Saturday, February 20, 2010

Is the UN and African Union Taking The Wrong Side in Niger Coup?

Is the United Nations and the African Union taking the wrong side in the Niger coup? They want to see a return to power of President Mamadou Tandja, who had been busy ignoring the Niger Constitution and its term limits requirements all while accumulating power beyond the scope of his authority. He was on the verge of becoming a president for life, and yet the UN and African Union want to see a return to the status quo - restoring Tandja to power?

Sorry, but I don't think that is in the best interests of the people of Niger. Residents were increasingly unsatisifed with Tandja, especially after he basically rewrote the Constitution to his liking:
The junta has vowed to turn Niger into "an example of democracy" after Tandja stayed in office past his legal mandate, which expired in December. But the country's new rulers have not said how long they will hold power and some worry the move could increase the uranium-rich country's isolation.

Residents, at least those in the capital, appeared to overwhelmingly support the military action.

Tandja had grown deeply unpopular here after pushing through a referendum in August that established a new constitution which removed presidential term limits. It also gave him greatly boosted powers and an unprecedented three-year extension of his rule before another round of elections could be held.

Before the referendum, Tandja had been criticized for imposing rule by decree and dissolving parliament and the constitutional court because they opposed his plan to stay in power past his legal Dec. 22 mandate.

"We're proud of our military!" screamed one woman at Saturday's rally, where demonstrators held up hastily made signs scrawled with the words: "Long Live the Army."

"Tandja let everything go," said Amadou Madi, a 27-year-old electrician. "He was a thief and a crook. Our military was right to remove him."

Tandja first rose to power in democratic elections in 1999 that were organized by a military junta which took control that year. Many of the military masterminds responsible for organizing that ballot also took part in Thursday's coup, apparently disillusioned with Tandja's refusal to step down.
Note too that Tandja himself came to power in 1999 as a result of a coup earlier that year.

Yet, at some point the UN and African Union came to recognize him as the legitimate leader of Niger. This too will likely be the outcome of elections held to replace Tandja by Salou Djibo, who was named head of the junta, which calls itself the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy.

If the junta can arrange open elections within short order to reestablish a democracy in the country, this would be a good thing for Niger. However, it would be even better if we see a series of free and open elections among competitive candidates as a single election in and of itself is not a sign of a fully functioning democracy.

For the people of Niger it means that they have to hope for the best with the junta and that they live up to their name - that they truly do reestablish a democracy in Niger. It also means that the country has to do a much better job going forward of controlling one of its most precious natural resources - and a prime reason why the situation in Niger has global consequences - the third largest supply of uranium in the world.

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