Abdoulaye Niandou Souley
Niger, in West Africa, is one of the few examples in Africa's current experience of `democratic' transitions where an opposition party was able to win office through popular elections. The MNSD, which is the focus of this essay, originated as the single ruling party which the Nigerien military attempted to foist on the people towards the end of the 1980s. Following the country's Sovereign National Conference and the introduction of a multiparty political framework, the MNSD lost power to a coalition of opposition forces whose agitation was central to the defeat of the blind autocracy that was the legacy of the Kountché era. Yet, after a spell in opposition, the MNSD was able to win parliamentary elections and regain executive power. It tried, however, to rule in an uneasy relationship of co-habitation with the president of the republic who came from the anti-MNSD coalition. The degeneration of the relationship between the two political blocs produced the context for the military to re-enter the political arena. With the military back in power, it now seems clear to the Nigerien political class that the `enemy' who must be kept at bay is not the other party but the military. Herein lies the hope for the survival of democracy in Niger.
With the embrace by virtually all countries on the continent of one variant or another of political pluralism, it would seem that Africa has embarked on a transition towards a more democratic political order. Numerous authoritarian regimes have been effectively challenged and democratic forces have been able to impose their agenda on the political terrain in many countries. Some of the authoritarian regimes have been replaced by erstwhile democratic opposition forces and the question that is now posed in such situations is that of the routinisation of democratic culture, which includes not only the existence of effective opposition parties, but also the possibilities of a change of power between ruling and opposition parties. Niger, in West Africa, represents an example of an African country where an opposition party came to power through elections; it is on that experience that we focus our attention in this essay.
There was a thriving political opposition in Niger Republic organised under the Mouvement National pour la Societé de Développement (MNSD), a party with no prior background in democratic struggles, whose leading members consisted of local notables and bureaucrats and which had the dubious honour of once being the former single ruling party that emerged under military rule. Yet, much of the effort at democratisation in Niger in the period since 1991 can be read as an attempt to sideline the MNSD from the corridors of power although it has been the leading party in all competitive elections in the country. After the 1993 elections, an alliance was forged which prevented the MNSD from coming back to power and an observer noted that `the multiparty democracy game has functioned well, but the MNSD, the number one Nigerien party by number of votes obtained has lost all' (Decoudras 1994:50). However, in February 1995, in what was a break with the past experience, the Nigerien President was obliged to name an MNSD militant as prime minister after an alliance led by the party won legislative elections.
The Republic of Niger developed as a neotraditional corporatist state with a mode of governance that linked civilian technocrats in an alliance with military officers who ran the state apparatus with the advice of donor bureaucrats and the assistance of an embryonic entrepreneurial class (Robinson 1991:4). Particularly instrumental in the consolidation of this arrangement was the regime of President Seyni Kountché (1974--1987), which was one of the most austere and repressive on the African continent. He attempted to herd all Nigeriens into a unified community by military fiat. In so doing, he drew upon elements of invented tradition such as the Association of Traditional Chiefs, which he resuscitated from the ashes of the colonial period, and the Islamic Association of Niger, which he established as the official pro-establishment religious interlocutor of the people. A national youth movement inspired by traditional youth associations -- samariya -- was also established. Corporatism in Niger took a clearer organisational form in 1983 when these structures were formalised into a single structure -- the Societé de Développement organised at five levels -- village, local, sub-regional, regional and national. At national level, the Conseil National de Développement/National Council for Development (CND) was supposed to embody the nation and its developmental goals.
The CND was designed as a body that would eventually be transformed into a 'non-partisan' ruling party that would reflect the aspiration of tous les Nigeriens. The occasion for that was the inauguration of Niger's Second Republic on 6 October 1989, with the promulgation of a new constitution which had been massively approved (99,3 per cent) in a referendum held a month earlier. The process of engineering Niger into a one-party `democratic' country was, therefore, a long and elaborate one, initiated as it was in August 1983, when President Seyni Kountché announced a programme of gradual return to constitutional rule and `grassroots democracy'. The first stage in the process was the drawing up of a National Charter that would define the operational principles of the future constitution as well as the principal instrument for the `democratisation' project, namely the CND.
The objective of the CND was to dynamise and integrate neighbourhood, village and ward associations, known as samariya, into organs of democracy and development. The first draft of the Charter was circulated in April 1986 and adopted by the Council of Ministers in May 1987 after a national debate. It had no provisions for the transfer of power to elected representatives, but it proposed the establishment of the `rule of law' in the country (Raynal 1990:379--381). The death of Seyni Kountché and his succession by Ali Saibou as Head of State in November 1987, however, had the unexpected effect of accelerating the process of political change, as we shall see later in this essay. On assuming power, Saibou had declared that he would pursue the process of `democratisation', but would not accept multipartyism because of the need to preserve national stability and unity.
