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Interview Le Grand Continent



Niger: the long period of a putsch, a conversation with Salim Mokaddem, advisor to President Bazoum.


SALIM MOKADDEM — “The response that will be given to Niger will set a precedent for peace in the world and the democratic future in Africa. »

In a long interview, the philosopher Salim Mokaddem, one of the main advisors of the Nigerien president sequestered by the junta, returns to the socio-political causes at the heart of the conflagration in Niger. For him, the resolution of this multiple crisis will be decisive for an Africa which is bogged down in a new form of extended war.



Could you give us your analysis of the underlying reasons for what is happening in Niamey and Niger since July 26?

In line with the method of the Annales School, I would like to start by taking into account the context and the objective situation before going directly into the immediate, and therefore necessarily truncated, reading of the particular events which happened in Niger. July 26, 2023. Because when we tell a fact, we immediately place ourselves in a narration, a fiction, a representation, which can give a partial, biased, incomplete interpretation, or worse produce a meaning effect which obscures the truth of the fact. To avoid this cognitive bias, we must correlate the facts with other major events, with another chronology, with another semantic territoriality than that of an isolated narrative, to be able to understand what Niger is, what it had become, before the putsch of July 26, 2023, and grasp the logic of the event to then qualify it at this moment in its history. Only in a second step will we be able to question its future and its future.

Niger is a country of more than 25 million inhabitants, which extends over 1,300,000 square kilometers. It is a landlocked, semi-desert country with a fertile but extremely fragile strip along the border with Nigeria, due to global warming and water stress. The fertility rate is seven children per woman, which gives us population growth of around 3.5% per year. 50% of the population is under fifteen years old and the GDP per capita is around two dollars. If 80% of the population is rural, there are very high urban densities, notably in Niamey, Zinder, Agadez, Konni, Doutchi, but also in Aguié, Tanout, Maradi, Myrriah, Matamé, and in all the other capitals regional… Niger is bordered by Chad, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, the three border area, Benin, Burkina Faso, Mali and Algeria with which Niger shares more than 1000 kilometers of borders. Hence the important role it plays in current negotiations, the Libyan and Syrian examples being quite edifying for Algerian policy, in addition to the thorny issue of sub-Saharan immigration. Niger is part of an economic area with an economic and monetary unit (UEMOA), and of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which plays an important role, particularly in the current economic and technical sanctions. , financial and perhaps military, against the Nigerien junta. ECOWAS has just excluded Niger from its board. the Libyan and Syrian examples being quite edifying for Algerian policy, in addition to the thorny issue of sub-Saharan immigration. Niger is part of an economic area with an economic and monetary unit (UEMOA), and of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which plays an important role, particularly in the current economic and technical sanctions. , financial and perhaps military, against the Nigerien junta. ECOWAS has just excluded Niger from its board. the Libyan and Syrian examples being quite edifying for Algerian policy, in addition to the thorny issue of sub-Saharan immigration. Niger is part of an economic area with an economic and monetary unit (UEMOA), and of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which plays an important role, particularly in the current economic and technical sanctions. , financial and perhaps military, against the Nigerien junta. ECOWAS has just excluded Niger from its board. and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which plays an important role, particularly in the current economic, technical, financial and perhaps military sanctions against the Nigerien junta. ECOWAS has just excluded Niger from its board. and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which plays an important role, particularly in the current economic, technical, financial and perhaps military sanctions against the Nigerien junta. ECOWAS has just excluded Niger from its board.

Beyond this data, what are the blind spots to take into account?

