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Niger: Mohamed Bazoum elected president, beating Mahamane Ousmane

By Mathieu Olivier
Posted on Wednesday, 24 February 2021 22:29

Mohamed Bazoum during the campaign for the 2020 presidential election © Présidence du Niger

Mohamed Bazoum, the governing party’s candidate, was elected in the second round of the presidential election with 55.75% of the vote. He beat his opponent and a former president, Mahamane Ousmane.

According to provisional results announced by the Commission Electorale Nationale et Indépendante (CENI), Mohamed Bazoum won the second round of the presidential election held on 21 February.

The candidate of the ruling Parti Nigérien pour la Démocratie et le Socialisme (PNDS) won 2,501,459 votes.

Bazoum’s challenges

The President-elect faces many challenges, from education to security and the fight against corruption.

Niger has been hit hard by security crises in the Sahel, Libya and the Lake Chad basin, and is facing a new challenge from the Islamic State West Africa Province, a splinter group from Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamist rebels.

Faced with critics who accuse him of having sacrificed education, health and the fight against corruption for the sake of relative security, President Mahamadou Issoufou and the PNDS have prioritised the construction of major hospitals in the capital, in Maradi and soon in Tahoua, but also the Kandadji hydroelectric power plant (130 MW) and an oil pipeline (2,000km to Benin) that should enable the country to increase production from 20,000 to 500,000 barrels of crude oil per day by 2030.

Niger’s oil ambitions include supporting an agricultural sector that accounts for more than 40% of GDP, employs nearly 80% of the labor force and remains vulnerable to climate change.

Niamey, which has moved closer to Turkey (which has invested heavily in airport, road and hotel infrastructure), also hopes to attract more and more foreign investors. Between 2016 and 2019, foreign direct investment increased from 155bn to 340bn CFA francs, according to the authorities.

Security issues still important

“With the expected start of oil exports in 2022 and continued strong investment, growth is expected to average 9% over the medium term,” the IMF concluded during a virtual mission in September 2020.

According to the IMF, in 2021, the economy is expected to grow by 6.9%, despite the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the state still has a budget deficit of 5.8%, due to spending on health – especially in the context of the pandemic – and security.

The Islamist rebels struck several times along the Malian border in 2020 and pose a threat in the tri-border zone between Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali. Another 100 people were killed on 2 January in attacks on two villages in the west of the country, Tchoma Bangou and Zaroumadareye.

An investigation into fraud in the armed forces

Under pressure, Niger, which is part of the G5 Sahel force – a coalition of Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad – spends between 15% and 20% of its budget on the defence sector. The government is not looking to cut spending there because France makes no secret of its desire to eventually reduce its Sahelian commitment.

Bazoum will also have to pay special attention to the defence ministry, hard hit in 2020 by the scandal. According to an audit conducted at the request of Issoufou by the Inspection Générale des Armées, at least 76bn CFA francs ($149m) were embezzled between 2013 and 2016 for arms deals.

These misappropriations, which took place while high-ranking members of the ruling party were in charge of the ministry, are currently in the hands of an investigating judge in Niamey. The opposition and civil society are lobbying for justice and for those responsible to have their day in court.

“The opposition is making extensive use of this case, wanting to give us a disgusting image,” Bazoum told Jeune Afrique shortly before the first round of the presidential election. “I do not have the reputation of someone involved in corrupt deals, and I know what to do to avoid the pitfalls. I will ask my ministers to behave in the same way,” he added.

Election alliances

Former interior minister Bazoum will also have some political considerations to take into account. He beat opponent Mahamane Ousmane (44.25% of the vote and 1,985,736 votes), a former president who had received the support of Hama Amadou, Salou Djibo and Ibrahim Yacouba.

Bazoum, for his part, benefited from the support – after the first round – of Seini Oumarou and Albadé Abouba, who respectively won 9% and 7.1% of the votes in the first round.

Bazoum won by a large margin the regions of Tahoua, Agadez, Diffa, Maradi and, narrowly, Zinder, where the results were very close (340,397 votes against 340,249). Ousmane won in Dosso and, above all, in the urban centres of Tillabéri and Niamey.

Translation: Presidential election in #Niger: according to the results of all 266 municipalities, Mohamed Bazoum has won 2,501,459 votes against 1,985,736 for Mahamane Ousmane, who has already contested these figures.

Eight election officials killed

These provisional figures have yet to be validated by the constitutional court, which will not announce the final results for several weeks. The Communauté des États Sahélo-Sahariens (CEN-SAD) “urged all candidates to respect the results of the election and to use legal procedures and channels to settle any disputes.”

On 21 February after voting in Zinder Ousmane said: “If the citizens feel that these elections were again […] rigged, I fear that the situation would be difficult to manage.” On 23 February, the former president’s campaign team again contested the results and denounced an “electoral hold-up”.

Tensions then increased slightly after the provisional results were announced, particularly in Niamey where several dozen opposition supporters took to the streets. However, the elections had taken place in “satisfactory conditions”, according to CEN-SAD.

Translation: This morning, I fulfilled my civic duty as a citizen at Niamey town hall.
I invite you all to vote en-masse to strengthen the democratic maturity of our country.

Translation: To all Nigeriens,

We have just exercised our civic and electoral duty for the second round of the presidential election. Let us remain united around the ideals and programmes of RDR-Tchanji. We expect a massive victory.

Happy election day to you!
#Niger

The second round of this presidential election was dominated by the deaths of at least eight election officials – seven in the Tillabéri Region, after a mine explosion, and one in the Diffa Region.

Alkache Alhada, the interior minister, denounced this “barbaric act”, the aim of which was to establish a “medieval dictatorship”. “We will not give in to terrorist threats,” added Bazoum’s successor.

“A victory for Nigerien democracy”

This election marks the first peaceful transition of power between two democratically elected heads of state in Niger, a campaign promise of the outgoing president.

President Mahamadou Issoufou, who is now preparing his departure and establishing a foundation, had given his word that he would not attempt to change the constitutional limit of two presidential terms.

“I am proud to be the first democratically elected president in our history who will be handing over power to another democratically elected president,” he said after voting on 21 February. “It is a victory for Nigerien democracy,” a delighted minister told us.

During a visit to the country, representatives from the African Union and Economic Community of West African States congratulated Issoufou “for having made the decision not to stand for election.” This is “a lesson for all African leaders,” they said.

“It is above all a victory for the PNDS,” says a senior member of the ruling party. He says that the newly elected presidents party won 80 of the 166 seats at stake during the legislative election organised at the same time as the first round of the presidential election on 27 December.

A government by early April

“Bazoum secured his victory in the presidential election by allying himself with Seini Oumarou and Albadé Abouba, but the PNDS remains ultra-dominant,” says a political analyst.

“He conceded the presidency of the assembly to Seini Oumarou and will have to make room in the government for his allies, but he has free rein,” adds a senior member of the ruling party.

The PNDS will take the lion’s share of the future government team.

According to our sources, it will not be led by a Tuareg, as was the case under Issoufou with Brigi Rafini. The position of prime minister is expected to go to a member of one of the two majority ethnic groups, the Hausas and the Djermas, as Bazoum belongs to an Arab minority group.

According to our information, the next prime minister will be announced on 4 April, the new head of state’s inauguration day. The full list of ministers is set to be revealed the following day.

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