Niger: Coup against Tandja

Nigerien Armored Cars, 2008

One of two types of armored cars used by the Niger Military

Reports began at coming in shortly before 9AM in NY (2PM UK, 3 PM Niamey) of sounds of weapons fire and smoke coming from the Presidential Palace in Niamey. The fighting was said to have begun around 1PM Niamey time (7AM NY) and had continued for 30 minutes. Reuters is saying the weekly Council of Ministers was captured by soldiers, including President Tandja, but that shooting has continued irregularly. There were later reported at least three military deaths when an armored car was destroyed by a heavy weapon. As the day has progressed, it has become accepted that the coup was successful, and that Tandja and his ministers are being held somewhere in the capitol. But remember that after the 1999 coup in which Ibrahim Baré Maïnassara was killed by his own guard, the military reported for some days that the deposed President was being held in a safe location. Later they were forced to admit that he was shot with an anti-aircraft gun at the opening of the coup.

(See updates below)

All eyes must turn to the fate of Nigerien Chief of General Staff (and two time coup officer) General Boureima “Tchanga” Moumouni. He, along with other top officers, were named in a Jeune Afrique article last year that alleged President Tandja was paying them sizable cash sums on a weekly basis in exchange for their loyalty. (See updates below: it was later reported that he too was arrested by coup troops)

Regardless of who is involved or if it is successful (Niger has had over 30 coup attempts but only 3 successful coups since 1960) this will dramatically change Niger’s governance.

Friday Morning (Niamey). I’ve posted (above) the fullest video I have found CSRD statement. Here’s my analysis on what we have seen and might see in the coming days.

First, the fate of the defeated: we need to see Tandja and all his ministers safe. If they are to be prosecuted, it must not be by the military.

A blanket return to the Constitution of the 1999 Fifth Republic, which Tandja unilaterally and illegally ended last May might be my fondest wish, but I doubt it would happen. Constitutionally, the Assembly can’t be reinstated, as there was a 90 day window from its dissolution to do so, but the constitutional court (which Tandja illegally dismissed) could be re-instated tomorrow. Elections for National Assembly and President (term ended December 23 2009) could be quickly held and legally, things could return to normal. But I doubt that will happen. I think we are looking at a repeat on 1999, when there was a cooling off period, followed by a gathering of appointed politicians from all parties to write a new constitution with minor changes, and then a quick referendum and elections.

Next, personnel. I can not identify most officers there. Most are Green bereted Army, with Gendarme, FNIS (interior Paramilitary, Red Beret) and I think one Douanes officer (customs). Colonel Djibrilla Hima ” Pélé” Hamidou is hovering over the spokesman’s shoulder, and he’s a favorite from outsiders to lead the junta. Colonel Abdoulaye Harouna was identified by someone else. He was Major/General Daouda Malam Wanké‘s aide de camp after the 1999 coup, and is the Niger head of the ECOWAS quick reaction force. [Link to a Le Sahel article, he’s in the middle of the photo] Note that Reuters and elsewhere misidentify Major Djibrilla Adamou Harouna, who apparently led the assault on the Presidential Palace, as the head of this force. Wrong Harouna (a VERY common name).

The obvious absences, as we noted, are Tandja’s military chief General de Division Moumouni Boureima, and General Maï Manga Oumara, Tandja’s military aide. They are the exceptions, and that tells us a lot. What we appear to be seeing here is continuity: fairly powerful members of the armed forces shaving off the handful closest to Tandja.Christophe Boisbouvier’s “Tandja face à l’armée” article of December 2009 makes quite clear the lengths (in large cash payments) Tandja had to go to to maintain military loyalty amongst General Boureima and the very highest staff. I would not now be surprised to see military “insiders” like Colonel Garba Maikido, Maj Soumaila Garba, and Colonel Salifou Mody among the new junta. The last two were previously tight with Bouremina, but also were stationed with “Pele” in the north during the Tuareg Insurgency. Salifou Mody (sometimes “Modi”) was also on Wanke’s 1999 junta. Other officers from that time to look for: Lawel Kore (who recently was in charge of Customs Police), Abbdoulaye Mounkaila, and Maman Souley. Who we’d be surprised to see were the men Boisbouvier fingered as getting the biggest payoffs from Tandja: Col. Seyni Garba, Boureima’s Aide de Camp; General Mamadou Ousseini, Army chief; and General Seyni Salou, Air Force Chief.

