Niger has finally made the transition back to democracy. Until recently it was at the crossroads of returning to democratic order and functional democracy in the wake of its backsliding to a military regime that was a threat to the peace and security of the West African region. The semblance of an earlier democratic rule that prevailed in Niger for a decade, suffered regression, first by a succession of several constitutional breaches, abuses, violations and disorders perpetrated by Mamadou Tandja, and then, eventually, a military coup in February 2010 that led to the suspension of the country’s constitution, dissolution of democratic institutions, and the suspension of political activities. The coup followed months of heightened tensions over former president Mamadou Tandja’s attempts to cling on to power and constitutional reform that extended his rule and broadened his powers. Faced with the ex-President’s intransigence, opposition groups, civic and civil coalitions organized themselves under the umbrella of the “Front Uni pour la sauvergarde des Acquis Democratique (FUSAD)” or “United Front for the Safeguard of Democratic Gains” and fought to forestall Tandja’s undemocratic plan and ambitions. The military junta under the Conseil Supreme pour la Restauration de la Democratie (CSRD) however, succumbing to pressure promised to implement a short term one-year transitional program towards returning Niger Republic to constitutional order and democratic governance. Since then, Niger has conducted successful elections and newly elected President Mahamadou Issoufou. Issoufou has been inaugurated.
During the political tumult, OSIWA working with the Africa Advocacy Group, and critical local actors identified and implemented activities that most strategically responded to the immediate needs. These included - providing support to the critical voices and groups – civil and civic – essential to facilitate the return of the country to full-blown democracy as well as their engagement and participation in the entire process; helping to strengthen the entire process of the constitutional reforms; empowering domestic and regional groups to maintain strict surveillance to ensure that the time-table for the return of the country to democratically elected government suffers no compromise.
The concerted actions helped propel reactions from the ECOWAS with the suspension of Niger under the government of Tandja from ECOWAS, for violating the Community’s provisions on the Protocol concerning Democracy and Good Governance and equally, ensured the maintenance of same status quo after the military overthrow. In addition, the military junta were pressurised to honour their pledge to, speedily, implement a transition program that would restore constitutional and democratic governance to Niger by the first quarter of 2011.
The thrust of OSIWA’s programme strategy in Niger is to facilitate the consolidation of citizen-centred constitutional democracy. Essentially, the programme approach in Niger will involve the three strategic outcomes; Strong governance institutions, processes and structures that are transparent, accountable, and intolerant of impunity and vigorous capacity of civil society organizations and increased citizen participation in decision-making. The dismantling of democratic institutions by former President Mamadou Tandja and flagrant abuse of constitutional order, the rule of law, and democratic principles, which later culminated in a military coup, in 2010, once again portrayed the fragility and the vulnerability of Niger’s democratic institutions, structures and processes. The challenge therefore is to consolidate, nurture, and establish functioning democracy that will be based on good governance in the country. To achieve this, OSIWA needs to build on its past support for FUSAD; and accordingly, the strategic orientation of the 2010 engagement will be directed at providing the Conseil Consultative and Civil Society organizations with the necessary support to impact on the electoral process and return to functional democracy.
To safeguard the new democratic Niger Republic, there is need to establish the principle of deterrence against such future occurrence. Therefore, the perpetrators of these heinous crimes ought not, and should not, go scot-free. Encouraged to use its internal organs and institutions at obtaining restitution, it is expected that the perpetrators will be eventually brought to justice. OSIWA will facilitate the realization of the demands emanating from a cross section of Nigerien civil society organizations that all national, regional and international mechanisms be exploited to obtain full accountability for all the crimes committed by its perpetrators including ex-President Tandja. In this regard, the strategic engagement will involve the organization of national dialogue, encouraging open and frank discussion of the Touareg question, and then encouraging the development of comprehensive policies that will be backed with strong advocacy to preach harmony and co-existence, respect for the citizens’ rights, mutual tolerance, and welfare of the people.
OSIWA will collaborate with partners in 2011, leveraging its peace process work, by extending support to FUSAD and other entities to undertake mediation initiatives, including documentation of the root causes of the conflicts and options for peaceful resolution of the lingering crisis.