As part of his own `democratisation' scheme, Saibou transformed the CND into a single party, the MNSD (National Movement for the Development of Society). The new constitution that was adopted and the elections that were held in 1989 were aimed at the institutionalisation of this idea of single party `democracy' in the country (Maidoka 1991). The directing principle of the Second Republic was to `restore democracy while maintaining order' (Raynal 1990:382). Apart from these institutional changes, Saibou also considerably mellowed the authoritarian grip of the state (Adji 1991:329). Furthermore, he initiated a policy of `decrispation' by making the regime less austere, more open and friendly. On 10 December 1989, Ali Saibou was elected President of the Republic with 99,6 per cent of the vote; 93 members of the National Assembly were also elected with 99,52 per cent of the vote, all in a very orderly and successful manner (Niandou Souley 1990:249).
Two months after the election of Saibou to the presidency, on 8 February 1990 to be precise, university students started a boycott of lectures over International Monetary Fund-inspired structural adjustment policy measures that were pushing the state into substantially reducing funding for the educational sector. On Friday, 9 February 1996 the students organised a peaceful march that was to lead into the centre of Niamey. As they got to the Kennedy bridge on the outskirts of the capital, soldiers attacked them and at least three unarmed students were confirmed killed (Niandou Souley 1990:268). This massacre of students became a major turning point in Niger's history. It came as a great shock to the generality of the people that a government that claimed to be democratising society could massacre unarmed students without provocation.
Immediately after the massacre, the central labour organisation, the Union des Syndicats des Travailleurs du Niger (USTN), was shocked out of 30 years of lethargy and collaboration with the government in power. It withdrew from the governing council of the ruling MNSD party and began openly to agitate against the MNSD state. It played a major role in organising a massive demonstration the following Friday (16 February), after prayers at the mosque. That demonstration turned out to be the biggest protest march to be witnessed in the country since its independence from France in August 1960. Souley Adji (1991:333) argues convincingly that the massacre on what has come to be known as Black Friday signalled the birth of civil society in Niger. The culture of fear and silence that had been so characteristic of Francophone Africa generally and Niger in particular began to be reversed as the people openly declared their desire to define their own democracy rather than operate the one proposed by the state.
In the face of the popular determination of Nigeriens, the edifice of repression that had been erected by successive regimes collapsed. Four months after Black Friday, Haske, the first independent newspaper since the country's independence, was launched. From its first edition, it started a debate on the necessity for multipartyism and a National Conference. The trade unions moved from calling for respect for the constitution to demanding its abrogation. A general strike was organised in support of a National Conference and multiparty democracy and an estimated 100 000 people marched on the streets of Niamey. It marked the end of an era. The days of the ruling authoritarian oligarchy were apparently numbered. The people had imposed a linkage between democratisation and popular multiparty participation. It is to Ali Saibou's credit that he accepted the people's verdict and agreed that a National Conference be convened.
The National Conference in Niger was declared open by Saibou and it sat from 29 July to 3 November 1991 and was composed of over 1 200 delegates, representing trade unions, students' unions, political parties, chambers of commerce, voluntary associations, and the civil service. As in Benin Republic, the National Conference ruled from the very beginning that its decisions were sovereign and would override all pre-existing institutional powers. It, in fact, dissolved the government and asked the directors-general of ministries to report directly to it, thus turning President Saibou into a ceremonial Head of State. It even removed the chief of the army from office. What was most striking about the National Conference was the spirit of liberty it fostered all over the country. The security forces were removed from the streets and a feeling of confidence seemed to have returned to people.
The National Conference also reversed the marginalisation of the population and the will and determination for popular participation in politics became the order of the day. It was, indeed, a major cathartic moment that helped to release the spirit of liberty lurking in Nigeriens. Pearl Robinson (1994:576) is right in arguing that the notion of a Sovereign National Conference was conceived as an instrument for regime change grounded in Rousseau's ideas about popular sovereignty and the right of the people to renegotiate the social contract. The point of departure of the politics of the Conference was therefore the rejection of the MNSD authoritarian corporatist state that the country's rulers had tried to build. The Conference was in fact structured in such a manner as to disempower the corporatist power structure:
Representational formulae, deliberative procedures and voting rules were crafted to ensure that Power (henceforth, the term used for government or the political class) could always be defeated by majority vote (Robinson 1994:603).
The use of the National Conference to overthrow existing power structures had been experimented with in other countries in the region (Niandou Souley 1992). By the end of its deliberations on 29 October 1991, the National Conference in Niger had swept aside the neotraditional corporatist power structure that had dominated the country since independence and established transitional institutions that would rule over the country for fifteen months, after which fully democratic elections would take place. The transitional institutions consisted of the office of the President of The Republic, which would only have protocol functions, having been stripped of executive and legislative powers by the National Conference; a High Council of State/Haut Conseil de la Republique (HCR) that had legislative powers as well as supervisory powers over the executive; and finally, the Prime Minister and his ministers, who had executive powers. General Ali Saibou remained as President of the Republic, Professor André Salifou, the President of the Presidium of the National Conference, was elected President of the HCR, while Tcheffou Ahmadou was elected Prime Minister. All these elections were conducted in the National Conference, which also decided that none of the three transitional officers could contest the presidential elections that were scheduled for when the transitional period would end.
