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Niger coup: How ordinary people are paying the price

August 4, 2023

Just over a week after Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum was ousted in a coup, prices are rising in the impoverished Sahel nation.

Supporters of Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum hold up a framed photograph of him
Supporters of Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum gather to show their support in the capital Niamey Image: AFP

Just over a week after Niger's democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum was ousted in a coup, people in the vast Sahel nation are already feeling the economic squeeze.

Markets are still full of goods, but shoppers say food prices are going up.

In Niger's bustling southern city of Maradi, which lies just 40 kilometers from the border to Nigeria, one resident told DW that he was shocked by how much the price of rice had shot up since the military seized power.

It has gone from 11,000 West African CFA francs a bag (€16.75 or $18.30) to 13,000 francs in just a few days, explained Moutari, who didn't want to give his last name. That's a rise of 20%. 

"I have enough to buy this rice, but I feel sorry for the poorest people who can't afford to buy a bag," he said. "The days ahead are going to be very difficult. We just have to pray that things will work out."

What can ECOWAS do to counter Niger coup?

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) slapped severe sanctions on Niger on Sunday in response to the coup, including a number of border closures.

These impose additional hardships on the impoverished and landlocked nation of Niger, where the majority of key imports, including food staples like rice, would normally be trucked in from neighboring countries.

Vital borders still closed

Niger's coup leaders, who closed all land borders and airspace when they took control on July 26, announced on Tuesday that borders to some neighbors were reopened.

People and goods can move again to Algeria, Libya and Chad — who aren't in ECOWAS — as well as to ECOWAS members Mali and Burkina Faso, who support the coup leadership.

But the key borders to Benin and Nigeria remain closed due to the ECOWAS sanctions.

The Atlantic ports of those two nations are vital to Niger for the import and export of goods, Abdoul Aziz Seyni, an economist at the University of Niamey, told Reuters news agency.

"We ... aren't a country with direct access to the sea," Seyni said. "Everything we buy arrives at the ports of neighboring countries, and from these neighboring countries we have to transport it to Niger. So if these countries decide to close their borders, frankly there will be an impact on the socio-economic life of Nigeriens."

Minivan driver Moussa Halirou, who transports passengers on the Maradi-Nigeria route, is feeling the pinch of the Nigerian border closure already. The sharp rise in the price of fuel on the black market is eating into his profits.

Before the coup, he would pay 350 Nigerian naira (€0.42 or $0.45) for a liter of gasoline, he told DW. But now, the price has gone up to 620 naira.

Halirou said that even though he has doubled the price of transporting passengers to account for the rise in fuel, he is still only making a profit of about 4,500 naira a trip.

A man riding a motorcycle carries dozens of jerry cans filled with gasoline on his back
Many goods - including petrol - are regularly smuggled from Nigeria to Maradi in NigerImage: BOUREIMA HAMA/AFP

Stuck at the border

Others find themselves in an even more difficult situation. Up to 1,000 vehicles a day, many carrying goods to markets, normally travel the trade corridor between Benin's port of Cotonou and Niger's capital Niamey. It's one of the busiest crossings in West Africa, according to Reuters.

But since the coup in Niger, nothing is moving.

"Even if a truck is loaded, it has to stay parked, because it can't move," said Salissou Idrissa, one of the many truck drivers stuck at the Malanville border crossing, waiting to go from Benin into Niger. "The vehicles are lined up at the border as far as the eye can see."

Lights off

Nigeria has also cut electricity to Niger, which depends on its neighbor for the majority of its power. Many districts suffered from frequent power cuts even before the coup, although less than one out of five people actually have access to electricity in the country, according to the World Bank.  

On top of this, ECOWAS sanctions have seen the suspension of commercial and financial transactions between member states and Niger as well as a freeze of Niger's assets in ECOWAS central banks and commercial banks. 

In addition, the 15-member bloc has also threatened to use force if President Mohamed Bazoum wasn't returned to power.

A man stands in front of a hut held together with rags and rope
In 2022, Niger ranked third last on the Human Development IndexImage: Sam Mednick/AP/picture alliance

Reliant on aid amid extreme poverty

People in Niger can hardly afford these rising prices, let alone economic and political uncertainty in a region that has been plagued by instability. One of the world's poorest countries, Niger was already in the midst of its worst humanitarian crisis in a decade before the military power-grab.

With two thirds of the country being desert, Niger suffers from intense droughts and has little arable land. Some 4.3 million people, or 17% of the population, are dependent on food aid to survive. 

United Nations humanitarian operations continued uninterrupted, a UN spokesperson said at a Wednesday briefing, adding that "road movements are possible and have been authorized." 

But some of Niger's biggest donors, including the European Union, Germany, France and the United Kingdom, have cut various types of development and budgetary aid to the government since the coup. 

The country receives close to $2 billion a year in official development assistance, with some 40% of the Nigerien government's budget reportedly coming from outside aid.

The German government stressed, however, that it will continue to provide humanitarian aid to people in need in Niger.

Ali Abdou in Maradi, Niger contributed to this article.

Edited by: Sertan Sanderson

Kate Hairsine Senior Editor & Reporter