It will also be interesting to see if these two power brokers switch sides: Former “commissaire de police” Issoufou Sako who is said to be the man with the files on everyone, and Tandja’s National Security Advisor Abdou Kaza. Both should “know where the bodies are buried”, in some cases literally as men like Djibrilla Hima ” Pélé” Hamidou were accused by Tuareg fighters of caring out murders of civilians during the 2007-2009 Tuareg Rebellion.Now, what was said. The statement announced a nighttime curfew and the closing of borders. They said three soldiers were killed and 10 wounded. They said Tandja was safe. The rhetoric matches the name of the Junta: the “Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy”. While there were no specifics, they promised a return to democratic rule and for Niger to “once again be an example of constitutional government”.

While this all sounds very hopeful, even Wanke’s exemplary eight month transition to a new constitution and elected President seemed touch and go at moments, with testy crack downs on opposition press, and the blanket immunity from prosecution for soldiers that committed crimes. There were moments when that transition might have slid back into dictatorship, and the same is true now. We are looking at a tense coming year.

Updates, newest on top

  • Interestingly, you may remember Colonel Goukoye Abdoulkarim ( also spelled Goukoye Abdul Karimou) as the unfortunate spokesman for the Army who had to readout a press release shortly after Tandja suspended the constitution last year. At the time Goukoye Abdoulkarim pledged that the Army would remain neutral and above all political fights. Read that statement From an AFP report of June 30 2009. As a Lt.-Col. in July 2007, he read also out the current government line damning the Tuareg insurgency as being “backed by foreign forces.” I am sensing continuity of institutions here.
  • 17:00 NY/ 23:00 Niamey : We have no other part of the statement yet, but I’ll translate what I can find. Le Monde pads out the AFP wire with some quotes from residents of Niamey. One woman says that no one saw any soldiers away from the palace move to take part in the coup or fight it. Not a ringing endorsement for either side.
  • 16:50 NY/ 22:50 Niamey : AFP reporting the first broadcast of the new government. Col. Goukoye Abdoulakarim:

    “The Conseil suprême pour la restauration de la démocratie (CSDR), of which I am the spokesman, has decided on the suspension of the constitution of the sixth republic and the dissolving of all institutions which it created.”

  • France 24 has the first photos of the Presidential Palace with RPG or cannon damage. They’ve also been looping footage of civilians panicking near the Petit Marche (I assume) from around 13:00 Niamey time for several hours. Their coverage has been well linked in to French government sources in Niamey. I do have to take issue with Douglas Yates (teaches in Paris, Gabon expert, quite clever) who they interview. He claims the political opposition must be behind this because they stand to benefit. This seems unlikely, as their clumsy attempts last year to start a coup failed, and that’s not how Nigerien coups have happened in the past (well, MAYBE 1999, but that’s debatable). Coups tend to be clean sweeps of the top of the political class, to which elements of the previous political class are later lured as junior members. I would point the inter-military conflict (younger officers against older), especially as the top officers are all quite publicly on the take, and may not be sharing. As things tightened up financially, I can’t see the lower ranks benefiting much. It’s not a surprise that the Council of Ministers prior to this (last week) more than tripled base recruit pay from less than 3k CFA a month to 10k, and named a man seen as a Boureima loyalist to inspector of the Army. There have been many shuffles in the FAN over the last year, and this speaks to the rivalries in the ranks. Now, did politicians (both Nigerien and foreign) try to spark this coup? Likely yes. But look to the internal dynamics to see why it happened now.
The Niamey Presidential Palace, late afternoon rocket damage

The first image, from AFP and used by France 24, of damage to the Palace.

