Niger President Mohamed Bazoum’s ‘incredibly difficult’ captivity

Eleanor Sa-Carneiro

[This Qonversation took place before the latest spate of jihadist attacks in the Sahel and beyond, and before an alleged attempt by President Bazoum to escape captivity.]

For over two months, since the head of Nigers Presidential Guard attempted a coup on July 26, a military junta has held the President, Mohamed Bazoum, his wife Khadija, and their son Salem hostage, in conditions that have deteriorated over time.

The conditions of detention are extremely difficult” Salim Mokaddem, education advisor to the Presidency of Niger and a close confidante of Bazoum told Qonversations.

Unable to go outside, with little or no access to electricity or water, and malaria sparing no one, these last months have been a test of what Mokaddem describes as the Presidents unbreakable spirit.

In early August, once a medic bearing provisions had been barred from visiting the family, and food had been rationed for days, Human Rights Watch issued a statement requesting their immediate release, echoing many governments and organisations such as the United Nations. They reported that the conditions under which the President and his family were being held were deteriorating. Conditions would eventually improve, only to worsen again, keeping the President alive but weakening him physically.

President until he signs the resignation papers, Bazoum is showing resolve by not conceding, explains Mokaddem, who first met Bazoum when they were young philosophy professors. He fought for his mandate to be president, and he feels vested with a sacred mission. He swore on the Koran, he swore before the Constitution, he is responsible for the Nigerien people, he is responsible for Nigers peace, he is responsible for his programme and he cannot resign if he has not decided, for sovereign reasons, to resign.”

By September, as schools began, Mohamed and his wife Khadija appealed for their son be freed, so that 21-year-old Salem could return to his studies, but the request was denied. Mokaddems frustration is tangible, We have a family sequestered under common law, against all common sense, and against all humanity, which does not represent the spirit of Nigerien civilization which is based on hospitality, inclusion, and fraternity”.

According to an announcement made by the putsch and CNSP spokesperson, Colonel-Major Amadou Abdramane on October 19, an attempt to escape was thwarted. Days after the coup , in a televised address, the chief of the presidential guard, Tchiani, told the nation president Bazoum was deposed to stop “the gradual and inevitable demise” of Niger because “the security approach today has not brought security to the country despite heavy sacrifices.”

France’s President Emmanuel Macron expressed concern over the uncertain conditions and, in a statement released on Friday, again called for the immediate release of President Bazoum, his wife and their son.

Of the captors, Mokaddem tells Qonversations that There’s been an error of judgment on their part. President Bazoum is an exceptional character, of great kindness… and great loyalty to his elective mandate and to the people who elected him”, reaffirming that the President will not sign off on this coup.

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