The military coup in Niger could make one of the last Western allies in the Sahel area of Africa less stable. On the night of July 26, the top military leaders of Niger said on national TV that they had ousted the country’s president, Mohamed Bazoum. Bazoum had been supported by France and other western countries until 2021, when “democratic government” would take over. Because of this, a change in power in Niger is bad news for the West, and especially for France and the United States, which have strong ties to West African countries. The United States, the African Union, and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which is a regional group of West African countries, all said that the coup was wrong.
Introduction to Niger
Niger is a country in western Africa that only has land borders. It shares borders with Algeria, Libya, Chad, Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Mali. People from different parts of the country live there. Some are nomads from the Saharan north, while others are farmers from the south. In the 1400s, the Taureg kingdom of Takedda was one of the biggest in the north, and it was a major player in trade in the area. In the south, the Songhai-Zarma lived in the west, the Hausa lived in the middle, and the Kanuri lived in the east. Niger is a country, and it has one house of parliament.
Most people in Niger are Muslims. In fact, 99.3% of the people there follow Islam. Sunni Islam is the most popular faith in Niger, where 81.1% of the people are Sunni Muslims. Shiite Islam is the second most popular faith in Niger, with 6.5% of the people following it. 0.3% of the people are Christians, 0.2% are animists, and 0.1% don’t believe in any religion.
Throughout its past, outside forces have had an effect on Niger. France ruled the country as a colony in the 1800s, and it became independent in 1960. Since then, Niger has kept a close relationship with France and is friendly with its neighbours in West Africa.
Niger’s foreign policy is balanced, and it has good relationships with both the East and the West. The country is part of the United Nations and a number of other foreign groups. Niger has also gotten investment from other countries, especially in the mining and oil industries, where French, Chinese, and Turkish companies are big players.
Niger gets a lot of help from countries like France, the European Union, the World Bank, the IMF, and other UN bodies when it comes to foreign aid. The United States, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Canada, and Saudi Arabia are also major supporters.
Niger also has to deal with a lot of people who have fled wars in neighbouring Nigeria and Mali. In the areas that border Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Mali, there is a security problem because armed groups keep attacking the security forces and civilians. In reaction to these threats, military forces from other countries, such as France and the United States, are helping Niger fight back.
French colonisation of Niger and afterwards
The past of French colonialism in Niger is one of taking advantage of and oppressing the people there. In 1898, France won the war against Niger and took control of the area. During the colonial era, the French government imposed its own political, economic, and social systems on the area, often with little regard for local customs and traditions. During the time the French ruled Niger as a colony, they took advantage of the country’s natural riches and put down local political movements. The French government also forced its own language and culture on the area, which led to the loss of the region’s culture and identity.
After Niger became independent in 1960, it was hard for the country to set up a strong government and deal with the economic and social problems that colonialism had caused. Niger’s political, economic, and social processes all have deep scars from the time when France was in charge. Many people in Niger think that foreign powers have used their country for their own gain while ignoring their own wants and goals.
Uranium was one of the most important resources that France used in Niger. Niger has the fourth-largest amount of uranium in the world, which is about 7% of the total amount. Since the 1970s, France’s state-owned energy company Areva has been mining uranium in Niger. More than a third of the uranium Areva makes comes from the country of Niger. 75% of France’s electricity comes from nuclear power, and almost all of the uranium that powers France’s large nuclear power system comes from the northern town of Arlit in Niger. But Niger and Areva have had disagreements about payments for uranium extraction, and Niger wants a bigger share of the income from mining uranium ore.
Several companies work in Niger to get uranium out of the ground. Some of the biggest companies are SOMAIR and COMINAK, which are both subsidiaries of Orano, a French state-owned uranium mining business. Office National des Ressources Minières du Niger (ONAREM) owns 36.6% of SOMAIR through Sopamin, the Niger mining assets company. Orano owns 63.4% of SOMAIR. Orano owns 59% of COMINAK, Spain’s Enusa owns 10%, and ONAREM owns 31% through Sopamin. SOMINA runs the Azelik mine, which is another company that mines uranium in Niger.
Security situation in Niger
In Niger, there are several armed groups, such as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) and Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), which is linked to al-Qaeda. Since January 2021, these groups have been behind a rise in crimes against people in western Niger. Human Rights Watch says that during attacks in western Niger, these armed Islamist groups have killed more than 420 people and forced tens of thousands to leave their homes. Attackers have killed people in their homes, at wells, at funerals, while they were farming or watering their animals, or after forcing them off public transportation. Based on how they see Islam, these groups have also destroyed schools and churches and put limits in place.
