Burdened and ousted President of the Republic of Niger, Mohammed Bazoum writes from the claws of the military junta who took his government.
“I am writing this as a hostage. Niger is being attacked by a military junta that is trying to overthrow our democracy, and I am only one of the hundreds of citizens who have been arbitrarily and illegally imprisoned. This coup, launched against my government by a military faction on July 26, has no justification. If it succeeds, it will have devastating consequences for our country, our region and the whole world.
“Our government came to power thanks to democratic elections in 2021. Any attempt to overthrow a legitimate government must be fought, and we appreciate the firm and unequivocal condemnations of this cynical effort to undermine Niger’s remarkable progress in democracy. The United States, the African and European Unions and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have said loud and clear: this coup must stop and the junta must release all those they have illegally arrested.
“The conspirators of the coup d’État wrongly claim that they acted to protect Niger’s security. They claim that our war against jihadist terrorists has failed and that my economic and social governance, including partnerships with the United States and Europe, has harmed our country.
“In fact, Niger’s security situation has improved dramatically, facilitated by the very partnerships the junta opposes. Foreign aid makes up 40 percent of our national budget, but it will not be delivered if the coup succeeds.
“To the south, where we face the terrorist group Boko Haram, there have been almost no attacks for two years, and refugees are returning to their villages. As a testament to this reality, our partners, including the U.S. Agency for International Development, are shifting their operations from humanitarian aid to development initiatives such as building sustainable energy, improving agricultural productivity and educating the next generation of Nigerien leaders.
“The country’s north and west have likewise suffered no major attacks since I took office in 2021. Thanks to our allies’ support and training from partners, including the Indiana National Guard, Niger is now the safest it has been in the past 15 years.
“Notably, Niger’s security situation is significantly better than that of our neighbors Mali and Burkina Faso, whose governments, both installed by military takeovers, support the illegal coup. Rather than addressing security concerns by strengthening their own capacity, they employ criminal Russian mercenaries such as the Wagner Group at the expense of their people’s rights and dignity.
“My government has been similarly successful in terms of economic and social governance. After a slow recovery from covid-19 in 2021, our per capita growth rate more than tripled to 7.4 percent last year.
“2022 was Niger’s first year without a single school day lost to strikes from teachers or students. Workers did not go on strike in any major sector, and my administration signed landmark agreements with unions to create a safer and more stable working environment across the nation.
“In March, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Niger ‘a model of resilience, a model of democracy, a model of cooperation.’
“We cannot afford to lose this momentum. Recognizing the threat that Niger’s potential fall poses to the region, our neighbors in ECOWAS have announced unprecedented sanctions, including a ban on exports and imports of oil, and a suspension of cross-border financial transactions.
“These measures are already demonstrating what a future would look like under an autocratic junta with no vision or reliable allies. The price of rice rose by 40 percent between Sunday and Tuesday, and some neighborhoods have begun to report shortages of goods and electricity.
“With an open invitation from the coup plotters and their regional allies, the entire central Sahel region could fall to Russian influence via the Wagner Group, whose brutal terrorism has been on full display in Ukraine.
“Boko Haram and other terrorist movements will surely take advantage of Niger’s instability, using our country as a staging ground to attack neighboring countries and undermine peace, safety and freedom around the world. They will ramp up their efforts to target our youths with hateful anti-Western indoctrination, turning them against the very partners who are helping us build a more hopeful future.”
“In our hour of need, I call on the U.S. government and the entire international community to help us restore our constitutional order. Fighting for our shared values, including democratic pluralism and respect for the rule of law, is the only way to make sustainable progress against poverty and terrorism. The Nigerien people will never forget your support at this pivotal moment in our history.”