By Fakhriya M. Suleiman, MA Global Media and Postnational Communications
On 27 December 2020 Niger held a landmark general election, poised to be the West African nation’s first democratic hand over of power since independence in 1960. 69.67% of the Nigerien electorate headed to the polls to vote for their future president and members of the Assemblée Nationale (National Assembly).
None of the 30 presidential candidates were able to secure the mandated majority of votes needed. A second round is due to be held on 21 February 2021.
“‘Saï Bazoum’, i.e ‘none other than Bazoum is fit for the job’ in Hausa, doubled as both his campaign slogan and popular Twitter hashtag among his supporters.”
Most Nigeriens yielded to the rallying cry of former interior minister and the ruling party’s presidential candidate, Mohamed Bazoum, putting him in the lead with 39.33% of votes cast. ‘Saï Bazoum’, i.e. ‘none other than Bazoum is fit for the job’ in Hausa, doubled as both his campaign slogan and popular Twitter hashtag among his supporters.
Bazoum and his party, le Parti Nigérien pour la Démocratie et le Socialisme-Tarayya (PNDS-Tarayya, the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism-Union), took to Twitter to keep Nigeriens up to date with the PNDS-Tarayya campaign online. Tweets and videos were mainly in the official language of French, but content was also uploaded in Hausa – which is spoken by half of the population, Arabic, Zarma, Fulani, and Tamashek, amongst others.
Bazoum, himself a former teacher, said during a rally in Zinder, South-Central Niger, that he would prioritise education. He told supporters that ‘if we want to develop our country, we must therefore promote education. As a teacher, if I become president of Niger, I will give priority to education.’
The run up to the December polls was marred by increasing extremist violence – an issue Idrissa Ibrahim Ayat, a specialist in Nigerien political and security affairs, cited as what should be the top priority for outgoing president Mahamadou Issoufou’s successor. For Ayat ‘the first task of the future president lies in rebuilding confidence in the national army to combat armed groups.’
Halimatou Hima, counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Niger to the United Nations, explained in her article for West Africa Insight that the Sahelian country faces security threats ‘on multiple fronts.’ Namely, from ‘Boko Haram on the south-eastern border with Nigeria and from other terrorist groups and criminal organisations active in Mali, Burkina Faso and Libya.’
Hima highlighted that between December 2019 and January 2020, terrorist attacks claimed the lives of 174 Nigerien soldiers. The country also has over 102,000 internally displaced persons. She stressed the need to bolster the nation’s security for the sake of its development, as ‘without sustained development, we can expect worse.’
Ayat also pointed out the need for the next president to ‘rebuild national unity through programs focusing on peaceful coexistence and cohesion among all peoples of Niger; irrespective of whether a faction of society is in the majority or minority.’ Bazoum, himself a champion for national unity, hails from the nation’s ethnic Arab minority. In an interview with AFP he asserted that he is a ‘Nigerien and an Arab at the same’ and said that his opponents who denounced his presidential bid on the basis of him being ‘foreign’ were ‘shameful’ and ‘racist.’
But for Lamine Sanda, a Nigerien university student studying in France, the fact that Bazoum was able to secure the majority of votes in the first round from all regions and ethnicities in the country showed that ‘in reality, his ethnicity played no part in the election.’
Sanda also went on to argue that Niger is in need of a ‘complete overhaul of the entire political class,’ citing Bazoum as not being a stranger to the political scene. Sanda questioned whether a Bazoum win will yield ‘extraordinary change for the lives of Nigeriens,’ given that he positioned himself as the candidate who would ‘be in the continuity of [former president] Issoufou’s work.’
Round two of the election will see Bazoum go head-to-head with Mahamane Ousmane, the first democratically elected and fourth president of Niger, who placed second with 16.99% of the vote. Analysts say Bazoum will need to seek alliances before the February run-off to secure his presidential bid.
For Hima, this election is ‘historic’ as the posited democratic transition ‘would not just be significant for Niger, but for West African democracy in general.’
Photo caption: Presidential frontrunner, Mohamed Bazoum, photographed casting his vote at a polling station in Niger’s capital Niamey on December 27, 2020 (Credit: @mohamedbazoum via Twitter).