There have been many protests against the fact that French troops are in Niger. For example, at least two people were killed and 18 others were hurt in western Niger in November 2021 when protesters attacked a French military vehicle that had just crossed the border from Burkina Faso. In Niger, Burkina Faso, and other countries in west Africa’s Sahel area, where France has thousands of troops to fight al-Qaeda and Islamic State allies, anger is growing about France’s military presence in its former colonies.
In September 2022, a lot of people in Niger’s city, Niamey, took to the streets to protest the presence of French troops in their country. Civil society groups that are part of the M62 movement put together the protest.
What happened recently in Niger?
The recent successful revolt has important repercussions for a part of Africa known as the “coup belt.” This is the sixth successful coup in West Africa since 2020, with Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea each facing two.
People who want to be in charge in these states say that the instability in the Sahel has been getting worse since 2012 because the governments in charge haven’t done enough to fix the problem.
The military group that led the Mali coup in August 2020 called itself the National Committee for the Salvation of the People. In January 2022, a group of Burkinabe soldiers called the Patriotic Movement for Safeguard and Restoration (MPSR) deposed President Roch Kabore and put the constitution on hold because security was getting worse.
Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mauritania make up most of the Sahel, which is also known as the G5 Sahel. But some parts of Senegal, Nigeria, and the two Sudans are also in different groups.
The NATO-led operation in 2011 that led to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi as leader of Libya had a huge effect on the Sahel. It caused small arms, mercenaries, and armed groups to move into the area. This made conflicts worse and gave power to groups like Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria, which then spread its impact to parts of Chad, Cameroon, and Niger. Also, many Tuareg fighters who had fought with Gaddafi in Libya came back to Mali with weapons and started a revolt in the northeastern Kidal region of Mali and the northern Agadez region of Niger.
The area where central Mali, northern Burkina Faso, and western Niger meet at the border has become the center of the brutal war in the area. Frustration with how democratic governments backed by the west handled security, as well as what people in Bamako saw as the ineffectiveness of French soldiers (who were at first welcomed), led to changes in leadership in Bamako and made things worse with France, so French troops had to leave. Similar anger in Burkina Faso led to a coup d’état, which made ties with France even worse.
Anti-French feelings are growing in French-speaking West and Central Africa, which has led to public protests in support of the coups and against the presence of foreign troops.
With all of this going on, Niger has been seen as a stable spot in the Sahel. The West has tried to get it to work with them to protect their economic interests and stop Africans from moving to Europe. Niger has built up its military with help from the West. France and the United States both have military bases in the country. Germany, Italy, and Canada are also involved in training special troops in Niger. Many believe, this statuesque of dependency on western neocolonialism will be changed in near future.
The role of the multipolar bloc
Since July 20, 1974, China and Niger have had formal ties. But the friendship ended on July 30, 1992, after Niger said on July 22 that it would start diplomatic ties with Taiwan. On August 19, 1996, formal ties between China and Niger were repaired, and since then, things have gone well between the two countries. Niger and China have set up a joint economic and trade committee and signed a trade deal. Over the years, Niger and China have worked together in areas like water conservation, hydropower, environmental protection, agriculture, health care, national defense, education, infrastructure, tools and energy, mineral exploration, oil extraction, and so on. China is now Niger’s most important partner when it comes to investing.
In the past few years, Russia has been pursuing its strategic goals in Africa. These goals include gaining a foothold in the eastern Mediterranean, getting access to naval ports in the Red Sea, increasing opportunities to extract natural resources, reducing Western influence, and making alternatives to democracy the norm in the region.
Some news stories say that people who supported the military junta in Niger attacked the French Embassy to show their support for Russia and its leader, Vladimir Putin. Wagner, a Russian private military company, has been involved in West Africa, and its leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has said that he supports the coup and even offered the junta the help of his fighters in the area. But it’s not clear if Moscow had anything to do with setting up the meetings.
However, it is clear that the leaders of the multipolar bloc, such as China and Russia, are promoting their geopolitical objectives in Niger by eradicating western influences there.
The recent mutiny and the broader coup dynamics in West Africa underscore the complex and interconnected security challenges facing the region. The standoff between Western and Multipolar blocs, as well as the delicate dynamics between African nations and foreign powers invested in regional stability, are all factors that contribute to the instability in the region.
Written by Rajeev Ahmed
Geopolitical Analyst, Strategic Thinker and Editor at geopolits.com
Illustration: Google image search