The transitional institutions were regarded as constituting the final phase of the National Conference and their main function was to lead the country to democratic rule. The National Conference prepared a legal framework (Acte Fundamental), which was to guide the transitional institutions in their task. The HCR adopted the new constitution on 30 September 1992 and Nigeriens accepted it in a referendum which took place on the 26 December 1992. The Fundamental Act did not spell out the functions and prerogatives of the transitional institutions very clearly, resulting in many conflicts of interpretation and clashes of personality during the transition. Notwithstanding these, the institutions were able to overcome the difficulties and lead Niger towards the adoption of the constitution and successful legislative and presidential elections in 1993.
The expansion of the national political space and the dynamics of democratisation that occurred in Niger also opened up the possibilities for the `ethnicisation' of the political process as the elites competed for the control of political power. The principle of multiparty politics had been accepted on 15 November 1990. The establishment of parties left the floodgates open for effective ethno-regional mobilisation in the country. Thirty political parties participated in the National Conference. Most of them were formed in haste and did not represent any real political force; several were soon to fade away. Some of them, however, had deep roots in Niger's political history, especially the MNSD, the focus of our discussion in this essay.
The MNSD is a party of notables and virtually all the top military, bureaucratic and business people in the country were members of the organisation before the National Conference was convened. Ali Saibou, who was the incumbent Head of State of Niger at the time the party was founded, was its president. Saibou, however, withdrew from the party leadership in 1991 and a congress was convened to elect a new leader. Two `military notables', namely retired colonels Adamou Djermakoye and Tandja Mamadou, both of whom were the leading power brokers under President Seyni Kountché, contested in the March 1991 leadership congress. Djermakoye is a scion of the Zarma ruling oligarchy in Niger and had been in the corridors of power since the days of Seyni Kountché. Indeed, he was a major contender in the race for the succession to Kountché after the latter's death. Mamadou was also a part of the top politico-military leadership of the country. He had been a prefect in Maradi and Tahaoua, interior minister in the national cabinet, and ambassador to Nigeria. However, unlike most of the rest of the top leadership, he was not Zarma. He is of mixed Kanuri and Fulani parentage from Diffa, in the south-east.
The leadership contest was won by Tandja Mamadou, mainly because the non-Zarma party cadres in the party teamed up to support him. Bala dan Sani, the very wealthy Hausa businessman and baron of the most densely populated region, Maradi, threatened to take Maradi out of the MNSD if Djermakoye was elected leader. The election of Mamadou as party leader saved the MNSD from being considered an ethnic party that was for the realisation of Zarma hegemonic aspirations. He had a wide network of supporters, especially among the business community and being neither Hausa nor Zarma assured him of even wider support. He is generally considered to be the most `de-tribalised' politician in the country. He also had very close connections with the military leadership in Nigeria, Niger's major economic partner. In fact, he enjoyed the open support of General Ibrahim Babangida, Nigeria's military ruler from 1985 to 1993.
The MNSD assumed that it was `destined' to win the post-National Conference elections in Niger because it had within it the people of wealth and influence in the country. That probably explains why its party slogan was nassara, meaning victory. Its main campaign platform was the necessity to re-establish state authority which its leaders felt had been seriously compromised by the Tuareg rebellion and the `excessively libertarian atmosphere' introduced by the National Conference. The party's presidential campaign train was in fact attacked by armed Tuareg rebels at Abala (Filingue District) on 9 January 1993 and in the ensuing battle, Tandja Mamadou led the successful army defence and counter-attack.
The MNSD is the most national of Niger's political parties. It not only won the most seats in the 1993 elections (29 out of 83), but also had the widest national spread, with at least two seats in all districts. Its candidate won the first round of the presidential elections and its main rival, the CDS, had to form an alliance to win the second round of the elections. The alliance formed by the MNSD won a majority of seats in the January 1995 parliamentary elections and eventually established the co-habitation government that ruled the country before the January 1996 coup d'état. The capacity of the MNSD to transform itself from an authoritarian sole party to an effective player in the democratic game is indeed remarkable.
The major rival of the MNSD is the Convention Democratique et Sociale (CDS-Rahama). The CDS was strongly associated with the interests of the Hausa bureaucratic elite and some elements of the Hausa commercial class who felt excluded from political power. Its origins have been traced to a regionalist cultural association, AMACA (Association Mutuelle pour la Culture et les Arts), established in 1982 in Zinder, the centre of Hausa resistance to Zarma hegemony. AMACA was formed as the Hausa political response to energie de l'ouest, a secret organisation established in 1976 as a think tank for the preservation of Zarma political hegemony in the country. AMACA metamorphasised into the CDS in 1990 with the clear intention of relying on the Hausa majority for its electoral success. Although the party has a strong Hausa nationalist orientation, many of its top leadership are not `ethnically' Hausa. President Mahamane Ousmane, who was elected in 1993, for example, considers himself to be Kanuri and the first Vice President of the party, Sanusi Jackou is of Tuareg origin. Hausa identity however, has, never been a narrow `ethnic' issue and these leaders are as Hausa as anyone else. The party was led by Mahamane Ousmane, the immediate past President of Niger. The party won 22 seats in the 1993 legislative elections, 14 of them in the Hausa strongholds of Maradi and Zinder.
