The coup in Niger in west Africa is a huge blow to Western imperialism. The BBC’s “security correspondent” Frank Gardner said it showed, “Western influence in the region is shrinking like a water pool in the dry season.”
Western-aligned states grouped in the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) threatened to invade to reverse the coup, but have now put those plans on hold. Instead they announced the creation of a military “standby force” and said all options remained on the table.
Ecowas members have also imposed sanctions, with Nigeria cutting off electricity which provides up to 70 per cent of Niger’s supply. Border closures have helped drive up food price inflation following the coup.
President Mohamed Bazoum was detained by his own presidential guard at the end of July in a coup that the bulk of the army then supported. The next day, hundreds of people gathered in Niamey, Niger’s capital, waving Russian flags.
Abdourahmane Tchiani led the revolt by barricading Bazoum inside his residence and demanding his resignation.
Tchiani appeared briefly on television to say that he had taken over the country. Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of Russia’s Wagner Group, welcomed the coup and offered its new leaders the services of his mercenary group.
In return for wads of cash, the now-ousted Bazoum had enthusiastically allowed Western military forces to operate inside the country. He also pledged to the European Union (EU) that he would make it harder for refugees to pass through on the way to reach Europe.
Niger had backed a resolution at the United Nations last year condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine while many African countries did not.
The new rulers have revoked permission for France to operate a military base and station 1500 troops in the country.
The US also has two drone bases, one near the desert city of Agadez, and 1100 soldiers in the country. Italy currently has 350 military personnel in the country too.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken has called for the return of “the constitutional order”, and warned those detaining Bazoum that “hundreds of millions of dollars of assistance” was at risk. But Bazoum is very unlikely to be restored to office.
In February, the EU launched a “military partnership mission” to support the training of troops from the same army that backed the coup, and in March agreed to provide it with $65 million.
The West wanted to use Niger to extend its influence in the region and keep out Russia and China.
The country is a former French colony where France has maintained important economic interests. Niger produces about 5 per cent of the world’s uranium, a crucial component in nuclear power, but it exports all of it to France, which sources 70 per cent of its electricity from nuclear sources.
Josep Borrell, the EU’s chief diplomat, met Bazoum—and possibly some of the insurrectionists—just three weeks before the coup.
During that trip, Borrell hailed Niger as “a haven of stability”. “Niger is a solid, reliable partner, both politically and in terms of security,” Borrell said. “And we support President Bazoum enormously, with all our might.”
As the Financial Times newspaper reports, “Unfortunately for Borrell, the insurrectionist special forces had other plans.”
The turmoil in Niger follows coups in neighbouring Mali and Burkina Faso in 2021 and 2022 that weakened Western influence in the area around the Sahara desert.
In Mali, following the 2021 coup, the new regime expelled French troops and signed a contract with Wagner operatives.
Ibrahim Traore, President of Burkina Faso, told a session of the Russia-Africa Summit on Friday “African countries have suffered for decades from a barbaric and brutal form of colonialism and imperialism, which could be called a modern form of slavery.
“However, a slave who does not fight for his freedom is not worthy of any indulgence. The heads of African states should not behave like puppets in the hands of the imperialists.”
But Putin’s imperialism or Wagner offer no positive alternative to Western intervention. Niger is one of the poorest countries on Earth. And it has the world’s youngest population, with an average age of 14.8.
Imperialism and capitalism offer Niger’s people nothing except poverty, war, oppression and climate chaos. This month Niger has been in the grip of a severe heat wave.
Scientists say temperatures in Niger are rising one and a half times faster than in the rest of the world.
None of the great powers—or the feuding military groups in Niger—are interested in ordinary people.
By Charlie Kimber
Adapted from Socialist Worker UK