General Abdourahmane Tchiani, also known as Abdourahmane Tchiani or Omar Tchiani, addressed the nation of Niger in a televised speech on July 28, 2023, explaining the motives behind the recent coup. Once engaged in peacekeeping endeavors in conflict-affected nations, General Abdourahmane Tchiani has now ignited a significant crisis in West Africa by orchestrating a coup in Niger.
Previously operating in relative obscurity and with limited recognition beyond his immediate circle, he held the position of commander of Niger’s presidential guard. Emerging from the shadows, he displaced the man he was tasked with safeguarding – President Mohamed Bazoum.
General Tchiani proclaimed himself the leader of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, the military junta established after seizing power on July 26.
Meanwhile, the deposed president remains under house arrest, sporadically maintaining contact with international leaders via telephone but otherwise isolated.
General Tchiani has thus far rebuffed suggestions of compromise. While he has avoided most international envoys, he met with Nigeria’s former central bank governor and former Emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi, on Wednesday. However, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland’s visit to Niger on Monday failed to secure a meeting with the 62-year-old general.
The junta rejected entry to a delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and postponed a planned joint mission by ECOWAS, the African Union (AU), and the United Nations (UN) envoys, citing security concerns.
General Tchiani’s behavior aligns with his reputation for being resolute and reticent. He was absent from a massive rally organized by the junta in Niger’s capital, Niamey, on Sunday. Since the coup, he has made only three appearances on television and has spoken on two occasions – once to declare himself Niger’s new leader and once for an Independence Day address.
Questions linger about the future of this crisis. Will ECOWAS, whose governance and democracy protocol Niger is a signatory to, initiate a military intervention as it has threatened? Or will the West African bloc await the gradual impact of sanctions in exerting pressure on the junta, particularly given opposition to military action within Nigeria and certain other ECOWAS states?
As uncertainties persist, General Tchiani seems to be adopting a long-term approach, perhaps influenced by the successes of coup leaders in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea in withstanding regional pressure.
The junta has introduced Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeini, a former finance minister and African Development Bank official, as the prime minister – a move indicating aspirations for an extended political transition.
While some analysts speculate whether the ousting of President Bazoum, from the minority Arab community, might instigate ethnic tensions, Niger’s strong sense of cross-cultural unity and national identity remains a powerful asset.
General Tchiani’s decisions, including publicly denouncing defense accords with former colonial power France and reportedly seeking assistance from the controversial Russian mercenary outfit Wagner, have intensified tensions with ECOWAS and Western governments.
Throughout his nearly 40-year career, General Tchiani received training from military academies in various countries. Ironically, he now risks military confrontation with ECOWAS by disregarding its ultimatum to return power to President Bazoum.
Despite his extensive experience, General Tchiani has not been directly involved in campaigns against militant groups in the region. His actions have taken him down a path of defiance against ECOWAS, and his newfound political and diplomatic skills will be pivotal as the confrontation unfolds.