|Volume 53 Number 25, August 19, 2023
On July 26, General Tchiani, a former chief of the Niger presidential guard, and other members of the Niger armed forces deposed President Mohamed Bazoum and seized power. Tchiani stated that he wanted to avert "the gradual and inevitable demise" of Niger. The coup leaders have since organised the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP).
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional group of 15 countries, currently chaired by President Bola Tinubu of Nigeria, threatened military intervention by August 6 if Bazoum was not freed and restored to office by then. However the deadline passed without event and there is not unanimous support for military action among ECOWAS members. Senegal, Mali and Burkina-Faso have stated that they are firmly opposed to any military intervention in Niger. Even Nigeria's own Senate has opposed military intervention and encouraged the bloc to "strengthen political and diplomatic options" to deal with the situation. Nigeria's constitution requires Senate approval before any troops can be deployed externally or internally unless the President deems national security is under threat. An ECOWAS summit in Accra, Ghana on August 10 that was to review the "best options" for military intervention was postponed indefinitely, purportedly for technical reasons.
Niger is a landlocked country in West Africa, bordered by Libya to the northeast, Chad to the east, Nigeria to the south, Benin and Burkina Faso to the southwest, Mali to the west, and Algeria to the northwest. It is referred to as the gateway to the Sahel, a 3,670-mile-long region that runs from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea and spans parts of northern Senegal, southern Mauritania, central Mali, northern Burkina Faso, the extreme south of Algeria, southern Niger, the extreme north of Nigeria, Cameroon and Central African Republic, central Chad, central and southern Sudan, the extreme north of South Sudan, Eritrea, and the extreme north of Ethiopia. The Western Sahel, including Niger, was colonised by France in the late 19th century, and later decolonised in 1960. The Eastern Sahel was annexed by Egypt in 1820, eventually coming under British control as part of the Sultanate of Egypt in 1914.
Niger produces seven per cent of the world's supply of uranium, extracted mainly by French mining companies which have been mining uranium in Niger since 1957. The Madaouela Uranium Project is one of the largest uranium resources in the world. While foreign multinationals are pillaging the wealth of Niger, the people have one of the lowest standards of living in the world and the per capita income is less than £480 per year.
The government of Mohamed Bazoum was known for working closely with the militaries of the US and the former colonial power France. The US State Department has described Niger as "important as a linchpin for stability in the Sahel" and a "reliable counter-terrorism partner" against various Islamist groups. The US and France maintain air bases in the country's capital Niamey. Reuters says, "France has between 1,000 and 1,500 troops in Niger, with support from drones and warplanes." Among other actions, the CNSP has revoked five military co-operation agreements and suspended broadcasts of French international news outlets France 24 and RFI. A statement by the French foreign ministry referred to Bazoum as the country's sole leader, adding that France "does not recognise the authorities resulting from the putsch led by General Tchiani" and that France "reaffirmed in the strongest terms the clear demands of the international community calling for the immediate restoration of constitution al order and democratically-elected civilian government in Niger". France has conducted military operations throughout West Africa in the recent period.
As concerns the US, "There are about 1,100 US troops in Niger, where the US military operates out of two bases. In 2017, the government of Niger approved the use of armed American drones to target militants," Reuters informs. "The US Embassy in Niamey in 2021 said the Pentagon and State Department had provided Niger more than $500 million in equipment and training since 2012," it adds. The US opposes the coup only because it does not serve US interests, but has not called it a coup, because under US law, doing so would require it to cease military and economic assistance, and the US does not want to give up the strategic position of its troops and bases in Niger. In 2020, a map from the US Command in Africa (AFRICOM) indicated that the US has 29 military bases across the continent.
Victoria Nuland, Acting US Deputy Secretary of State - who organised the 2014 coup in Ukraine that set off the events that led to the current US/NATO proxy war in Ukraine - is in Niamey, in talks with the coup leaders. Nuland stated that "if there is a desire on the part of the people who are responsible for this to return to the constitutional order" the US is offering its "help".
Italy's Defence Ministry says there are some 300 Italian troops in Niger. The EU "has 50-100 troops for a three-year military training mission it set up in Niger in December to help the country improve its logistics and infrastructure. Germany said in April it would deploy up to 60 soldiers to the mission."
For its part, the British government said in a statement on July 30: "The UK condemns in the strongest possible terms attempts to undermine democracy, peace and stability in Niger. The Communique agreed at the Fifty First Extraordinary Summit on the Socio-Political Situation in the Republic of Niger, held by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on July 30 sets out a strong and clear response to this infringement of the democratic rights of the people of Niger. We continue to stand by ECOWAS and their efforts to ensure a return to democracy in Niger."
Minister for Development and Africa Andrew Mitchell said: "The UK wholly supports the immediate political and economic measures announced today by ECOWAS and will suspend long-term development assistance to Niger. We will however continue to provide critical humanitarian assistance to the people of Niger. The UK is a committed partner of Niger's democratically elected government and calls for President Bazoum to be immediately reinstated to restore constitutional order."
A further statement from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) on August 11 said: "The United Kingdom supports the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in calling for the restoration of constitutional order and democracy in Niger. We welcome the determination of ECOWAS to pursue all means to bring about a peaceful resolution. We stand in support of democracy in Niger.
"We stand with ECOWAS in condemnation of the illegal detention of President Mohamed Bazoum, his family, and members of the government, as well as the unacceptable conditions under which they are being held, and call for their immediate release."
A rally was held in Niamey on August 6 attended by 30,000 people in support of the CNSP. Addressing the gathering, General Mohamed Toumba, one of the CNSP leaders, denounced those "lurking in the shadows" who were "plotting subversion" against "the forward march of Niger". "We are aware of their Machiavellian plans," Toumba said.
Absent from all the statements and media reports is the fact that the destabilisation and increased terrorist activity in the Sahel is directly the result of NATO's illegal 2011 intervention in Libya to depose Muammar Ghaddafi, in which Britain was a close partner of the US in this military aggression. The British government itself operated an "open door" policy allowing British-trained Libyan exiles and British-Libyan citizens to enter Libya to take part in the overthrow. While NATO's jets bombed Libya from above, it poured weapons into Libya to foment civil war. These weapons and those groups armed by NATO, including Britain, in 2011 have gone on to destabilise the Sahel, providing justification for further foreign intervention in the name of providing "stability".
Military intervention would be a dangerous development for Niger and Africa as a whole and must be opposed.