General Tchiani Blazes as Niger’s New Leader Following Military Coup

  • General Tchiani is Niger’s new leader after a successful military coup.
  • The coup faced strong regional opposition. 
  • This leaves regional implications and tests US and French interests in Africa. 
General Tchiani’s X account screenshot

Why is General Tchiani blazing?

Answer: Three weeks ago, a military coup led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani successfully removed then-sitting President Mohamed Bazoum as the leader of Niger and placed him under house arrest.

On July 26th, the National Council for Safeguarding the Country military junta led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani, the head of the Presidential Guard unit, ousted the Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum in a successful military coup d ́etat. During the military coup, President Bazoum and his family were captured and placed under house arrest, where they remain in what has been deemed inhumane conditions. Since his capture, General Tchiani has announced the prosecution of Bazoum for carrying out acts of treason and undermining national security, and the nine-man military junta replaced President Bazoum with General Tchiani as the new leader of the country.

Tchiani then went ahead to announce on public television that he would carry out a three-year transition of power from his military government to a civilian one, giving no indication that he would step down sooner. This has warranted international outcry, as leaders in African countries and globally have called for the removal of General Tchiani from power and the release of ex-President Bazoum. 

The coup marks a clear shift in the region, as Niger now becomes the most recent of West African countries to see a change in government through military coup in three years, following in Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea’s footsteps.

What is changing Tchiani’s temperature?

Answer: Amidst international criticism, General Tchiani is also being pressured by ECOWAS, who both want to see him removed from power and President Bazoum reinstated. Still, Tchiani retains support nationally and from some of his neighbors. 

Niger’s neighbouring countries and the international community have condemned the coup d’etat, calling it an illegitimate transition of power, and have called for the reinstatement of President Bazoum and constitutional order. Support for the release of Bazoum and his family is also being lauded by these actors. ECOWAS, of which Niger is a member, has been among the first to denounce the coup and initiate talks of military intervention. It has, however, failed to take any action in this regard due to internal disagreements on how to respond to the coup d’etat. 

On the one hand, some neighboring country leaders are concerned that the interaction of their national military in Niger could potentially spread intent to carry out their own coup d’etats, while, on the other hand, the international community, and specifically France and the United States, push for military intervention and the removal of General Tchiani by force.

The culmination of these disagreements is such that the organization opted for a diplomatic course of action instead, and three weeks after the coup, ECOWAS sent an envoy of delegates to Niamey, the nation’s capital, to meet with President Bazoum and General Tchiani. 

The culmination of these talks and the diplomatic route left Tchiani with enough leverage to make a statement that he would maintain power for the next three years and still be able to receive support from neighboring leaders Colonel Assimi Goïta of Mali and Ibrahim Traoré of Burkina Faso, two countries that have experienced coup d’etats in 2021 and 2022. They declared that any intervention from ECOWAS would be seen as an act of war against not only Niger but Mali and Burkina Faso too.

Both nations preemptively sent patrolling fighter jets to the border of Niger in the chance of military intervention and a delegation to meet with Tchiani in the country’s capital. Similarly, internally many citizens support General Tchiani and the overthrow of ex-President Bazoum, claiming that he was unable to shield the country from the threat of jihadist terrorism spreading in the region, despite the fact that Niger has seen less violence over the past year than before Bazoum took office. Nonetheless, it fuels public sentiment. 

Meanwhile, ECOWAS and some Western countries, have enforced economic sanctions on Niger as additional pressure for regime change. As such, Tchiani is ultimately left overseeing a nation that is facing strategic challenges. The sanctions have resulted in crippling blackouts, and food shortages, cooling down his temperature from blazing to hot. 

The country has seen almost all state assets frozen and all commercial transactions and financial assistance suspended from the United States, France, the European Union and the West African Monetary and Financial Union. For Niger, being one of the largest recipients of development aid from western countries, this could be crippling for the economy as they could default on their debt repayments. This means that the internal support Tchiani is receiving now, may not be maintained for long as Nigeriens struggle financially.

What is driving General Tchiani?

Answer: After forty years of service, General Tchiani has moved from protecting the President to replacing him, moving from a military man to leader of the country,

Abdourahmane Tchiani was recruited into the military of Niger over forty years ago from the western region of Tillaberec, a popular recruitment area in Niger. Here, he climbed the ranks of his career, notably supporting international missions under the UN Peacekeeping Unit in Sudan, the Ivory Coast, and the Democratic Republic of Congo and working as part of a strike group against the militant group Boko Haram. He also got chosen to be the Nigerien military attache to Germany relatively early in his career and, in 2011, became part of the Presidential Guard, the military unit that protects the sitting President most closely. 

Finally, in 2021, Tchiani helped prevent a coup d’etat that would topple then-President Mahamadou Issoufou one day before President Bazoum was supposed to be sworn in. With all this experience under his belt, when President Bazoum assumed power in February of 2021, the first time Niger had seen a democratic transition of power since its independence, General Tchiani remained on the Presidential Guard and was entrusted to protect Bazoum. 

It has been speculated that what led him to the coup d’etat were rumors of his forced early retirement and him not wanting to rescind power. However, General Tchiani was close to ex-President Issoufou, who also promoted him in 2018, and with successful military coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, saw this as an opportunity to maintain and aggregate more power. 

Now that he is in this position, Tchiani has made it clear that he will not step down, regardless of the economic sanctions and diplomatic pressures which he deems illegal and inhumane, and will release a step-by-step plan for the transition to a civilian government in the next three years. 

What does this mean for you?

Answer: Niger has long been regarded as the beacon of democracy in the West African region. Now, the West may lose its regional allies and France’s grip on francophone Africa continues to slip.

Niger has long been regarded as an ally of the Western world as a strategic base to fight jihadist extremism, as a transit route from Africa to Europe and as one of the largest uranium exporters on the continent.  As such an important and strategic ally to the West, up until the coup d’etat, Niger received millions of dollars of economic aid and investments from donors, including the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and the European Union. However, by cutting all financial aid to Niger, these five countries have found a way to punish Tchiani and the country for straying from democratic principles, an action that could result in economic distress nationwide.

Once the colonial power in the region, France has also been receiving ample backlash during the coup for its influence in the region and on regional political architecture such as ECOWAS, fuelled by Tchiani and his new regime. As Tchiani gains more power and legitimacy in the country, anti-French rhetoric gets louder and so does pro-Russian influence

Similar trends have been witnessed across Mali and Burkina Faso, two French ex-colonies that have experienced coup d’etats in the past three years and who have now opened up their arms to Russia’s assistance in the region. If the regional trend is to repeat itself, the West is at risk of losing their military bases in the region and losing out to Russian influence. 

These countries may also fear their loosening grip on Niger militarily, as the United States and France hold two of the biggest military bases in the country, and seeing what happened to the French military in Mali after the coup d’etat, asking them to leave, questions arise whether this will be the same for France in Niger. This would wholly undermine the West’s fight against ISIS in the region, as Niger is the last standing country with military vantage to lead this fight.

Arielle Combrinck

Research & Analysis Member