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Niger coup: Can Africa use military power for good?

Niger's junta flexed its political and military power in ousting a strongman who overstayed his electoral mandate. Secretly, many locals are happy with the Niger coup.

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Supporters of a coup celebrated in the capital, Niamey, in its aftermath on Feb. 20. President Tandja was ousted by military power after 10 years – and a constitutional change that he used to extend his rule.

Rebecca Blackwell/AP

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Weeks after the Feb. 18 coup in Niger, the gates of the presidential palace still gape with holes blasted by mutinous commandos. No one knows when there will be a new leader to order that the debris cluttering the lawns be cleared.

For now, a military junta is still calling the shots.

On its face, the latest military overthrow of an elected African leader is yet another setback for democracy in West Africa. There have been other coups on the continent, and the justification is often that the current leader is corrupt or running roughshod over the Constitution. The ouster of strongman Mamadou Tandja, who overstayed his electoral mandate, is once again raising the question: Is there such a thing as a "good coup"?

"As democratic people, we can't cheer a military coup d'état," says Ali Idrissi, president of a coalition of Nigerien nongovernmental groups working for transparency in the impoverished country's lucrative oil and mining industry. "But in reality, deep down, we are cheering it. For us, it's a good coup d'état."

Many blame mounting insecurity and epidemic poverty in the landlocked West African country on the failures of Mr. Tandja's 10-year rule.

Despite vast reserves of oil and uranium, the United Nations considers Niger the world's least developed country, ranking just below Afghanistan.

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