One essential element often goes under the radar: the considerable illiteracy rate in Niger. This is very important data for understanding how populations receive events. I never talk about a political “elite” because it is a dangerous, ambiguous, polysemous term, but let’s say that literate and qualified people – in the colonial era, they were indexed as being “evolved”, which says a lot about Western ethnocentrism - there are nepotistic relationships with, sociologically, the populations of the Regions from which they come - which we are accustomed to calling "ethnic groups". The term ethnicity, which is clumsy, comes from the anthropology of the 1950s, from Lévi-Brühl, taken up by the disciples of Mauss and Durkheim, and it is historically marked with the seal of a colonial science, of a “colonial library”, as some say when they want to be scholarly, which tended to divide populations according to naturalities or essences which would be those of the Peuhl, the Hausa, the Songhai, the Kanouri, etc. However, in Niger, there have never really been ethnic conflicts - confused with the conflicts of functions overdetermined by identity cultures - due to the particularities of cross-marriages and joking cousins ​​of which I will spare you here the extremely logic of composition complex. Joking cousins ​​make it possible to convert warlike conflicts into more or less sardonic mockery, sublimating controversies and the balance of power between chiefdoms, villages, families, etc. which tended to divide populations according to naturalities or essences which would be those of the Peuhl, the Hausa, the Songhai, the Kanouri, etc. However, in Niger, there have never really been ethnic conflicts - confused with the conflicts of functions overdetermined by identity cultures - due to the particularities of cross-marriages and joking cousins ​​of which I will spare you here the extremely logic of composition complex. Joking cousins ​​make it possible to convert warlike conflicts into more or less sardonic mockery, sublimating controversies and the balance of power between chiefdoms, villages, families, etc. which tended to divide populations according to naturalities or essences which would be those of the Peuhl, the Hausa, the Songhai, the Kanouri, etc. However, in Niger, there have never really been ethnic conflicts - confused with the conflicts of functions overdetermined by identity cultures - due to the particularities of cross-marriages and joking cousins ​​of which I will spare you here the extremely logic of composition complex. Joking cousins ​​make it possible to convert warlike conflicts into more or less sardonic mockery, sublimating controversies and the balance of power between chiefdoms, villages, families, etc. there have never really been ethnic conflicts - confused with functional conflicts overdetermined by identity cultures - due to the particularities of cross-marriages and joking cousins, the extremely complex logic of composition of which I will spare you here. Joking cousins ​​make it possible to convert warlike conflicts into more or less sardonic mockery, sublimating controversies and the balance of power between chiefdoms, villages, families, etc. there have never really been ethnic conflicts - confused with functional conflicts overdetermined by identity cultures - due to the particularities of cross-marriages and joking cousins, the extremely complex logic of composition of which I will spare you here. Joking cousins ​​make it possible to convert warlike conflicts into more or less sardonic mockery, sublimating controversies and the balance of power between chiefdoms, villages, families, etc.


I will be very nominalist: the putsch in Niger is not a coup d'état.

Ethnic conflicts, when they exist, often mask other less “essentialist” causes. There are indeed territorial conflicts between nomads and farmers, concerning the distribution of water, the distribution of pastures, crossing paths, but also the state budget, the distribution of goods, such as territorial installation of infrastructure, the construction of roads or schools, local administrative communities… The question of the distribution of public goods in the Niger Republic was often at the origin of the Tuareg irredentism rebellions in the 1990s. Because the nomadic, pastoral populations, often live in desert zones, a complex zone, overdetermined by the Common Organization of Saharan Regions (OCRS), established by de Gaulle at the end of the Second World War, and still structured today by legal codes, territorial codes for the movement of populations and livestock which follow, depending on the monsoons, depending on the rainy season, the pastures. Also, the nomads, necessarily, had traditional agreements with sedentary breeders since the pastures therefore gave them natural fertilizers. But more and more, irrigated crops and plantations are taking precedence over the passage of nomads and their herds of camels, cattle, sheep and goats. necessarily, they had traditional agreements with sedentary breeders since the pastures therefore gave them natural fertilizers. But more and more, irrigated crops and plantations are taking precedence over the passage of nomads and their herds of camels, cattle, sheep and goats. necessarily, they had traditional agreements with sedentary breeders since the pastures therefore gave them natural fertilizers. But more and more, irrigated crops and plantations are taking precedence over the passage of nomads and their herds of camels, cattle, sheep and goats.