The third party of note in the Nigerien political liberalisation process is the Parti Nigerien pour la Democratie et le Socialisme (PNDS-Tarayya). The PNDS presented itself as a socialist party formed by a broad cross section of the Nigerien left. Most of its cadres had been active in clandestine Marxist revolutionary groups and in the students' movement (USN) and teachers' (SNEN) union. Many of these militants such as the party leader, Mahamadou Issoufou, however, had risen to the top hierarchy of the civil service and public corporations and had become `embourgeoisified', at least in their material conditions of existence. The PNDS was widely acknowledged as the most ideologically committed and non-ethnic party in Niger. The party, however, got five out of its 13 seats in Tahoua, the region of origin of its leader; the other seats were spread over all the other districts, except Niamey, the capital. It was a major surprise that the party was unable to get any seats in the intellectual and political centre of the country. The PNDS, however, did not have major financial backers so its campaign was rather low key.
The next most important party is the Alliance Nigerienne pour la Democratie et le Progres (ANDP-Zaman Lahiya). The ANDP is the personal party of its leader, Moumouni Adamou Djermakoye, who lost control of the MNSD to Tandja Mamadou. His objective seemed to have been to take the Zarma vote away from the MNSD. Immediately after the MNSD Congress, he had formed CAMAD -- `Club des Amis de M A Djermakoye'/Club of Djermokoye's Friends -- to help him establish a party network. He had been ambassador to the United States and was conversant with modern campaign tactics, which he used effectively when CAMAD was transformed into the ANDP. His party was considered a great personal success because he stood against the huge MNSD party machine and won 11 seats, most of them in the Zarma area. He got his revenge against the MNSD by denying them the extra Zarma votes that would have assured them of complete victory at the elections.
The 1993 parliamentary elections revealed that the MNSD, with 29 of the legislative seats, was the largest party in the country. Although it did not have an absolute majority, it seemed well on the way to capturing the presidential elections that followed. Immediately after the results of the legislative elections were known, an anti-MNSD coalition known as the Alliance of the Forces of Change (AFC) was formed by the CDS, PNDS, ANDP, PPN/RDA, PSDN, UDPS, UDP, PUND and the PR. The AFC parties which together were able to aggregate 50 seats to the MNSD group's 33 seats were thus able to counterbalance their rivals and guarantee themselves the control of governmental power.
The second and decisive round of the presidential elections in Niger took place on the 27 March 1993. A day later, the loser and leader of the MNSD, Tandja Mamadou, visited his rival, Mahamane Ousmane, to congratulate him for winning the elections; he also promised the victor a vigorous but loyal opposition in the parliament of the country's Third Republic. The next morning, the 120 foreign observers who had covered the elections declared them to have been free and fair, although a few problems had been observed in the Agadez region where the Tuareg uprising was strong. The results of the elections were confirmed by the electoral commission (COSUPEL) -- Commission Nationale de Controle et de Supervision des Elections -- less than 48 hours after the end of voting. There were no complaints about rigging or electoral fraud. It was a very smooth and genuinely successful exercise.
The legislative elections were conducted on the principle of proportional representation at the level of the eight departments of the country rather than on the basis of a national list. There were 618 candidates, representing 12 political parties that contested for 83 seats in the elections, but only nine parties were able to obtain seats. The second party in the elections, the Social Democratic Convention/Convention Democratique et Sociale (CDS) took off with the handicap of being widely considered the party of the Hausa. It was, however, able to partially transcend the ethnic label by embarking on a campaign strategy of presenting itself as the party for change and for the new breed. The CDS leader and presidential candidate, Mahamane Ousmane, became the candidate of the AFC in the 27 March 1993 final round of the presidential elections. Thanks to the Alliance, he won the elections with 54 per cent of the votes, leaving his rival, Tandja Mamadou with an impressive 46 per cent of the votes.
Table 1 The February 1993 Legislative Elections
(MNSD and Allies)
|CDS -- 22 seats
PNDS -- 13
ANDP -- 11
RDA -- 2
PSDN -- 1
UDPS -- 1
UDP -- 0
PUND -- 0
PRL -- 0
|MNSD -- 29 seats|
UDFP -- 2
UPDP -- 2
|Total = 50||33|
The Alliance had reached an accord that after the first round of the presidential elections which the leaders of all the co-operating parties were free to contest, they would rally behind the candidate with the highest votes in the second and decisive round. The Alliance was formed to block the inheritors of the old single party regime from getting back to power, although their party, the MNSD, had the highest number of votes in the elections. Indeed, the high scores of the MNSD represented something of an embarrassment for the students and trade unions and political parties who had been allied in the Coordination Committee for Democratic Struggles/Comité de Coordination des Luttes Democratiques (COCD), also known as the `democratic forces', who fought for multipartyism as a strategy for regime change. The electoral results therefore bestowed a partial `re-legitimation' on the old power structure. The AFC was a heterogeneous, and to some extent contradictory, alliance because it had within it parties that were socialist, social democratic, pro- and anti-structural adjustment, federalist, and centralist. The Alliance was, therefore, politically fragile and was to be further weakened by internal perceptions and worries about monopoly and exclusion in the distribution of posts.
