Niger – Newest Global Hotspot
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 12 Aug , 2023

The recent military coup in Niger ousting the government of President Mohamed Bazoum has created much turbulence in the in the West, more so because the new regime is viewed as pro-Russia with General Abdourahmane Tchiani, the coup leader, installed as the Head of State. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who went ecstatic with news of Yevgeny Prigozhin rebelling against Russian President Vladimir Putin, is now crying foul with alleging presence of the Wagner Group in Africa and supporting the coup in Niger.

The US is upset because the Bazoum regime was a key Western ally in the region, hosting American military bases and receiving significant aid to control northward migration toward Europe. This is the reason Victoria Nuland, US acting deputy secretary of state, travelled to Niger and held two hours of talk with the coup leaders and also met General Moussa Salaou Barmou, head of Niger’s Special Forces who worked closely with US troops before the coup.  According to her, she proposed options to resolve the crisis but “they are quite firm in their view on how they want to proceed.” She and her delegation were not allowed to meet Mohamed Bazoum.

The 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has placed sanctions on Niger also implies: Nigeria cuts power supply to Niger; Ivory Coast suspends imports and exports of goods, and; BSEAO (West Africa’s Central Bank shut down branches in Niger. Interestingly, not only is Niger part of the 15-member ECOWAS grouping, two other members (Burkina Faso and Mali) have supported the coup in Niger.

The coup in Niger follows military takeovers in Sudan, Mali, Chad and Burkina Faso over the past few years. The turmoil in Africa is more because of Western colonialism and the continent’s riches systematically plundered by the West. The British had colonized what are now know as Egypt,  Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Gambia, Sierra Leone, northwestern Somalia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana, Nigeria, Ghana, and Malawi. Similarly, the French colonized Ivory Coast, Dahomey (now Benin), French Sudan (now Mali), Guinea, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso).

The Colony of Niger (French: Colonie du Niger) was a French colonial possession covering much of the territory of the modern West African state of Niger, as well as portions of Mali, Burkina Faso and Chad. It existed in various forms from 1900 to 1960 but was titled the Colonie du Niger only from 1922 to 1960.

This is why after the coup Niger has revoked a raft of military cooperation agreements with France. Similarly, Burkina Faso has terminated the ‘Non-Double Taxation Treaty’ with France which was in place since 1967, accusing Paris of ignoring its appeals from January 2020 and late 2021 to reevaluate the terms of the agreement.

The recent statement by French President Emannuel Macron that “French economy cannot survive without Africa” ​​is laughable. The fact is that all resources in Africa are being exploited by private companies owned by the French, American and British billionaires and politicians who lead these countries have shares in these companies.  Who gets richer can be gauged from the example that these companies paid US$11 million to Niger for the uranium, and then charged France (taxpayers’ money) US$230 million.  This is also why the French military goes to Africa to secure the mines having shares by French politicians/corporate with France footing the bill.

Western exploitation over decades and centuries has rendered the African population to poverty with waves of refugees rushing to Europe. Here also the irony is that while refugees are considered a drain on European economies, with countries like Britain wanting to ship them out to godforsaken locales, the Western corporate and politician billionaires continue to multiply their riches by exploiting African countries.

Niger is a landlocked country whose over 10 million individuals (41.8 percent of total population) were living in extreme poverty in 2021. With agriculture accounting for 40 percent of its GDP, Niger is one of the   “Heavily Indebted Poor Countries” (HIPC) despite having the world’s largest Uranium reserves. Its economy is based on subsistence agriculture, like crops and livestock, and the export of raw commodities. Moreover, Niger is grappling with an influx of refugees fleeing conflicts in Nigeria and Mali. Bilateral relations between India and Niger are cordial; boosted after establishment of an Indian diplomatic mission in Niamey, capital of Niger in May 2009.

What happens in Niger next is difficult to predict. The deadline for the threat of military intervention by ECOWAS  is that if  detained president Mohamed Bazoum is not set free and  regime not reverted to a democratically elected government is over there may be harder options exercised.To soften the impact of the coup the former economy minister Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine has been appointed as the Prime Minister of Niger nearly two weeks after the military takeover. Presently, there are no signs of military intervention by ECOWAS although Niger has closed its airspace to ECOWAS expecting an attack.

The US State Department has ordered evacuation of the US Embassy in Niger and issued a statement saying, “The United States rejects all efforts to overturn Niger’s constitutional order, and stands with the people of Niger, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the African Union, and other international partners in support of democratic governance and respect for the rule of law and human rights.” Now the question is whether the US-led West (France in particular) would prevail upon African leaders to attack Niger.

Interestingly, Prigozhin says the US may even recognize the military junta in Niger to keep them away from coming under Russian influence. After all, they have a prime minister in place now. But more hotspots have always been to the liking of the West. Increased strife in Africa may not be conducive to   how Africa views the West in the long run. But then, if the Western corporations and politicians are getting richer by progressing from being billionaires to becoming trillionaires, why would anyone mind. Isn’t this the reason why the US-led West is fuelling the war in Ukraine? 

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen Prakash Katoch

is Former Director General of Information Systems and A Special Forces Veteran, Indian Army.

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