From this point of view, economic, social and cultural, in the strong sense of the term, there are therefore historical settlement factors, geographical factors and political factors to be taken into account in very detail if we want to understand the realities of the concrete, daily life of the Sahelian populations. These come in a certain way to express all these in one way or another, more or less coherent, more or less conflicting: rational determinations which explain the conflicts between nomads and farmers, between organic members of civil society.

On this plural and composite reality, how does the event of July 26, 2023 occur?


I will be very nominalist here: the putsch in Niger is not a coup d'état.

There is no political program, no ideology demanded, no constitutional definition claimed, no political demands on land, health, production, education, security, urban planning, etc. For the moment, as we speak, there is only one President sequestered, with his family, by his Presidential Guard, supposed to protect him from any attack. The situation is this: we are in a suspension of constitutionality, in an impediment to republican continuity, due to a takeover of power by the defense and security forces mobilized by the Presidential Guard. So we are in anomie. This is also what the chancelleries say in common agreement, even if they do not have the same policies for resolving the situation.

What is fundamentally new in this situation?

In Niger, there have been five previous coups in an environment where Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso and Mali have also produced repeated coups in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

But here we should not fall into the trap of the ease of words. Each reality – the Malian reality, the Burkinabe reality – is different. This is why it is very difficult to follow the event and want to tell the whole truth straight away. This basically raises the question of whether we can have a metalinguistic or epistemic perspective on the event we are looking at and whether we can speak while claiming to place ourselves on the same level as the famous axiological neutrality of the sociologist Max Weber. .

Having established this preamble, one thing must still be said: this event is unconstitutional and it is part of an anti-democratic takeover of power. It was originally a dispute over the retirement of a general, and the control of the funds requested by General Tiani which seemed disproportionate and unfounded in the eyes of the legitimate President Mohamed Bazoum. The United States did not describe the event as a "coup d'état" at the risk of having to move its bases and ceasing all cooperation with a country thus described as anti-democratic. We see the sophistry of such an approach.

Because there is first of all a sequestration by the Presidential Guard, still in progress, of a President, his wife, their son – a legitimate President because he is democratically elected – for requests concerning professional reasons. The physical integrity of the President is threatened due to unmet statutory demands, among others; a corporatist bronca transformed into a junta taking power.


The physical integrity of the President is threatened due to unmet statutory demands, among others; a corporatist bronca transformed into a junta taking power.

There is then a series of disturbing elements in the continuation of the negotiations for the release of the hostage and the return to constitutional order: the non-reception of the American Secretary of State, the non-reception of the delegation of the ECOWAS and its President, the postponement of the ultimatum launched by it... We have the impression that no one wants to name, that no one wants to qualify what is happening - either for reasons of fear, either for reasons of caution, or for reasons of ignorance or also because there is a risk of media contamination or panic on social networks. This event could in fact be alienated or taken up by third parties in other discourses. There is a risk that it will escape the very producers of the action and those who suffer this action. There is a suspension of political time; hence the acceleration of the formal establishment of a provisional Government, with a Prime Minister, Lamine Zeine, from Zinder who came from Chad by a private, unofficial plane, chartered by the current President of Chad...

What exactly are you thinking of when you mention this risk?

To the new reality that this event establishes in the Nigerien and Sahelian landscape: the risk of ontological confiscation of political reality by the technological form given to them by the media due to the fact that they have today, in their way of presenting the political facticity, an agreed hermeneutic of what happened and what is happening. Because the facts are stubborn: we cannot transform force into law if we do not create a myth to legitimize original violence. The military carried out a coup d'état against a democratically elected President: the security policy for which they were responsible is their doing, and the state of Niger's finances also comes from the staggering budgets and state scandals within the Department of Defense.

Is this how you would understand the wait-and-see attitude of some of your allies - such as American diplomacy - who have mainly focused on the request for the release of President Bazoum without talking about a coup d'état?

