By: Quintin Jepson, Researcher 2

On July 26, yet another democratic government collapsed in the Sahel. After a confusing series of events, the Nigerien president Mohammad Bazoum was detained by his presidential guard1. His government subsequently fell as key politicians and allies of Bazoum were arrested. These events amounted to a coup d’état by anti-republican elements within the military.  The leader of this faction, General Omar Tchiani, assumed leadership of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland– the new Nigerien government2.

General Tchiani’s government joins a crowded neighborhood of military juntas in the Sahel. Since 2020, coup after coup has rocked West Africa. Military juntas ousted governments in Guinea, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and now Niger—a worrying trend that threatens the progress of democratization in West Africa and has upended Western partnerships3.

A Regional Trend

Many of the conditions that preceded a coup in Burkina Faso and Mali were present in Niger. Niger and its neighbors face a jihadist insurgency that has undermined faith in the effectiveness of democratic institutions. In Mali, Burkina Faso and now Niger, military institutions capitalized on this crisis to justify successive coup d’états 4 5 . These juntas claim the military accomplishes security for the nation in the face of a crisis that democracy cannot not solve.

However, unlike Mali and Burkina Faso, significant differences in public opinion trends leave the army unable to fully consolidate power in Niger.  While in Burkina Faso and Mali the juntas were met with an outpouring of jubilance in the streets, the Nigerien junta was met with protests as anti-coup demonstrators clashed with security forces6. Following these initial clashes were subsequent street celebrations7— highlighting the complex political atmosphere in Niger.

Regional Similarities

ORB (Opinion Research Business) International conducted research in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger prior to and throughout each coup.  Our research indicates that a key factor explaining the successive coups in the three countries was an existing preference for army rule among the public. In the months prior to their respective coups, 65% of Malians, 68% of Burkinabes, and 70% of Nigeriens preferred army rule. Majority levels of self-reported preference demonstrate a powerful supporter base for the military across the Sahel. The composition of this support is the history of military rule — many Nigeriens, Burkinabes and Malians have at some point lived through military rule or a coup d’état.

Figure 1

Further compounding support for army rule in the Sahel is the popular idea that the military is a very competent institution. The Nigerien public rates the military as the institution most effective at meeting people’s needs. ORB’s research shows a majority of the Nigerien public, 81%, believe that the military is “very/somewhat effective”. In comparison, 59% say the same regarding the national government. This trend is also seen in both Mali and Burkina Faso, where large majorities saw the military as effective at addressing the needs of the people (Figure 2). Conversely, just 52% of Malians and 55% of Burkinabes saw the national government as effective at meeting peoples’ needs preceding a coup.

Figure 2

Regional Differences

Yet, the picture for democracy in Niger is not as bleak as its regional counterparts. The Nigerien public has not expressed the kind of desperate pessimism as precipitated coups in Mali and Burkina Faso. ORB data reveals that on the eve of coups in both Mali and Burkina Faso, large and dominating majorities of citizens believed that their country was headed in the wrong direction. In December 2020 in Mali, 73% saw the country going in the wrong direction, while in Burkina Faso a devastating 88% felt the same December 2021. By this aspect, the military seized a government that was failing in the eyes of many. In Niger, the majority was instead optimistic about the direction of the country; 60% in July of 2023 reported feeling that their country was headed in the right direction. By this metric, the Nigerien military has ousted a government that by the estimation of many people was leading the country relatively well. This poses a serious challenge for the Nigerien military as they attempt to consolidate power and popular support.

Figure 3

Further, Nigerien opinion on the effectiveness of the military, while still a majority positive, has been in decline recently.  Since 2020, 8% less Nigeriens report the military as “very/somewhat effective.”  This contrasts with findings in Mali and Burkina Faso, where change in opinion has oscillated.  A decline in perceived effectiveness opens the military up to criticism.  The decline could provide some political momentum for those opposing the military junta to further establish popular opposition to army rule.

Figure 4

Democracy Persists

While many conditions in Niger reflect those that preceded a coup in Burkina Faso and Mali, the military junta in Niger faces weaknesses in public support that similar regimes in Mali and Burkina Faso do not. In addition to the above data regarding country direction, and a decline in perceived effectiveness of the military, the Nigerien public still rates democracy very highly. In our most recent poll, 81% percent of Nigeriens supported elected leaders. These factors provide an opportunity for regional partners in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to encourage the return of President Mohammad Bazoum with popular support from Nigeriens.

Yet, if democracy returns to Niger, it does not negate the fact that populations across the Sahel have grown more favorable to authoritarian rule. Support for democratic institutions will need to rely on actual, tangible successes, especially as it pertains to security. Without this, it is difficult to imagine a future where regional democratic institutions can defeat continuous military challenges to their legitimacy.


1 Niger presidential guards are holding President Bazoum inside palace – security sources | Reuters

2 General Tchiani: Shadowy Army Veteran Who Seized Power in Niger | VOA News

3 France to Pull Troops Out of Burkina Faso, as Its Unpopularity in Africa Grows | NY Times

4 Burkina Faso’s coup and political situation: All you need to know | Al Jazeera

5 href=” | NY Times

6 What’s Behind the Coup in Niger? | NY Times

7 Pro-coup protests continue in Niger as Biden urges Bazoum release | Al Jazeera