The Russian presence in Africa worries the West because Niger could become another ally of Russia in Sahel. Indeed, since the large scale invasion on Ukraine, Russia has been trying to find new allies, especially in Africa […] Thus, President Bazoum might be one the last leaders to adopt a pro-western position in Sahel with his fall highlighting the failure of the West to establish democracy in the region.
Two years ago, the Nigerien President Bazoum resisted an attempt of coup thanks to his presidential guard. Today, it is this same presidential guard that took power and keep the president as a prisoner in Niamey, the capital of Niger. In reaction, the Nigerien army, close to Bazoum, has given “an ultimatum” to Tiani,[i] the General that led the putsch against the Nigerien President. Colonel Amadou Abdramane of the Nigerien Air Force, supporter of General Tiani, has justified this coup “following the continued deterioration of the security situation and poor economic and social governance”. For its part, the staff of the Nigerien president has indicated right after the putsch that Mohamed Bazoum and his family are well. Unfortunately, this coup is not something new.
This is the fourth time that the country has experienced a coup since it gained independence in 1960. The Constitution has been suspended, a curfew has been imposed and the borders closed.[ii] As the situation developed, many countries demanded the immediate and unconditional release of the Nigerien President, with the High Representative of the European Union (EU) for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borell Fontelles stating: “The European Union does not recognise and will not recognise the authorities resulting from the putsch in Niger. The constitutional order needs to be fully restored, without delay”.[iii] Moreover, the EU is ready to support the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which does not exclude the “use of force”, after having decreed an economic blockade.[iv] Nevertheless, a risk of escalation is feared by other countries such as Algeria that calls for a peaceful resolution.[v] In addition, this coup worries the West, especially France, which is not welcome in the region anymore after the events in Mali. Conversely, Russia extends its strategical presence in Sahel in order to continue its fight against the West.
Niger: a tense context
According to the United Nation Development Program (UNDP),[vi] in 2021, Niger was the third country with the lowest human development index (before Chad and South Sudan). The poverty in Niger can be explained by demographic, climate and political elements. First, Niger is one of the countries with the highest birth-rate which does not help the country to develop its human development index because a lot of children are born into poor families that do not have enough resources to take care of them correctly. AlsoNiger welcomes a consequent number of refugees and asylum seekers from countries tormented by war like Mali or Chad. These people are generally unemployed. The population keeps growing meanwhile the economic opportunities keep shrinking. Also, Niger is extremely exposed to the climate change. Indeed, important episodes of drought hit the region, threatening the country with starvation. Combined to the demographic factor, it seems difficult for Niger to ensure enough resources for everybody. From a political point a view, in an unprecedented situation, Niger elected in 2021 the President Bazoum democratically after a fragile pacific transition. It was a unique moment for Niger to be able to ensure elections without corruption or protestation, like in Western countries. However, after the victory of Bazoum, Jihadists attempted to overthrow him but they failed. This unstable political situation adds more doubts in this country. All of these elements underline that Niger is in the grip of a very tense demographic, economic, political and climatic context which resulted in a coup led by Tiani and supported by the Nigerien people. Furthermore, the putschists already received international support from other armed forces such as Mali that experienced a similar situation on its territory.
Furthermore, Sahel has to deal with the presence of jihadists. The most significant case is Mali which asked for help from France after jihadist’s attacks on its soil. Indeed, from August 1st 2014 to November 9th 2022, “Opération Barkhane” took place in Sahel where the French army helped to fight against jihadists. In order to avoid that, Niger cooperated with France to extend its military force. However, this cooperation is no longer viable due to the coup. After Mali, Niger is the new spot of anti-France policy in the region. The Nigerien people did not forget about the colonial past of France in Sahel and reject everything that could remind it. According to Rahmane Idrissa, a Nigerien political scientist, this coup is the result of a political management of the security: “In Niger, some generals consider that security management is excessively politicised, that decisions are aimed above all at protecting power”.[vii] This coup in Niger is not a surprise and is the result of global trend in Sahel after the coups in Mali and Burkina Faso. Also, according to analyst like Garba Moussa, the young Nigeriens pay the price of failed economic management from the government: “On the one hand, there are the young people who have no jobs and no hope. On the other, there’s rural Niger, which is forced to go and beg in the sub-region. So, all in all, there is simply a kind of elite that has monopolised economic power without any thought of redistributing income.”[viii]
What are the consequences of this coup?