That's exactly right. We must have a nominalism of principle if we want to have a realism of understanding. And this principled nominalism consists of trying to disentangle threads intertwined in a very complex way for the reasons that I have mentioned. But there are also other parameters that I have not mentioned: religious, terrorist, sociological, economic, socio-historical, political parameters, and those linked to the wealth and poverty of Nations...

We are experiencing an absolutely unprecedented situation. This seems difficult to believe since coups d'état also occurred in Burkina, Mali, and this August 30 in Gabon - for constitutional reasons linked to the third term wanted by Omar Bongo's son, Ali -; but, in Niger, the intricacy of actors and decisions are internationalizing very quickly and we see the risk of legal-institutional collapse persisting if the situation does not return to normal quickly. The time of crisis allows us to read the event according to the requests and interests of local and supranational actors (ECOWAS, AU, EU, USA, Algeria, France). How can we make lawful, legal, legitimate, an illicit takeover of power by sequestration and which remains despite all the verbal circumlocutions based on the negation of the Constitution in force?

In Niger, the entanglement of actors and decisions are internationalizing very quickly and we see the risk of legal-institutional collapse persisting if the situation does not return to normal quickly.

What era do you think this event opens?

A Third World War – informational, aesthetic, sonic and iconic – is taking place on African territory, of which the generalized panic manifested in official powerlessness is a symptom. I already wrote, almost a month and a half before the coup d'état, about this third world war and the informational war that it induces by relying on communication and the formation of doxa through propaganda. new — troll farms in Mali, manufacturing of fake news. What would previously have been characterized as a sequestration operation carried out by those responsible for the Presidential Guard turning against the person it is supposed to protect, is today taken very seriously: the rapid internationalization of the conflict into a regional conflict, see international, and the interference of the NATO-Russia war in Africa. President Bazoum is brave and courageous. He cannot sign a letter of resignation because he has committed before a sovereign people, and before God, to uphold the will of the people, the Constitution, the rule of law and the legitimate sovereignties designated by the vote and the installation of the great bodies of the State. I can assure you that he will not sign his resignation because he has a historical sense of his responsibilities and, a convinced patriot, he wants the growth of Niger and not the economic and political regression caused by this sequestration. His journey is condensed in this refusal which crystallizes a journey and an ethical style of political life. He cannot sign a letter of resignation because he has committed before a sovereign people, and before God, to uphold the will of the people, the Constitution, the rule of law and the legitimate sovereignties designated by the vote and the installation of the great bodies of the State. I can assure you that he will not sign his resignation because he has a historical sense of his responsibilities and, a convinced patriot, he wants the growth of Niger and not the economic and political regression caused by this sequestration. His journey is condensed in this refusal which crystallizes a journey and an ethical style of political life. He cannot sign a letter of resignation because he has committed before a sovereign people, and before God, to uphold the will of the people, the Constitution, the rule of law and the legitimate sovereignties designated by the vote and the installation of the great bodies of the State. I can assure you that he will not sign his resignation because he has a historical sense of his responsibilities and, a convinced patriot, he wants the growth of Niger and not the economic and political regression caused by this sequestration. His journey is condensed in this refusal which crystallizes a journey and an ethical style of political life. the rule of law and the legitimate sovereignties designated by the vote and the installation of the great bodies of the State. I can assure you that he will not sign his resignation because he has a historical sense of his responsibilities and, a convinced patriot, he wants the growth of Niger and not the economic and political regression caused by this sequestration. His journey is condensed in this refusal which crystallizes a journey and an ethical style of political life. the rule of law and the legitimate sovereignties designated by the vote and the installation of the great bodies of the State. I can assure you that he will not sign his resignation because he has a historical sense of his responsibilities and, a convinced patriot, he wants the growth of Niger and not the economic and political regression caused by this sequestration. His journey is condensed in this refusal which crystallizes a journey and an ethical style of political life.








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