by Scott Morgan
When pertaining to sudden and often violent changes in government there is a train of thought that suggests that it’s not important who carried out the event but who paid for it.
This scenario appears to be underway in Niger and it became quite clear after the Military Junta sent a delegation to Guinea to seek additional support to prevent an intervention by the regional body ECOWAS. When the bloc imposed sanctions against Niger in late July the Junta in Conakry issued a statement which “expressed its support for the people of this friendly country”.
However there is an interesting detail regarding another delegation that went to Guinea over the weekend of August 12th. After ECOWAS decided to pursue a program where Diplomacy is the preferred course of action while preparing for a military intervention, the junta felt secure enough to send the delegation. One person who was in the delegation according to social media posts was a person with a dubious record. His name is Aboubacar Charfo.
The reason why Mr. Charfo’s name is interesting dates back to 2020 when his name appeared in an audit conducted by the Inspector General of the Nigerien Armed Forces. This is an independent body The audit found that during the reviewing period from 2011 through 2019 that out of a total of the 875 Million USD in arms purchases, a total of 320 Million USD were found to have problems. The period of the audit also raises concerns as it was the period of time when Western countries realized the importance of Niger during that phase of the Global War on Terror. A deeper look into the numbers show that it was designed to be a concerted effort by corrupt officials and brokers to siphon off government funds. The audit also found that 76 Billion West Africa Francs or approximately 130 Million USD were lost to corruption.
Looking into the background of Mr. Charfo presents some interesting reading. The first point which should be glaring is the nature of his business. Mr Charfo by trade is a Construction Contractor with no previous experience in the defense sector. The allegations against him are that he worked with Aboubacar Hima, a known arms dealer in a scheme where companies controlled by both men rigged bids in such a way to present the illusion that their companies were in direct competition of bidding for government contracts. Their success points to the opportunities that are available to a small clique of insiders that have close ties to the Niger government.
Two additional pieces of information are revealing. Mr Charfo is from the same political party and same geographic region as former President Mahadaou Issofou. The second point which is also serious reveals that there have been no prosecutions at all for any of the allegations that were documented in the audit. Considering the rhetoric that has been levied against the recently ousted President Bazoum regarding treason and other crimes this background is quite revealing as to a potential reason why he was ousted.
This could also present a reason why there has been such a muted response to the putsch by the Biden Administration. During the audit period it was revealed that the United States had provided over 240 Million USD worth of Military Aid. A recent report indicates that until the removal of President Bazoum that total grew to over 500 Million USD The audit did not reveal if any American Aid fell victim to the corruption efforts. In March of this year Secretary of State Antony Blinken made an official visit to the West African Country as well to promote the strategic relationship between the two countries. The longer the situation in Niger remains fluid the concerns regarding how this relationship can foster in the future will come into question.
In a sign to show its displeasure over the removal of President Bazoum in July the Biden Administration has paused some of the assistance that is being provided.
It is clear that within Niger the putschists and their allies are able to control the narrative that is being revealed to the population. The language used about the junta being willing to listen to democracy is being undercut by the decision to charge President Bazoum with High Treason. Despite the rhetoric, members of the junta and other well connected people apparently wanted President Bazoum removed from the scene to resume some illicit activities.
The immediate future for Niger is showing signs of more chaos. The Sahel will suffer for it, Nigeria will also suffer from it as will Europe.