LAST week’s coup in Niger, Nigeria’s northern neighbour, had been foretold since 2008, when 72_year_old Mamadou Tandja began manipulating the constitution to ensure he was in power forever.

It is not surprising that thousands of people from the poor country, yet the world’s third largest producer of uranium – the key metal for nuclear energy production, with its enriched version used for nuclear weapons – hit the streets in celebration of military intervention.

Niger is another proof that democracy in most African countries remains fragile, as elected governments side step constitutional barriers to remain in power. Col Salou Djibo was named head of Niger’s military government. He has promised to restore democracy, the usual military claim when it takes over power.

The international community (the European Union, EU, the United Nations, UN, and the Economic Community of West African States, ECOWAS) has condemned the coup. The African Union suspended Niger’s membership; ECOWAS had suspended Niger since last October.

A widely criticised constitutional referendum last August removed all controls on Tandja’s authority. A referendum to limit the constitution went on against the opposition from parties in Niger and the international community. It abolished term limits, and gave Tandja three more years in power without an election.

When Niger’s Constitutional Court ruled the referendum was illegal, Tandja abolished the court and appointed new members of his choice.

The Inter_Niger dialogue ECOWAS initiated under former Nigerian President General Abdulsalami Abubakar as mediator could not persuade Tandja otherwise. Tandja executed his first coup in 1974 and served as Minister of Interior. He was voted into office in 1999, won another term in 2004 which ran out last December.

Niger is among some African countries that celebrate their 50th independence anniversary this year. It has been wrecked by military rule, an arid environment and the UN rates it  one of the world’s least developed country, unable most times to feed its 15 million people, who migrate to Nigeria as beggars or seize the highways in the northern parts of Nigeria as armed robbers.

Tandja was on his way to joining Africa’s growing list of notorious dictators, those who clip the wings of democracy. The short list that follows gives their country, name, age and the duration of their deadly grip – Libya, Muammar Gaddafi (68), 40 years; Angola, Eduardo Dos Santos (68), 31 years ; Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe (86), 30 years;  Egypt, Hosni Mubarak (82) 29 years; Cameroon, Paul Biya (77), 28 years; Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni (66), 24 years; Tunisia, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali (74), 23 years. Others who have done more than 20 years include Burkina Faso’s Blaise Compoare, Sudan‘s Omar al-Bashir.

Dictators like Algeria’s Abdelaziz Bouteflika, 73, trouble democracy in Africa. He was elected in 1999, but has abolished constitutional provisions that limited his tenure.

We condemn coups, but many elected African leaders bring this curse on their countries.


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