Niger’s newly elected President Mohamed Bazoum has been sworn in, a democratic watershed overshadowed by armed groups’ violence and alleged coup bid two days ago.
The inauguration on Friday marks the first-ever transition between elected presidents in Niger’s six decades of independence from France, a historic moment that has been widely praised.
Mohamed Bazoum, sworn in on Friday as president of the troubled Sahel state of Niger, worked for years as the right-hand man of his predecessor Mahamadou Issoufou.
The 61-year-old steps into the world spotlight with one of the toughest jobs around — taking the helm of a deeply poor country battling a double jihadist insurgency.
Bazoum successfully campaigned in Niger’s elections as Issoufou’s anointed successor, a unifier of the nation and a defender of the rural poor.
He won the February runoff with 55.6 percent of the vote, according to official results contested by his opponent Mahamane Ousmane.
But the Sahel country’s instability and insecurity have been deeply underscored in the run-up to Friday’s ceremony.
In the early hours of Wednesday, after gunfire broke out near the presidency in the capital Niamey, the government announced an “attempted coup” had been thwarted, a “cowardly and regressive act which sought to threaten democracy and the state of law”.
Bazoum, 60, is a former interior minister and right-hand man of outgoing President Mahamadou Issoufou, 68, who has voluntarily stepped down after two five-year terms.
But his most formidable rival, former Prime Minister Hama Amadou, was banned from running because of a conviction for baby trafficking, a charge he has branded politically motivated.
There have been growing attacks by armed groups and political tensions in the country following Bazoum’s victory with more than 55 percent of the ballot in a February presidential election runoff. Former President Mahamane Ousmane, who lost in the runoff, has rejected the results alleging fraud.
Last week, Niger’s top court confirmed Bazoum’s win, allowing the governing party candidate to be sworn in on April 2.
Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world, according to the benchmark of the UN’s 189-nation Human Development Index (HDI).
A week ago, gunmen on motorcycles attacked villages located near the border with Mali, killing at least 137 people in the deadliest violence to strike Niger in recent memory.
Those attacks came on the same day that the Constitutional Court certified Bazoum’s electoral victory.
In January, at least 100 people were killed in villages, the same day that Niger announced the presidential election would go to a second round on February 21.