Following its victory, the AFC set up a ruling triumvirate with Ousmane of the CDS as President, Issoufou of the PNDS as Prime Minister and Djermokoye of the ANDP as President of the National Assembly. It was primarily because of the success of the AFC that the MNSD, the biggest party in the country, was denied control of the government and its leader, Tandja Mamadou, the most popular presidential candidate, was denied access to the presidency. Mamadou showed remarkable maturity by accepting the verdict, although many of his supporters felt he should have contested it, because Article 138 of the electoral code prohibits the prior distribution posts to enhance electoral chances. The formation of the AFC after the first round of the elections, based on an understanding of the allocation of the presidency, the office of the prime minister, and the presidency of the national assembly to the leaders of the CDS, PNDS and ANDP respectively, could have been legally contested. Once in power, however, the ruling coalition was able to maintain its cohesion for only about one year.
The MNSD and its allies were faithful to their promise of pursuing a very active opposition to the regime. It was not easy for the AFC, or any other party for that matter, to rule Niger. The economic crisis was serious and the government could not pay salaries and student bursaries regularly. Not surprisingly, the social scene became very agitated with regular strikes by unions. From 18 to 22 May, 1993, serious students demonstrations against the ruling coalition occurred in which party offices were destroyed. Twenty-seven students were arrested and taken to court for disrupting the public peace and destroying property (Haske, 9 June 1993). Further students demonstrations occurred in Agades on 10 January 1994 and in Niamey on 10 March 1994, in which many students were wounded in clashes with the security forces.
Irked by the rising tempo of social agitation, the AFC government became very intolerant of opposition. The MNSD did not, however, feel intimidated and, indeed, in April 1994 the parliamentary opposition embarked on a campaign of civil disobedience, an activity sanctioned by Article 6 of the 1992 Constitution. On 16 April 1994, the MNSD and the other opposition parties organised a massive demonstration against government policies, the marginalisation of their cadres in the public service and the creeping monopolisation by the AFC of the state apparatus. Ninety-one people, including Tandja Mamadou, the MNSD leader and Andre Salifou, leader of the UPPD, were detained and proceedings for charging them with assault, battery and disruption of public order were set in motion. The AFC majority teamed up to lift the parliamentary immunity of 33 opposition deputies. It was, as Mamadou said, a travesty of democracy: We consider that the proper procedures were once again violated here, because one part of the National Assembly cannot be at one and the same time judge and prosecutor. The deputies of the opposition did not have the opportunity to defend themselves (West Africa, 16 May 1994).
It was clear that the AFC was very jittery at the effectiveness of the opposition and tried unsuccessfully to use state power to repress it. The eventual collapse of the AFC was, however, more linked to its inability to maintain its internal cohesion.
The December 1992 Constitution, which established the institutions of the Nigerien Third Republic, was very similar to the constitution of the French Fifth Republic. The Third Republic was based on a multiparty system with the provision that political parties must have a national, secular and republican orientation. The President was to be elected for five years and s/he could only be re-elected once. The legislature was to be elected on a proportional basis and also allowed to serve for five years. As with the French version, the constitution was semi-presidential. That meant that the President needed parliamentary support to govern through his/her prime minister and when s/he lost such support, the tradition was either a dissolution of the National Assembly and the conduct of new elections that might produce a new majority for the president or co-habitation, which meant calling upon the opposition to the president to constitute the government. It is a system that is difficult to operate even in France, as has been witnessed in relation to the two co-habitations that occurred during Franµois Mitterand's fourteen-year rule.
The central idea that underpins the French constitutional system is that the president presides and the prime minister governs, and that, to say the least, is ambiguous. Constitutionally, the president has powers to appoint the prime minister and the government. S/He is also the commander-in-chief of the army and has powers to direct the country's foreign policy. At the same time, the constitution defines the prime minister as the Head of the Government which s/he has powers to direct, conduct and coordinate. The prime minister is responsible for the execution of laws and s/he can delegate his/her powers to his/her ministers. However, s/he is legally obliged to call upon the president to preside over the meetings of the executive council based on an agenda which s/he draws up. The government, under the leadership of the prime minister, determines and conducts national policy. The prime minister is also charged with the administration of the armed forces although the president has responsibility for defence policy. The prime minister is responsible to the national assembly for the conduct of government business.
The major strength of the constitutional provisions of the Third Republic is that it was consciously fabricated to allow for a genuine division of powers between the main institutions of government, namely the presidency, the executive/cabinet and the legislature, with the judiciary playing a significant arbitration role. The electoral code with its proportional system of representation deepened this tendency by allowing many parties to get a share of the seats in the national assembly. There were even eight special seats reserved for ethnic minorities whose population was too small to allow them win seats even in a proportional electoral system. The major weakness of the constitution, however, was the rather blurred line between the powers of the institutions, especially the presidency and the cabinet. In addition, there was a contradiction between the spirit of the constitution which assumed the necessity of a parliamentary majority to govern and the letter of the electoral code which favoured the presence of small parties in the National Assembly. With 19 parties recognised, it was unlikely that any party would have got a sufficient majority to allow it to govern alone.
