The Nigerien military junta claimed that it will prosecute President Mohamed Bazoum for “high treason” and undermining state security. If President Bazoum is convicted, he could face the death penalty, according to Niger’s penal code. This declaration was made on August 13, 2023.
The military junta announced that Bazoum was being charged following his post-coup exchanges with high-ranking West African politicians and “their international mentors,” whom the leaders of the revolt accuse of making false allegations and attempting to derail a peaceful transition in order to justify a military intervention, according to AP News. The real question to ask is whether this prosecution is truly fair. What has President Bazoum to deserve being charged with high treason?
Niger's GDP Growth, 2013-2022
Source: World Bank
President Bazoum was democratically elected in 2021. Under his presidency, poverty rate declined considerably although Niger remained a very poor nation. Unemployment declined considerably as well under President Bazoum. He partnered the country with Western powers, which attracted foreign investments in Niger, and the Nigerian economic growth increased significantly under his leadership as we could see in this figure. When Bazoun took power in 2021, Niger’s GDP growth was at 1.4%. In fact, economic growth in Niger slowed between 2018 and 2021. In 2022, the Nigerian economy became more productive with a GDP growth of 11.5% Should President Bazoum be prosecuted for stimulating the economy? Is it a crime to improve the economy of his country?
The junta has faced international pressure to release and reinstate President Bazoum. ECOWAS did not renounce the military option to restore constitutional order in Niger. For now, the member-states of the West African organization are prioritizing diplomatic venues to find a peaceful solution to the crisis, and avoid casualties.
According to AP News, people close to President Bazoum and his political party reported last week that the first family’s electricity and water were cut off and they are running out of food. The junta dismissed the reports and on August 13, 2023, accused West African politicians and international organizations of waging a disinformation campaign to discredit the junta.
The motives for this prosecution are unwarranted. President Bazoum is not certainly immaculate. His policy may not please everyone, and his relationship with the West may also not be liked by everyone, but that does not justify a prosecution and a criminal charge for “high treason.” If those who disagreed with his policies wanted to change, they should have waited until the end of his presidential term to challenge his leadership. But orchestrating a coup while his presidential term is only halfway done, is, unfortunately, a major setback for the socioeconomic development of Niger.
This prosecution is a political prosecution and persecution rather than a legal prosecution. At the end of the day, the main losers in this whole coup is no one else but the Nigerien people, who are suffering the consequences of the financial and economic sanctions enforced against them.