“Niger, a key U.S. ally in Western Africa, is undergoing a political crisis that has raised questions about the United States’ role in fostering foreign militaries in the name of fighting terrorism.
On July 26, Niger’s presidential guards, headed by Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, detained Mohamed Bazoum, Niger’s democratically-elected president, and declared “an end to the regime that you know due to the deteriorating security situation and bad governance.” The new junta, officially titled the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, consolidated its control by suspending the constitution, dissolving all government institutions, and closing Niger’s borders.”
“The U.S. struck a similar tune as ECOWAS and the E.U., condemning Bazoum’s overthrow and calling for the restoration of Niger’s democracy while also suspending partnered activities with the Nigerien military. “We strongly condemn any effort to detain or subvert the functioning of Niger’s democratically elected government, led by President Bazoum,” said U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in a statement.
But unlike ECOWAS and the E.U., the U.S. has neglected to call the overthrow a “coup” to avoid the legal ramifications of that declaration. According to Section 7008 of the annual Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, the U.S. is prohibited from sending foreign aid “to the government of any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup d’état or decree,” with an exception if the aid “is in the national security interest of the United States.””
“The Biden administration’s reluctance to label the overthrow a coup is unsurprising considering the United States’ significant security commitment to Niger. Presently, Niger hosts 1,100 U.S. troops, an increase of 900 percent since 2013. Those troops train and support Nigerien soldiers and run a $110 million drone base, which the Nigerien junta has restricted. The U.S. has invested $158 million in arms sales and $122 million in security assistance to Niger since the Trump administration began.
“The U.S. has wanted to have a role in West Africa largely because of great power competition. Because of that, Niger is one of a few countries that receive a lot of U.S. military assistance,” says Jordan Cohen, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute. “The U.S. is unlikely to call it a coup because once it does that, that assistance has to freeze.””
“”Maybe the new government tries to cozy up to China, in which case I think the U.S. probably does cut security aid, but if the military is going to continue working with the United States, everybody’s going to forget about this and the aid will continue,” suggests Cohen.
Egypt provides a model for a junta that remained in the good graces of the United States. After Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown by the military in 2013 (which the U.S. never officially called a coup), the Obama administration suspended “only a couple hundred million dollars in U.S. military aid” while still maintaining the majority of the aid. In 2015, the administration restored Egypt’s aid to fight the Islamic State.”
“It’s also not clear that U.S. security aid benefits regional security, given the tendency for the U.S. military to train future coup leaders. “The Niger coup marks yet another occasion in which U.S.-trained military personnel—the officers that we are educating and training—have sponsored or directly supported an antidemocratic coup,” noted Emma Ashford, a senior fellow with the Reimagining U.S. Grand Strategy program at the Stimson Center, in an interview with Foreign Policy. “These aren’t just low-level troops who’ve been trained in combat techniques. These are often coup leaders, the cream of the crop of foreign militaries, trained here in the United States at our top service academies.”
“Part of what the U.S. spending on security assistance has done is fund hundreds of billions into the security forces, and that has contributed to this balance of powers in these governments,” adds Savell. “They have essentially given both military and security forces more power and more clout in comparison to other parts of the government.””
“First passed in 2003 under President George W. Bush, PEPFAR is a vehicle for distributing HIV/AIDS drugs to people in poor countries who wouldn’t otherwise have access to them. It has been astonishingly effective: The most recent US government estimates suggest it has saved as many as 25 million lives since its enactment. It is currently supporting treatment for over 20 million people who depend on the program for continued access to medication.
Given its success, PEPFAR has historically enjoyed bipartisan support. In 2018, Congress reauthorized PEPFAR for another five years without a fuss. But this time around, things look different. Some House Republicans, prodded by an array of influential groups, are threatening to block another five-year reauthorization. Their argument is pure culture war: that PEPFAR has become a vehicle for promoting abortion.
In reality, PEPFAR is legally prohibited from funding abortion services, and the argument against the program on anti-abortion grounds is very thin. But in today’s political climate, where the culture war reigns supreme on the right, this is enough to jeopardize the continued good functioning of a program that the Republican Party used to champion.”
“Gen. Abdourahamane Tchiani, the head of Niger’s presidential guard, with other members of Niger’s armed forces, on Friday declared himself head of a transitional government he called “the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland,” while international leaders and organizations including the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) strongly condemned the coup.”
“It’s the fifth successful military coup in Niger since its independence from France in 1960. A series of coups has toppled the governments of several African countries over the past three years, but Niger is a bit of an outlier among its neighbors, particularly due to the vociferous support Bazoum’s government has enjoyed. Though Niger, like many other West African nations, had suffered from poor economic growth and stunted democratic and public institutions, Bazoum’s tenure produced improvements in education and public health, as well as the security and economic outlooks compared with neighbors like Mali and Burkina Faso.”
“Tchiani’s claim to power rests on the idea that Bazoum’s government had failed to deal with the violent Islamist extremism that has festered in the region over the past decade. That claim has driven coups elsewhere in the region, such as Mali. Military leaders can present themselves as a strong security alternative in unstable and violent nations, but in the case of Niger, the security situation was actually improving, especially in relation to its neighbors in the Sahel region — the band of north-central Africa stretching from northern Senegal to Sudan.”
“Bazoum had reportedly tried to force Tchiani into retirement, as Daniel Eizenga, a research fellow at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, points out. “The coup justifications have no foundation to stand on in Niger,” Eizenga said, adding that the power grab seems to be due to “the egotistical motivations of this individual.”
Indeed, Tchiani did not initially have the full support of the armed forces, though he has since commandeered the endorsement of some of Niger’s military leaders. Civilian protests immediately after Tchiani’s takeover insisted that Bazoum be returned to office; however, as Eizenga told Vox, those protests were violently suppressed by the presidential guard, Tchiani’s unit, creating a “chilling effect” against further civilian protest.”
“Uganda is one of several African nations where it is illegal to be queer; the nation enacted its Anti-Homosexuality Act in 2014, which allowed for life imprisonment for some homosexual acts between consenting adults, and codified the repression of LGBTQ Ugandans. That legislation was annulled in court in 2014, though homosexuality was still illegal per previous law, according to a Human Rights Watch report.”