The first signs of a crack within the AFC government came in September 1993 when the ANDP published a communique in which it complained that in spite of its role in clinching the victory of the Alliance, its cadres were being excluded from state prebends. It mentioned specifically that the party had been denied the quota of directorships of government departments and parastatals that it had been promised and that the CDS and PNDS had monopolised most of the posts. This was to set the tone for much of the political crises that developed subsequently , crises which the press christened prebendal wasoso. The final crack that led to the demise of the AFC government centred on the conflict between the president and his prime minister. On 21 September 1994 Muhammadou Ousmane published a decree reorganising the presidency. In essence, it transferred many services from the Prime Minister's office to the presidency, including the Cabinet Office, sections of the police and security forces, the Secretariat of the Council of Ministers, State Protocol, and the State Inspectorate Division. The decree clearly undermined the semi-presidential nature of the regime and was meant to cripple the powers of the prime minister.
Mohamadou Issoufou refused to accept the scaling down of his powers and eventually resigned from the post of prime minister on 28 September 1994. He argued that he decided to resign because he no longer enjoyed the support that will enable him to pursue the collective AFC programme which had been accepted by the National Assembly. The president wanted the PNDS to present another candidate for the prime minister's office but the party refused, opting instead to side with its leader. On 30 September 1994 the PNDS withdrew from the AFC, and by that act the Alliance lost its majority, as it was left with only 37 of the 83 seats in parliament. The PNDS had argued that it left the AFC because of creeping regionalism, ethno-centricism and corruption.
However, since the PNDS leader was the effective leader of the government while he was still the prime minister, his attempt to dissociate himself and his party from the vices of the ruling elite were not very credible. As Souley Adji has argued in his `Rose Story' series in the Alternative (12 October 1994), it is the story of a beautiful bride and her divorce based on an enduring principle -- `promoting the love of prebends, not the war over principles' (faisons l'amour des prebends, pas la guerre des principes). Indeed, there is no other way of understanding the ease with which the PNDS was able to switch its alliance from the AFC to the MNSD, the party it has devoted all its energies to combating. Only two PNDS leaders, Adji Kirgam and Mazou Ibrahim, publicly disagreed with the decision to ally with the MNSD and they were expelled for anti-party activities, an act that might have made other potential dissidents shut up.
Apparently, the president's calculation in provoking the split with Issoufou was that he would be able to reconstitute another majority with the MNSD or a faction of it. In a sense, the MNSD led the president up the garden path because it had consistently maintained it was prepared to cooperate with the president but only on condition that he broke with the PNDS. When the PNDS left and he contacted the MNSD to form a new alliance with him, they refused and opted instead to team up with their PNDS protagonists. It was a surprising alliance because the whole `progressive' history of the PNDS, from its days in students' radicalism to the formation of the party, had been built on a vigorous critique of and struggles against the MNSD oligarchy. An alliance with that party was therefore the last thing that was expected. But then as the saying goes, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies in politics.
Following the withdrawal of the PNDS from the government and the inability of the president to get factions of either the PNDS or the MNSD to join his party to constitute a new government, he appointed a close confidant, Souley Abdulaye, who was his former campaign manager, the treasurer of his party and finance minister, to head a new CDS-dominated government. The establishment of this government was clearly at odds with the spirit of the Nigerien constitution, which assumes that governments need parliamentary majorities to rule. On 16 October 1994, the parliament, with the combined strength of the MNSD and the PNDS, passed a vote of no confidence in Abdulaye, thus bringing down the 11-day-old government. The president eventually decided to use his constitutional prerogatives to dissolve the National Assembly and call for new elections.
The election campaigns started on 9 December 1994 in an environment of charged social tension. Salary arrears for the public sector had mounted to five months and workers were literally hungry and angry. The unions were bitterly opposed to a new labour legislation enforcing a 'no work, no pay policy' and requiring a longer notice before unions could embark on industrial action. A regular general strike -- organised every Wednesday since the beginning of November 1994 -- against the social policies of the government, had become a feature of the polity. There were also intense debates over the material organisation of the elections and suspicions of rigging, a situation that enhanced mutual checks and balances over electoral procedures that clearly helped to discourage temptations for rigging that might have existed. The elections, like the others before it, turned out to have been free and fair. The president and his remaining AFC allies lost the elections.
