The Military Coup in Niger

Five Questions for Bruno Métral, Helvetas' Niger Country Director
BY: Iris Nyffenegger - 31. August 2023

In July 2023 a military coup took place in Niger, a country located in northwest Africa. The democratically elected president was overthrown. Helvetas has been present in Niger, one of the world's poorest countries, since 2012. In 2021, over 40% of the population was living in extreme poverty. Bruno Métral, the Country Director for Niger, explains the impact of events on the population and Helvetas projects.

1) What impact has the coup had on the daily lives of the civilian population?

At this time, stores and markets are still open, but there are shortages. The borders with Benin and Nigeria, the main entry points for imported goods, are closed. Burkina Faso is organizing convoys of goods, but volumes remain very limited and cannot compensate for the suspended imports. As a result, the price of imported goods has soared: At Niger's southern border with Benin, a 100kg bag of corn now costs the equivalent of $65, compared with $43 previously. Imported rice has also risen in price. On the other hand, prices for local foodstuffs — meat and rice, for example — remain stable for the time being. But supply problems are not limited to food: Shortages of medicines, particularly insulin, are already being felt.

2) What are residents' main concerns?

The financial situation. In addition to rising prices, there are also difficulties in transferring money from abroad. Banks have limited daily ATM withdrawals, and foreign companies are facing a cash shortage — and therefore a problem paying salaries. In the civil service, July salaries were almost all paid for civil servants, but not for contract workers. Everyone is still waiting to see whether August salaries will be paid. The question is whether the start of the school year, scheduled for September 15, will be able to take place if they are not paid.

Residents are also suffering from a lack of electricity, most of which is produced by diesel generators or imported from neighboring countries. Power is currently distributed on a temporary, district-by-neighborhood basis, with power cuts lasting several hours. This situation is especially problematic since temperatures can rise to over 40°C (104°F ) this time of year.

3) Are roads open within the country? What about borders?

Movement within the country is possible, but the situation of insecurity — which pre-dates the coup d'état — persists. The borders with Nigeria and Benin are closed, but those with Burkina Faso, Mali and Chad remain open. While some commercial flights have resumed — notably those operated by Air Algérie — air travel still seems to be sporadic. No official announcement of the reopening of air borders has been made.

4) Switzerland has withdrawn Swiss staff from Niger. How are Helvetas staff in-country doing?

As soon as the coup d'état took place, Helvetas' offices in Niger were closed and staff telecommuted until mid-August. While the political and social situation has not changed in our two regional offices, it is a little more tense in the capital, Niamey. Rising prices, power cuts and border closures are of course complicating the daily lives of our colleagues.

As for the two expatriates working in Niger, one was on leave outside Niger at the time of the coup, while the second was able to repatriate with his family. For the time being, both are teleworking in their home countries until the situation returns to normal.

5) Helvetas has been working in Niger since 2012, mainly in rural areas, with projects primary focused on supporting access to drinking water, sanitation, agriculture and migration. Can the organization continue its work?

For the time being, we are able to carry on with most of our activities, despite facing travel constraints. The National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, which was set up by the putschists, has appointed military personnel to the posts of governors in Niger's eight regions. The municipal and regional councils, who are elected by the population and our main partners in project implementation, were left in place. So our work hasn't really changed. That said, we are constantly analyzing the situation to ensure the safety of our employees.