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Jul 28, 2023, 10:05am EDT
africa

Niger coup: Why the latest West African military takeover matters

Beverly Ochieng/X
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The News

A general has declared himself the new leader of Niger following a coup that removed the country’s elected president.

Abdourahamane Tchiani made the announcement on state television on Friday. Tchiani leads the presidential guards unit that seized the West African country’s elected president on Wednesday.

Soldiers from the presidential guard, led by Colonel Amadou Abdramane, announced a coup on state TV late on Wednesday. They said Mohamed Bazoum, who was elected as president two years ago in the country’s first democratic transition of power, had been removed from office. The soldiers also said the constitution had been dissolved, the country’s borders were closed and all institutions were suspended.

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Know More

ORTN/via Reuters TV

→ Is this part of a broader trend? Yes. There have been a number of coups — both successful and attempted — in West and Central Africa since 2020. Successful coups have been staged in neighboring countries Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad and Guinea in the last three years.

→ So, why is this one significant? Bazoum has been a key ally of the West in the fight against Islamist insurgents in the Sahel. That role took on greater significance after military leaders in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso severed ties with former colonial power France. Mali, which ordered a United Nations force to leave, has opted to use Russia’s Wagner private army to fight insurgents.

France also extracts uranium in Niger, which it uses to run its nuclear power plants.

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“A Niger that realigns towards Russia and China threatens America’s drone base in the Sahel, which is in Agadez, as well as French power supply,” said Cheta Nwanze, lead partner at Nigerian political risk consultancy SBM Intelligence.

The U.S. has reportedly spent around $500 million since 2012 to help Niger boost its security. Germany announced in April that it would take part in a three-year European Union mission to train the country’s military.

→ What’s been the reaction? The coup has been condemned by West African bloc ECOWAS which said it “stands firmly” with Niger’s elected government. The European Union and France also criticized the coup. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Bazoum in a call this week during which he promised Washington’s “unwavering support.”

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There were reports that pro-Bazoum supporters who gathered on the streets of the capital, Niamey, on Wednesday in response to news that he was being held were dispersed by soldiers firing into the air.

The BBC reported that some coup supporters on Thursday in Niamey had Russian flags, while others held up hand-written signs saying: “Down with France” and “Foreign bases out.” Coup supporters also set fire to the ruling party’s headquarters in the capital.

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Alexis’s view

The coup in Niger is arguably the most significant of the military takeovers that have swept across West Africa in recent years. Bazoum was the West’s closest ally in the Sahel. Niger’s role became more pronounced with the death of Chadian leader Idriss Déby two years ago, followed by the ascent of military juntas in Mali and Burkina Faso. Niger offered a haven for western troops in a subregion that has been destabilized by Islamist insurgents, military leaders who aren’t democratically accountable and the presence of the Wagner, whose fighters have been accused of human rights abuses.

The coup provides Russia with an opportunity to deepen its presence in the Sahel in three crucial ways: militarily, in terms of access to resources, and increased soft power. A military junta in Niger may look to Wagner fighters for help fighting jihadists, just as the soldiers who took over in Mali did after seizing power. Such a move would be lucrative for Russia, giving it access to Niger’s natural resources — most notably uranium. Access to natural resources in African nations — such as Mali, the Central African Republic and Sudan — has helped to reduce the impact of western sanctions on Russia. And Moscow could pull further ahead in its propaganda war with Paris, capitalizing on existing anti-French sentiments.

Sudan’s warring generals, to Niger’s east, and internecine fighting in Libya to its north, had already led to a deterioration in regional security. This added to problems in the Lake Chad region where Boko Haram and Islamic State have carried out attacks for much of the last decade.

The Sahel is now an even more unpredictable subregion where there is a lack of accountability among those in power, a constellation of violent extremists and a range of protracted conflicts. The legacy of this instability is likely to be felt for years to come. A strong health service, widespread education and adequate power supply — the bedrock of long term economic development — will be far from the minds of the military rulers in charge of Niger and surrounding countries as they focus on security challenges.

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