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Niger stricken by military coup

Military officers take power in Niger. NATO suffers casualties in Afghanistan. The IAEA launches warns of Iranian warhead development. The head of the UN’s humanitarian office criticises relief efforts in Haiti. All this and more in today’s security update.
Oliver Scanlan
19 February 2010

 

On Thursday, after a four hour gun battle that left at least ten people dead, a number of military officers detained the president of Niger, Mamadou Tandja, in a coup that has already met with condemnation from other African nations and France. The victorious junta, calling itself the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy, described its intentions as ‘patriotic’. The military officers, led by Colonel Salou Djibo, have enforced a curfew and closed the country’s borders. 

Col. Djibo controls about 40% of the Niger military in his capacity as commanding officer for military zone 1, which includes the capital, Niamey. Another member of the junta, Col. Djibrilla Hima Hamidou, was a spokesman for the military officers who led the last coup in 1999. This previous interregnum was ended after a year and democracy restored.

The Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) has criticised the move, as has the French government. However, an opposition politician, Mahamadou Karijo, has hailed the move as a blow against tyranny. His Party for Democracy and Socialism bitterly opposed President Tandja while in office.

The openSecurity verdict: Thursday’s events are the culmination of months of tension in Niger, sparked by President Tandja’s constitutional reforms last year, which enabled him to stand for a third term. When the Niger supreme court struck down the reforms, calling them unconstitutional, Tandja had it dissolved, saying that he was answerable only to the people of Niger. The move brought censure from other west African states, and led to Niger being suspended from Ecowas. Although there have been sporadic discussions between the government and opposition groups since December, little progress had been made.

Despite President Tandja’s constitutional tinkering, analysts have said that his tenure has brought a measure of economic stability to Niger, augmented by investment from France and China. Thus it seems imperative that, regardless of the wrights or wrongs of the, democratic processes need to be restored as soon as possible, lest the current instability leads to the further impoverishment of what it already one of the world’s poorest nations.

IAEA warns of Iran warhead production

In its most damning report on the Iranian nuclear programme to date, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has warned that Tehran may be attempting to develop ‘a nuclear payload for a missile’. Analysts have drawn two conclusions, the first being that this will aid the Obama administration as it seeks to build international consensus for tougher sanctions against the clerical regime. The second is that the report heralds a new era in the IAEA’s dealings with Iran, with its new director general, Yukiya Amano, taking a tougher stand than his predecessor, Mohammad ElBaradei.

Although the report, which is the first to be released under Amano’s leadership, did not disclose new evidence regarding Iran’s programme, it criticised the decision by Tehran to increase the enrichment of uranium to 20% as being in breach of its UN obligations. The agency also noted that Iran’s existing stockpile of Low Enriched Uranium (LEU), currently amounting to 2060 kg, would be enough to manufacture one or two nuclear bombs.

In response to the report, Robert Gibbs, the US White House spokesman, warned of ‘consequences’ if Iran failed to live up to its international obligations. Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, has denied the claims, describing them as ‘baseless’, and saying that Iranians’ beliefs ‘bar us from using such weapons’. Ayatollah Khamanei has previously issued a fatwa against Iran pursuing the manufacture of nuclear arms.

UN Aid chief criticises Haiti relief progress

The head of UN humanitarian operations, John Holmes, confirmed on Thursday that a leaked email criticising relief efforts in Haiti was genuine. While he acknowledged that much had been achieved, within the email he stated that there were still ‘major unmet humanitarian needs’ and that, with the onset of the rainy season, this could lead to large demonstrations by earthquake survivors. The recent earthquake killed 200,000 people, and left more than 1 million homeless.

Specifically Holmes, who heads the UN Office for the co-ordination of humanitarian affairs, singled out a continued lack of resources and poor co-operation between aid agencies as problems that needed to be resolved if the aid effort was to have the impact required.

He referred extensively to the cluster system, devised in the wake of the 2004 Asian tsunami, whereby relief efforts are divided into key areas or ‘clusters’, each headed by a single agency, usually a UN organisation. According to Holmes, several clusters, of which there are twelve operating in the Caribbean nation, have yet to devise coherent strategies to address their respective responsibilities leading to the onset of a crisis of confidence in those agencies’ ability to deliver programmes on the ground. 

NATO sustains casualties in Helmand operation

On Thursday, six NATO soldiers were killed in intensive combat with Taliban fighters around the key town of Marjah in Helmand province. The casualties bring the total number of deaths sustained by coalition forces since the beginning of Operation Moshtarak to eleven NATO troops and one Afghan soldier. The increase has been attributed to allied forces encountering more robust Taliban defensive positions and more adept snipers. The Taliban were earlier reported to be running low on resources but this does not appear to have eliminated their ability to inflict casualties.

The provincial governor of Helmand, Mohammad Golab Mangal, said that the operations was so far proceeding ‘successfully but slowly and that Marjah was a hub for the Taliban’s lucrative opium growing operations. Referring to the town, which is located in the centre of Helmand, as a ‘command centre’, he also noted its importance to Taliban logistics. He attributed the relative slow pace of progress to the presence of mines and also to the caution of allied troops operating in civilian areas.

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