In 2011, after two decades climbing the ranks of Niger’s army, Abdourahamane Tiani was handed one of the military’s most prized appointments: the head of an elite unit set up to protect the president.
Last week, Tiani, a general, used his position and manpower to do the opposite. He imprisoned President Mohamed Bazoum in the presidential palace and appeared on state television on Friday to declare himself head of state, confirming the seventh military coup in West and Central Africa in three years.
Tiani, 59, said that soldiers had seized power because of persistent insecurity driven by a decade-long Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands of soldiers and civilians across the Sahel, echoing justifications by military leaders in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso who have also snatched power since 2020.
“We cannot continue with the same approaches proposed so far, as it risks witnessing the gradual and inevitable disappearance of our nation,” he said.
The insecurity was close to home for Tiani, who was born in 1964 in a small village in the Filingué region in southwest Niger which has seen some of the worst fighting, including an attack on an army base in 2021 that killed 89 soldiers.
He attended local schools before joining the army in 1985 where he was posted across the country, including the northern town of Agadez during a Tuareg uprising in the 1990s, according to a biography released by the new ruling military council.
The document says he received training in France, Morocco, Senegal and the US, where he attended the College of International Security Affairs at Fort McNair in Washington, DC.
He served as a commander and observer abroad for regional and UN forces during conflicts in Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, and has been decorated with some of the country’s highest military honours.
Now, Tiani has become a central player overseeing the fate of a region where Russian influence is on the rise and juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso have kicked out troops from former colonial power France. Regional powers have threatened military intervention if he does not return Bazoum to power within days.
Just last week, Niger, one of the world’s poorest countries, was seen as the West’s last ally in the region. Aid, investments and training rushed in from the US and the EU. French and US forces are stationed there, though their future is now in doubt.
The speed of change in Niger is evident in Tiani’s biography. The document, seen by Reuters, was typed apart from one last minute update scrawled in pen at the bottom of his list of jobs: “President of the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Fatherland, head of state, July 28 2023.”