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The coup in Niger is a blow to democracy in the West African country


A coup in Niger this week has thrown that West African nation into turmoil. Members of the military there announced they had seized power and detained President Mohamed Bazoum. The group imposed a curfew that closed the country's borders and said the constitution had been dissolved. A general who had led Bazoum's own presidential guard declared he is the country's new leader. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that American aid in Niger may be in, quote, "jeopardy."

Ambassador Rama Yade is senior director of the Atlantic Council's Africa Center. She previously served as France's ambassador to UNESCO. Ambassador Yade, thanks so much for being with us.

RAMA YADE: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: President Bazoum was elected two years ago in what I understand was the country's first peaceful democratic transfer of power since it gained independence from France. What led to this coup? Do you know?

YADE: I think that we cannot talk about the popularity of the soldiers. That's not the case. People are questioning the way the struggle against the jihadist movements are led. And I think it's very important to take into consideration that point. The weakness of governments is the key element that explains this coup because it's not the first one. In three years, Niger is the third country in West Africa to experience a coup d'etat. So that means that these coups seem very easy and very quick.

SIMON: So your assessment of the situation would be that the military was concerned about the lack of security in the country, and citizens were concerned, too?

YADE: Yeah, and bad governance also. The war in this area has been lasting for two decades now. And many civilian populations consider that the government have not been very efficient. And they are always suffering from the terrorist attacks, but also from the weakness of the state. There is no public services in these areas, no security, no justice. And all things considered, when a coup happens, populations seem to applaud because they consider that maybe they could do better.

SIMON: Ambassador, what could this coup mean for the people of Niger?

YADE: The unknown because nothing can tell us if they are supported by the civilians. A part of the population demonstrated in the streets to express support. But it does not mean that the vast majority of the country is behind them. Now, the question is for the Western countries - should they still continue to support Niger with this new power, or should they withdraw their support?

SIMON: Would that in theory tilt the new rulers of Niger to strike up a closer relationship with Russia?

YADE: Yeah, that's a good question. Russia is really motivated to prove that it is not isolated on the global stage. And Russia has been able to use a part of the African continent as a rear base to contain Western economic sanctions and rebuild its forces, thanks to the predatory companies of Wagner. And they are established in Central African Republic, in Mali, whose gold, diamonds, sugar serve as a good way to restore forces when they are involved in the Ukrainian ground.

SIMON: Remind us why Niger is so strategically important to the United States and France, for that matter.

YADE: Bazoum was the last strongman of the Sahel, supported by the Westerns in his fight against terrorism, first, and resistance to Russia, second. That's a lot for one man. On the economic front, it's also important to understand that Niger is a very rich country where you can find a lot of resources very important for energy power. On the military front, Niger has had a very important role in the counterterrorism strategy led by France and the U.S. but also by the Europeans.

SIMON: Ambassador Yade, what would be the best state of affairs for Niger at this point?

YADE: At this point - I mean, next days will be very informative. You know, I think the reactions of the populations will be key. For the time being, we have seen a lot of demonstrations supporting or demonstrators supporting Bazoum, the legal government, but also the new junta without knowing what will be the final political outcome. What's going on here in the Sahel will have an impact not only on Africa but also, I think, in Ukraine, Europe and on the global stage.

SIMON: Ambassador Rama Yade is senior director of the Atlantic Council's Africa Center and senior fellow for the Europe Center. Thank you so much for being with us, Ambassador.

YADE: You're welcome. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.