During the demonstrations of July 27th, many anti-French slogans could be seen. A deep feeling of rejection towards France is omnipresent. According to Nigeriens like Harouna, a seller in Niamey, “France never considered Niger as a partner, it saw Niger as one of its overseas colonies”.[ix] The French Embassy in Niamey was also targeted by demonstrators. In reaction, the Elysée threatened that “anyone attacking French nationals, the army, diplomats and French rights would see France respond immediately and intractably”.[x] In reaction, France supports the decision of the ECOWAS of a military intervention if the President Bazoum is still prisoned. On the 1st of August, France started to evacuate its nationals. The French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Colonna, indicated that a plane of 262 passengers has landed in Paris.[xi] France has finalised the evacuation in 24 hours. Nevertheless, the hatred for France is not over. Indeed, on August 27th, the French ambassador in Niger, Sylvain Itté, was threatened by the putschist to leave the territory in 48 hours.[xii] Emmanuel Macron insisted again that France will not hesitate to use force if its ambassador in Niamey is in danger. Concretely, the putschists do not have the enough power to attack France. Moreover, it is in their own interest to maintain a good opinion in the International area and attacking France would be a critical error. At the same time, Niger is an important partner for France in the region. Firstly, France has a partnership for the exportation of uranium, essential for running its nuclear power plants. Secondly, Niger is a strategic spot of military surveillance for France. With 1,500 French soldiers in Niger, Paris monitors Jihadists’ actions in Sahel.[xiii]
Russia steps in
Among the slogans “down with France”, Russian flags and signs glorifying Moscow stating: “long live to Russia” could be seen among the crowds.[xiv] This support towards the regime of Vladimir Putin is not surprising. Indeed, Russia has been expanding its presence in Africa for the last several years, as can be seen with the last two Russia-Africa summits in 2019 and 2023. Likewise, the Wagner Group PMC supports military regimes in Sahel and does not hesitate to carry out massive disinformation campaigns, in particular with regard to France, where French soldiers are said to be collaborating with jihadists. Moreover, Yevgeny Prigozhin, ex-leader of the group Wagner, communicated in a video on its networks, at the beginning of August, that the putsch in Niger is justified: “This is a liberation struggle, a liberation movement for the independence of this country, and may God grant them success”.[xv] Prigozhin also accused France of “economic crimes” on its uranium partnership with Niger. This statement is in line with the anti-French speech that Wagner broadcasts in the region. Then, with the war in Ukraine, the Russian presence in Africa worries the West because Niger could become another ally of Russia in Sahel. Indeed, since its diplomatic isolation Russia has been trying to find new allies, especially in Africa. The Russian presence in Sahel is encouraged by the putschists, like in Mali, Burkina Faso and now Niger. Then, Russia has the advantage of not having a colonial past in the region which is something important for the African states that want to get rid of this part of their history. Furthermore, Niger possesses 4% of the world uranium production. This could have an impact on France. However, “uranium from Niger covers less than 10% of the uranium used in French nuclear power plants”, according to Orano, the French company that exploits uranium in Niger.[xvi] So far, this coup has had no impact on the uranium exportation abroad.
