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Transfers of Power, Redux: Niger vs. Honduras

Friday, Feb. 19, 2010

I drew a comparison earlier this week between the transfer of power in Nigeria with what occurred in Honduras last year, noting the radically different international reactions in the two cases. We might have an even better comparison today, in the form of Niger's military coup to remove President Mamadou Tandja from power. The coup comes after Tandja had dissolved parliament and amended the constitution last year to remove term limits that would have disqualified him from seeking re-election.

My hunch is that beyond the perfunctory condemnations (the AU and ECOWAS have already offered theirs), we won't hear much outrage in the initial wait-and-see period. If it becomes clear that the junta isn't planning on relinquishing power, we'll see a quick shift to the Guinea model. But otherwise, this will probably be considered more a "democratic nudge" than a breakdown.

What made Honduras such a challenging case, of course, was that the military action was carried out under mandate of the country's judiciary and legislative branch and led to the immediate transfer of power to a civilian government, putting it closer to the Nigerian model. But former President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras seemed to be engineering the first steps of the sort of "constitutional coup" that Tandja was in the advanced stages of implementing. And as in Niger, the actual removal from power was carried out by the military.

So we have two examples that plot out the two poles of the spectrum, Nigeria and Niger, with Honduras fitting into a hybrid category somewhere in the middle. And oddly enough, or perhaps understandably, it's that hard-to-qualify hybrid middle ground that created the most fallout.