  • 15:20 NY/ 21:20 Niamey : Les Afriques has run with the story that Colonel Djibrilla Hima ” Pélé” Hamidou is the “New Strong Man of Niger”. It reports that Tandja is being held, and Pélé (biopic below) also arrested General Boureima at his residence. Le Pays (via Fasozine) is also claiming Tandja is safely held by the coup, but points to an anonymous press release as the source of Major Adamou Harouna’s leadership. Neither of these can be confirmed, but Les Afriques says we’ll get an announcement at 20 hours GMT, which has past. Les Afriques also claims the armored force came out of Zinder.
  • 15:00 NY/ 21:00 Niamey : The Nigerian interim president and just reconfirmed ECOWAS head Goodluck Johnathan has condemned the coup, according to the Osun Defender. Still reports that TV and Radio are waiting on an announcement, and all the cabinet is being held at an undisclosed location, according to Paris.
  • Tandja is reportedly held either in the CSC (communications) headquarters or the Tondibiya military camp south of town. France 24 is claiming that Major Adamou Harouna is the the son of the more famous Col. Adamou Harouna. Col. Harouna took part in the 1974 coup, having joined the FAN from the French Army in 1960. He served under the military regime of Seyni Kountché. He was promoted up to colonel, made military prefect (governor) of Niamey from 1979-81, Dosso from 81-83, but then fell out with the General, as most officers he was threatened by did. He was thrown into jail in 1983 on treason charges, but released and rehabilitated after Kountché’s death in 1987. He was appointed chief of veterans affairs (a military post) in 1988. About his son, I assume we will discover much more in the coming days.
  • 13:30 hours NY/19:30 hours Niamey : Nigeriens are reporting the coups HAS succeed, is holding the (former) President Tandja, and is led by a Major Adamou Harouna. Other floated names: A Capt. Saley and Colonel Djibrilla Hima ” Pélé” Hamidou. Conflicting reports claim that Boureima is either behind these officers, or they rose up AGAINST Boureima.
  • 13 hours NY/19 hours Niamey : Unconfirmed and anonymous reports say Radio Sahel is in the hands of the Coup troops and is playing “patriotic music”. The rumor is that the nightly news, broadcast about now, will clear up who’s in charge.
  • 12:43 NY time : Reuters is reporting out of Paris that Tandja is being held by coup troops. The source is a French Diplomatic official: “There is still some confusion but it seems that President Tandja and his ministers are in the hands of mutinous soldiers, that they are being held.” A civilian expat in Niamey is reporting that there is still no statements by local media or government.
  • 12:30 NY time : AFP reports the story of a witness who saw a 3-4 soldiers killed when their armored car was hit by heavy fire. They are the only known dead so far. It remains unclear who won the firefight at the Palace, and were the President is.
  • 11:50 NY A Jeune Afrique report is also naming Pélé as the man leading the coup attempt. Some sources are quoting witnesses who say the coup was successful, others quote witnesses who say the opposite.
  • Email rumor says the the coup troops were led by Colonel Djibrilla Hima ” Pélé” Hamidou. Djibrilla was spokesman for the 1999 coup who was famously kidnapped by lower level troops led by Commandant Namata Samna Boubé in June 2000. Released, (and three soldiers imprisoned until 2008) Djibrilla was reportedly close to Boureima, put in charge of armored troops, and fought against the recent northern insurgency. In 2008 he was moved to command Zone de Defense 1 (Niamey), and in 2009 moved to head the Army football team (ASFAN) and then the Niger Football Federation, while retaining his commission. There’s no proof yet he was really involved, but he’s an obvious choice.
  • 11:30 NY time: France 24 TV just reported that witnesses say the soldiers who stormed the Presidential Palace “left with the President”.
  • 15:30 GMT: Reuters now is quoting a French Diplomatic source saying that the coup was “short lived” and “an attempted coup d’etat” which had been contained in the barracks of the Presidential Guard. Another source said that they traveled across the city at 15:00 GMT and without seeing any military personnel.
  • Paris demande aux Français de rester chez eux AFP. It seems the only two reporters on the ground are from Reuters (Abdoulaye Massalatchi) and BBC (Idy Baraou). France is telling the ~500 Europeans in Niamey to stay inside. Reuters is the only one reporting the President is captured, but all the sources are now talking of heavy weapons being used against the palace at the beginning of the fighting, and military blocking streets across the Plateau of north central Niamey, home to government offices, embassies, etc.
  • Niger’s leader Mamadou Tandja ‘held by soldiers’
  • Reuters 2:28 PM GMT
  • The BBC is reporting four military installations within a mile of the Palace. This just scratches the surface. The Armed forces of Niger (FAN) include the Army, Air Force, the FNIS (a paramilitary force controlled through the Ministry of the Interior), the Gendarmerie (in charge or rural policing and government installations), the Police Nationale (engaged in what we would think of as civil policing), the Medical Corps, and the reserves. There is a Joint Staff, which was expected to answer to the Minister of Defense under the old 5th Republic, but in practice answers directly to the President. This is General Boureima. The Army (Armee de Terre, excluding Air/police/FINS), below him, is divided into 8 “Defense Zone” commands, roughly matching the Regions. Zone 1 (Niamey and Tillabery) is headquartered in Niamey, commanded by Gen. Mamane Ousseini. General Maï Manga Oumara is the presidential military adviser (Chef d’Etat-major particulier) and I believe also commands the President’s guard: the Republican Gard, formerly the Presidential Guard.  This had been a Tuareg unit under president Diori, and fought the 1974 coup.  It was thereafter disbanded. Most FAN administration is run from the large Tondibiya military and police complex near the Airport, south of the city center, where the training school is located, along with the Army hospital and the Gendarme training school.
  • Reuters is reporting a Niamey Police claim that “the attackers came from outside the city in armored vehicles.” The small armored units of the FAN are based in Tahoua, a couple of hours (at least) to the northeast.

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