This coup highlights the fragility of Niger and its inability to maintain peace on its soil. It is due to a global difficult context. Moreover, this coup shows that France is not welcome in the region compared to Russia that has a good reputation. Even if Moscow has officially called for the release of the President Bazoum, the position of the Kremlin is however not really clear. Vladimir Putin could set up in Niamey in order to grow his influence in the region and to challenge the West in Sahel. This situation should enter in its last phase, depending on the decision of the putschists towards the ECOWAS’ ultimatum and their abilities to maintain this situation in the country. Finally, the coup in Niger, with all that it entails, is a perfect example of the current confrontation between the West and its enemies. Thus, President Bazoum might be one the last leaders to adopt a pro-western position in Sahel with his fall highlighting the failure of the West to establish democracy in the region.[xvii]
Author: Dorian Cochet, external contributor
[i] Niger: what we know about the “attempted coup”, L’Express, July 26, 2023, https://www.lexpress.fr/monde/afrique/niger-ce-que-lon-sait-sur-la-tentative-de-coup-detat-YZU7XHC5KVDCZB2E6UL4MSIUXU/
[ii] Kevin Dupont, “What is behind the coup in Niger?”, Moustique, July 29, 2023, https://www.moustique.be/actu/monde/2023/07/29/quest-ce-que-cache-le-coup-detat-au-niger-267002#:~:text=D’apr%C3%A8s%20lui%2C%20la%20d%C3%A9cision,mauvaise%20gouvernance%20%C3%A9conomique%20et%20sociale%22
[iii] Josep Borell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF), X, July 29, 2023, https://twitter.com/JosepBorrellF/status/1685320023286407169
[iv] Coup in Niger: ECOWAS decrees economic blockade”, Jeune Afrique, July 31, 2023, https://www.jeuneafrique.com/1468821/economie-entreprises/coup-detat-au-niger-la-cedeao-decrete-le-blocus-economique/
[v] “Coup in Niger: Algeria “warns” ECOWAS against military intervention”, RFI, August 1, 2023, https://www.rfi.fr/fr/afrique/20230801-coup-d-%C3%A9tat-au-niger-l-alg%C3%A9rie-met-en-garde-la-c%C3%A9d%C3%A9ao-contre-une-intervention-militaire
[vi] Human Development Reports, « HUMAN DEVELOPMENT INSIGHTS », United Nations Development Program, 2021-2022, https://hdr.undp.org/data-center/country-insights#/ranks
[vii] Kevin Dupont, “What is behind the coup in Niger?”, Moustique, July 29, 2023, https://www.moustique.be/actu/monde/2023/07/29/quest-ce-que-cache-le-coup-detat-au-niger-267002#:~:text=D’apr%C3%A8s%20lui%2C%20la%20d%C3%A9cision,mauvaise%20gouvernance%20%C3%A9conomique%20et%20sociale%22
[viii] Philippe Andrew Churm, “Niger coup d’état was not a surprise, says analyst”, Africanews, July 27, 2023, https://www.africanews.com/2023/07/27/niger-coup-detat-was-not-a-surprise-says-analyst/
[ix] France Info, “Niger: after the coup d’etat, the question of the French presence is raised”, France Info, July 29, 2023, https://www.francetvinfo.fr/monde/afrique/niger/niger-apres-le-coup-d-etat-la-question-de-la-presence-francaise-est-posee_5978387.html
[x] France Info, “Coup in Niger: why France was targeted by protesters”, France Info, July 31, 2023, https://www.francetvinfo.fr/monde/afrique/niger/coup-d-etat-au-niger-pourquoi-la-france-est-ciblee-par-des-manifestants_5981711.html
[xi] Catherine Colonna, @MinColonna, X, August 1, 2023, https://twitter.com/MinColonna/status/1686445974124691456
[xii] Romain Rouillard, “What does the French ambassador to Niger risk, kept in post despite pressure from the military junta?”, Europe 1, August 28, 2023, https://www.europe1.fr/international/que-risque-lambassadeur-de-france-au-niger-maintenu-en-poste-malgre-la-pression-de-la-junte-militaire-4200620
[xiii] France Info, “Niger: why is it a strategic country for France?”, France Info, August 4, 2023, https://www.francetvinfo.fr/monde/afrique/niger/niger-pourquoi-est-ce-un-pays-strategique-pour-la-france_5989937.html
[xiv] France Info, “Coup in Niger: why France was targeted by protesters”, France Info, July 31, 2023, https://www.francetvinfo.fr/monde/afrique/niger/coup-d-etat-au-niger-pourquoi-la-france-est-ciblee-par-des-manifestants_5981711.html
[xv] Mathieu Olivier, “Wagner in Niger: when the junta and Prigojine stir up trouble”, Jeuneafrique, August 4, 2023, https://www.jeuneafrique.com/1470838/politique/wagner-au-niger-quand-la-junte-et-prigojine-sement-le-trouble/
[xvi] Timothée Talbi, Matthieu Pechberty and AFP, “Uranium, a treasure that links France to Niger for half a century”, BFM Business, August 1, 2023, https://www.bfmtv.com/economie/international/l-uranium-un-tresor-qui-lie-la-france-au-niger-depuis-un-demi-siecle_AV-202308010038.html
[xvii] Sandro Faes Parisi, “Macron, Biden, Putin and… Prigozhin. Why does the coup in Niger make the West tremble and rejoice Russia?”, RTBF.be, July 30, 2023, https://www.rtbf.be/article/macron-biden-poutine-et-prigojine-pourquoi-le-coup-detat-au-niger-fait-trembler-loccident-et-rejouit-la-russie-11234804