil society, and every other body of the republic, is set to go ahead.

The planned Constitution of the Sixth Republic of Niger, released today, contains no real surprises. It gives Tandja a “free” term as President until 2012 elections, and no term limits after this. A Senate is created to complement a smaller National Assembly. The unconditional amnesty is for the coup leaders who brought on the 199 elections Tandja won is extended. This will be the end of the support for Tandja by the RDP-JAMA’A, the party of the assassinated President Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara (himself a coup leader) who Tandja replaced in 1999. That leaves only a couple of tiny parties supporting Tandja. Which I’m sure he’s fine with, should he muscle his new constitution through.

That’s because the most striking thing about this proposed constitution is what’s not there: any checks on the President’s powers. Having read though the 1999 Constitution on a number of occasions, this new document seems like someone went through the previous document with a marker and crossed out any references to the powers of every other constitutional body, and replaced it with “The President may decree” or “to be regulated by future law” (which the President will decree). He appoints the courts, he ratifies treaties, chooses members of commissions and offices, he can create constitutional changes through plebiscite whenever he so chooses. Let me make this clear, this is not the constitution of Presidential Republic: it’s the blueprint of a dictatorship.

Tandja, Obasanjo, and Sassou-Nguesso in 2005

Tandja,

And it would be funny if it were not so sad. Reading though it, I couldn’t help but think of the Franco-Nigerien comedian Mamane’s stories about the “Very Very Democratic Republic of Gondwana” (“République très très démocratique du Gondwana”), and its faultless “President-Founder.”

It parallels a much less comic state, the Republic of Congo, whose President Sassou-Nguesso is already projected winner in the first round of an election which will take place two days in the future. Congo-Brazzaville and Gabon are Tandja’s models for Niger, with Uranium replacing oil.

Congolese blogger “Pangolin” printed a satire yesterday that is more anger than laughter: “The Single Candidate heads to a singular victory in a single round.”

“Having so terribly traumatized his people, reduced them to silence, to resignation, to the rank of mere spectators of their own destinies, The Single Candidate can therefore extend his time as head of Congo-Brazzaville.”

Niamey today, like contemporary Brazzaville, or like a very unfunny “Gondwana City” has that same degree of malevolent surrealism, where everything is so clearly a cardboard front for an intolerant government, but no one dares say so.

The Nigerien state Paper/Broadcaster Le Sahel is a prime example. Always bland, Le Sahel has slipped into unreality, leading with meetings of minor bureaucrats and school exams. It’s as much reminiscent of Pyongyang as it is Mamane’s comic “Radio Y’a foï”, an Ivorian slang title meaning “Radio Everything’s Fine”.

But things are not fine.  And while President-Founder of the Sixth Republic Tandja may be isolated, no one yet has found a way to stop him. We’ll soon see if anyone can.

UPDATE: Carnet de Voyage : Mamane existe, je l’ai rencontréAdam Thiam, Le Républicain,  (Bamako) 05/10/2009

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2 comments for “Niger: The Very Very Democratic Republic of Tandja

  1. August 8, 2009 at 4:46 am

    Thanks for posting about this, I would like to read more about this topic.

  2. September 8, 2009 at 11:03 am

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