Niger: Cracks In The Foundation

One Chance

Aspiring President for Life of Niger Tandja Mamadou is coming under increasingly criticism from the outside.  But it’s Nigeriens who will doom his mission to create a new one man government.

The Wednesday (1 July) General Strike, called “Pays Mort” (“Dead Country”) by the opponents of newly minted dictator of Niger, was only a partial success. Niamey shops and vendors were open, though they complained of slow business. Reports from the CDS-RAHAMA party stronghold of Zinder said that it the town was largely closed up. The notion that merchants would have stayed home and risked both government attention and a loss of a day’s sales seem overly optimistic in this poor nation, still months from the first harvests. There will no doubt be other strikes in the coming weeks, as the unions are politically united on this issue, for perhaps the first time since 1991. Saturday’s March in Niamey — there are few international reports on activity outside Niamey — was peaceful and in the tens of thousands.

But the attention of the last few days has been less on the resistance of the opposition than the cracks appearing in the apparatus of the state itself.

One of my new favorite French verbs is “desolidariser”, and it’s one that has been repeatedly applied to the courts, institutions, and the president’s political allies over the last two weeks. It means what you’d think, and captures something hard to describe in English political jargon.

The most dramatic example of this crumbling of support for the President has been in the justice system. Following the ban of Dounia Group’s TV and Radio network, a remarkable document was released by six of the eleven members of the High Council for Comunications (CSC), claiming the ban on Dounia had not come from anything resembling the proper channels, but was a unilateral decision taken by the CSC’s head, Daouda Diallo. Just as remarkable, the Supreme Court stepped in and overturned the ban.

The CSC has an interesting history, but suffice for the moment to note that it has been assumed for some time that orders from “above” were really how sanctions on broadcasters were determined. That even members of this body would be outraged enough to go public — after taking part in the Moussa Kaka affair and other such dirty business — suggests something beyond a “cleavage” in the ruling elite.  That Dounia is especially identified with renegade ruling party supporters of Hama Amadou, and thus a frequent target of the government over the last two years, gives a better idea that this conflict has an internecine coloring.

The same day (Thursday), the Niamey court of First Instance threw out the detention of opposition spokesman Marou Amadou, calling the charges he was inciting insurrection without merit.

On 4 July, Tandja named a “new” Constitutional Court of loyalists. A quasi-legal structure was created for the (now) seven member court, but the constitutional structure of the court, and it’s prescription of certain members chosen by certain professional groups was scrapped. Of course, there is zero constitutional basis for this: they’re just making things up at this point.   Prior to this one could argue — with some difficulty but an appearance of honest disagreement — that the President’s actions were down to a difference of interpretation of the constitution. This was the first public act that had no constitutional basis whatsoever.

And he’s continued, ordering “revisions” of the constitution of how the electoral commission functions and how elections will take place.

Decree as he might, someone has to agree to obey these orders.  Tandja must be concerned about just this. On 6 July he showed up for a speech and photo op with the corps of Nigerien Magistrates, who voiced their support for him in much the same way Zimbabwean professional bodies until recently voiced their unwavering support for President Mugabe. Tandja appointed a new set of (presumably) loyalist judges at all levels of the judicial system, but the fate of the previous judges was not detailed.  Most were noted as “Called to other duties”. The Magistrates in attendance even dressed the President in the ermine robes of a judge; the final insult to both practitioners of law and the family Mustelidae.

The MNSD Nassara politicial party can also be added to institutions which protest their loyalty too much. An effusive 2 July statement by their Political Bureau which pledged undying fidelity to Tandja’s “grand works” was notably not released by President of the Party, Prime Minister of Niger Seyni Oumarou. This was about as convincing as the statement of “political neutrality” scripted by the Minister of Defense and read by the Army spokesman last week. If power must organize public shows of support by these groups, there’s something terribly wrong.

The RDP, one of only two other parties to cling to Tandja’s referendum plan is also showing cracks.  The former party of Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara, the RDP’s raison d’etre for straggling on, is the obvious cover up in the murder of the former ruler.  It’s desire to see the end of the Fifth Republic, with it’s constitutional amnesty for those involved in President Baré’s death, is its central ideological tenet.  But the RDP’s prior public support for Tandja’s referendum tempered for the first time, demanding a promise that any plan for a new constituion would have to explicitly revoke the 1999 amnesty for them to support it.  Of course, the army (and perhaps even Tandja) would suffer in any prosecution of Baré’s murder, and would never allow this.  Leading members have apparently split from the already small party, some for Hama Amadou’s new grouping and some for the opposition.  Leading Baré Maïnassara’s relatives have also proportedly left the RDP, striking an existential blow.

Hama’s new group, the pithily named “MODEN/FA Lumana-Africa” (and that’s just the acronym),  has claimed many adherents have rallied to them, including whole sections of the ruling MNSD party.  It’s impossible to tell if this is just bluster, but that it remains an open question is a bad sign for Tandja.  He increasingly is looking like a one man show.

One commentator has recommended that outside pressure, with very pointed statements from Sarkozy and Abdou Diouf coming in recent days, will be the end of Tandja. And while this foreign opposition will make his project difficult, it will not make it impossible. I point, again, to the regime of Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara. In a much weaker economic situation, Baré survived almost three years following the cut off of aid, and even more stern threats by international donors and regional bodies. But Baré chiseled them down with unfree elections, and changing his title from Colonel (via General) to President, and the doffing of fatigues for a suit.  The foreign opposition made his governance difficult, but it did not stop it.

It was two years of a constant barrage of civil society groups and political leaders protesting and withholding their participation that made the 4th Republic so clearly a dysfunctional sham, and brought it to a grinding halt. It was this gridlock that convinced the Army Baré had to go.

Foreign opposition can turn up the pressure, but in the end Niger has Uranium that France needs and trade that its neighbors need, and they’ll learn to deal with anyone in charge.

It is Nigeriens, by seeing to it that the 4 August referendum is ignored and that Tandja’s rule by decree is disobeyed, who will make Tandja’s “Fifth and a Half Republic” impossible.

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