Table 2 Results of the January 1995 Parliamentary Elections
MNSD and its allies
|MNSD -- Nassara||29||CDS -- Rahama||24|
|PNDS -- Tarayya||12||ANDP -- Zaman Lahiya||9|
|UPDP -- Chamoua||1||PUND -- Salama||3|
|PPN/RDA||1||PSDN -- Alheri||2|
|UDPS -- Amana||2|
After the elections, the president had no option but to reluctantly accept the principle of co-habitation. He asked the new majority to submit the names and curriculum vitae of three people from which he would choose a new prime minister. They, however, decided among themselves whom they wanted, so they gave him only one name, Hama Amadou of the MNSD. He refused to appoint him and instead appointed Ahmadou Cisse, also of the MNSD, on 7 February 1994. Although he was a member of the opposition MNSD party, Cisse agreed to serve without the approval of his party. Cisse had been a World Bank staff in Washington since 1982 and had illusions that his country needed a `good' technocrat like himself who could stand above partisan politics and serve the `vital' national economic interests of Niger such as getting an accord signed with the IMF and getting the economy to benefit from the devaluation of the CFA franc (see his interview in Le Sahel, 9 February 1995).
The day after Ahmadou Cisse accepted the post of prime minister, he was expelled from the MNSD and not a single member of the new majority agreed to cooperate with him. He finally got the message and immediately packed his bags and went back to Washington. The president also got the message and agreed to appoint the candidate of the new majority as the co-habitation prime minister. Hama Amadou of the MNSD and candidate of the new majority was appointed prime minister on 21 January 1995 to head the fourth government of the Third Republic.
As has already been noted in the first part of this essay, the success of the MNSD in moving from opposition to power was against many odds. Since the wind of democratic change blew over Niger and the organisation of the National Conference, considerable effort and resources had been committed to the marginalisation of the MNSD by those who considered themselves the `democratic forces'. The party, however, was able to sustain its struggle for power and eventually win the elections. What is the reason for its success?
According to Hama Amadou, General Secretary of the MNSD and Prime Minister, the parties in the AFC coalition lacked political experience, were amateurish in the implementation of their programmes, and were thus unable to address the catastrophic economic situation in the country. It is doubtful that the MNSD itself, even if it had a free hand in governing, could have been more successful in resolving the serious economic crises which had been brewing since the early 1980s when its cadres were in power. Nonetheless, the fact that the parties in the AFC had obtained power partly because they had promised economic and political change and were then unable to deliver on their promises weakened their political support considerably and created the basis for their defeat in the 1995 elections. Their lack of experience must have been a factor in terms of their own overestimation of what could be realistically achieved in the situation.
The second factor that explains the success of the MNSD as an opposition party was the fragility of the AFC coalition in power. It was an heterogeneous group and unnatural alliance by parties that had no ideological similarities or common values. It was thus easy for a minor conflict to provoke a breakdown as happened following the withdrawal of the PNDS on 28 September 1994 (Niandou Souley 1995).
Thirdly, the MNSD was very successful in playing its role as an opposition party. Despite its defeat in the 1993 elections, the party succeeded in maintaining its cohesion in spite of efforts by its rivals to destabilise its national and local structures. The party was able to concentrate on its principal objective of preparing for the next elections. It sustained its role as the major opposition party, a sincere player in the democratic game and a viable alternative government. This credibility as a government-in-waiting helped to sustain the cohesion of the party and the morale of its members. The early signs of the fragility of the AFC were an encouragement in this regard.
Fourthly, there was the growing disappointment of Nigeriens with the AFC government due to the numerous promises that were not kept. After the initiation of multipartyism following the explosion of democratic demands, the political parties focused their campaign on the notion of change (changement), raising a lot of popular enthusiasm and expectations in the process. When the AFC came into power, however, it maintained the `traditional' kinds of conduct linked to the exercise of power in the country, including authoritarian and corrupt practices. An impression was soon created that the new regime was not composed of sincere democrats, but of people who were using democracy as a springboard for achieving their selfish ambitions. Not surprisingly, the people soon developed the expression changer le changement, implying that if the AFC represented the change that they had been craving for and had been promised, then they did not want it; so the so-called change must be changed.
The success of the MNSD poses the issue of the historical reverses which the `democratic forces' that came to power in the early 1990s in Africa are suffering. Are the `authoritarian forces' staging a come-back? Are the democratic processes under threat? The Kerekou come-back in Benin and the attempts by Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia, Pierre Buyoya in Burundi, Sasso Nguesso in Congo, etc, to come back pose serious challenges. But the experience of Niger would seem to be reassuring. The return of the MNSD to power was not based on a resort to its old authoritarian methods, but on its ability to adapt to the new democratic game as a faithful convert. The attempt by the AFC to control the mass media and the various violations of the law it committed seriously eroded its democratic credentials at the same time as the democratic image of the MNSD was improving. The success of the MNSD and the logic of co-habitation that was imposed therefore had a democratic character.
The coming to power of Hama Amadou of the MNSD was the first case of co-habitation in Francophone Africa and was therefore an interesting experiment. The period of co-habitation, however, was marked by only a few months of peaceful co-existence in the corridors of power. A major crisis erupted when the prime minister started removing AFC cadres from the governmental apparatus and replacing them with his own appointees. From 6 April 1995, the president started boycotting the meetings of the Council of Ministers, (which he had the constitutional obligation of presiding over), and refusing to see the prime minister. In July 1995, the prime minister announced the removal of the managers of parastatals. He used the security forces to physically eject them from their offices and replaced them with his own appointees. The president reacted by asking him to remove the new appointees and the security forces from the parastatals before he will allow the Council of Ministers to meet. The prime minister insisted that he would do nothing of that sort before the Council meeting and demanded that the president discipline the chief of his Presidential guards whom he alleged had attempted to assassinate him.
