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Wednesday, 22 December, 1999, 16:13 GMT
Military rule ends in Niger

Major Wanke Major Wanke will hand over to his elected successor

By West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle

A new, democratically-elected, civilian leader has been inaugurated in the west African state of Niger - the vast arid state on the edge of the Sahara desert which has suffered austere military rule for most of the years since independence from France in 1960.

The new leader, Mamadou Tandja, was elected in November after the latest military ruler, Major Daouda Mallam Wanke, briefly seized power in a coup d'etat with a promise to hand over to civilians.

Major Wanke's coup, in which a previous military strongman was gunned down as he stepped onto a helicopter, was famously described by officials as an unfortunate accident, but few people believed it was.

Coup d'etat

When Major Wanke seized power in April, the coup d'etat was roundly condemned by the international community, and Niger - one of the poorest countries in the world - was further isolated by donor states.

The donors were not impressed by another man in uniform taking over, nor with the rather ridiculous explanation that the coup had been an accident.

However, inside the country, civilian politicians gave Major Wanke, the benefit of the doubt when he promised he would not hang on to power for long.

Niger elections People are seeing their votes being taken into account

It seems they were right to do so, because the major has kept his promise to manage a swift transition to democratic rule.

A short-lived military regime recently pulled off the same democratic transition in Niger's influential southern neighbour, Nigeria, which clearly served as a political model.

One of the major challenges facing the new civilian president is that Niger is broke. Hospital workers and teachers are regularly unpaid for months and their only weapon against complete destitution is to go on strike.

More dangerously, unpaid soldiers often mount mutinies to try to get their back pay.

The election of a new civilian leader has seen western donor countries begin to return with promises of loans and grants, so long as the experiment in democracy continues.

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See also:
26 Nov 99 |  Africa
Ex-colonel ahead in Niger poll
09 Apr 99 |  Africa
Niger: A copybook coup d'etat
09 Apr 99 |  Africa
Niger government accepts election demands

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