As the stand-off intensified, the prime minister decided to take over certain presidential prerogatives, including convening and presiding over two meetings of the Council of Ministers. The president declared the decisions taken at the two meetings illegal. The prime minister then raised the stakes further by `inviting' the president to a ministerial meeting he had convened and signing decrees, a move which the Supreme Court immediately declared illegal. By early August 1995, it was clear that both sides were not willing to negotiate or compromise and, above all, they were not willing to stick by the rules and regulations which they had sworn to protect when they took their oaths of office. The contention went to the Supreme Court which ruled on 6 September 1995 that constitutionally the president was entitled to call and preside over the meetings of the Council of Ministers. The agenda for such meetings, however, was to be fixed through consultation between the president and the prime minister. If they could not agree, then the Council itself was entitled to fix the agenda.
As the crises deepened, the president made it clear that he was going to dissolve the National Assembly and call for another round of elections. It appeared that he had only been waiting for the constitutionally defined minimum period of 12 months before once again dissolving parliament. To counter the dissolution threat, the prime minister announced that even if parliament was dissolved, he would insist on staying in office until the new elections were held. On 26 January 1996 Muhammadu Issoufou, former prime minister and the incumbent president of the National Assembly, formally lodged a request with the Supreme Court for the removal of the president on the grounds of incapacity to govern. The experiment in co-habitation had not been allowed to function. Clearly, the main actors in the political drama that was unfolding had blocked the operations of the political institutions and the political process, a pretext which the then Col Ibrahim Bare Mainasara used to justify the coup d'état which he led on 27 January 1996. That military takeover ended the increasingly turbulent experience of Niger's Third Republic.
One of the signs of mature democracies is the possibility of opposition parties to come to power through the electoral process. The MNSD opposition party in Niger was able to get to power through the ballot, but the bullet put a stop to the experiment. A democratic political culture has not yet been routinised in Niger. The political class was not playing by the rules of the game and, in the process, created an excuse for the military to intervene again in the nation's affairs. Their politics of brinkmanship and their determination to eliminate their rivals from power created a situation in which their collective interest was put at risk. It appears, however, that once out of power, the politicians have started to learn some useful lessons, a process facilitated by the less than honourable way in which Ibrahim Bare Mainasara, newly self-promoted General, has been manoeuvring to cling on to power.
The coup leaders had presented themselves as `saviours' of democracy who intervened only to correct the institutional ills of the Third Republic with a view to returning the country to democratic rule by December 1996. The international community objected strongly to the intervention and intense pressure was put on the military to go back to the barracks immediately and allow democratic institutions and procedures to be employed in sorting out the problems that had emerged. Most observers in Niger, however, were of the view that some drastic institutional changes were necessary if their country's democracy was to survive. Four days after coming to power, the junta called a National Forum which came up with the idea that the way forward was to change the constitution to a presidential type in which the president's powers would not be easily contested by his/her other colleagues in the executive branch of government. It was also suggested that the electoral code be changed to a first-past-the-post system so that it would be easier for one party to emerge with a clear majority.
The major protagonists of the Third Republic -- the former president Mahamane Ousmane, the former prime minister Hama Amadou, and the former president of the National Assembly, Mohamadou Issoufou -- appeared on television in early February 1996 to read a joint declaration before the acting president of the Supreme Court stating that:
The military coup was due essentially to difficulties arising from the application of the fundamental laws of the Republic, in particular, the Constitution of 26th December 1992 (Le Democrate, 12 February 1996).
The three men then called for a new electoral code and a constitutional revision and its adoption by referendum. Pressure from the international community in general and France in particular compelled the new military leadership to shorten its transition programme from eleven months to six months and the question that is now posed is that of transition to what.
The new electoral and constitutional proposals were rushed through committees and put before a constitutional referendum which was held on 12 May 1996. The new constitution was approved by 90 per cent of the electorate with a participation level of about 35 per cent. Presidential elections were scheduled for 7 July 1996 and General Ibrahim Bare Mainasara announced his intention to contest for the presidency as an independent candidate. Meanwhile, the political playing ground was not level because General Mainasara had been campaigning in office, while political activities remained banned until 20 May 1996. It became clear that the General had intervened on the political scene to take and keep power, not to fix the political system in the interest of democracy. The six major political parties in the country, including the MNSD and the CDS, came together in June 1996 to establish a Republican pact to checkmate General Mainasara's attempts to discredit the whole political class and remain in power. If the Nigerien political class has learned the lesson that keeping to democratic rules is a question of collective self-interest and that the real political enemy is not the other political party, but the military, then the march towards democracy in the country could still be salvaged.
Department of Political Science,
Ahmadu Bello University,
Abdoulaye Niandou Souley
Faculté des Sciences Economiques et Juridiques
Université de Niamey,