On Sunday, the leaders of 15 West African states issued an ultimatum to Niger, the former French West African colony where soldiers seized power in a coup on Wednesday, threatening military action unless President Mohamed Bazoum is restored to office within a week.
The leaders of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the eight-member West African Economic and Monetary Union issued their threat after a summit in crisis in the Nigerian capital of Abuja. This followed earlier threats from the United States and France, both of which have troops stationed in Niger, that they would cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and military support unless Bazoum was reinstated. .
ECOWAS said it would take “all necessary measures” to restore democratic rule in Niger which “may include the use of force” and the imposition of financial sanctions on those who carried out the coup led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani, longtime leader of Niger’s presidential guard who has proclaimed himself head of a transitional government.
French President Emmanuel Macron said: “This coup is perfectly illegitimate and deeply dangerous for Nigeriens, for Niger and for the whole region.” On Saturday, France suspended all development aid and budgetary support, worth around 120 million euros in 2022, to the country which hosts France’s largest regional base after being forced out of Mali in 2021 .
The European Union (EU) has also cut all budgetary support and security aid, worth 503 million euros over the period 2021-2024, with immediate effect, according to a statement issued on Saturday by the head of the EU foreign policy, Josep Borrell.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called for Bazoum’s immediate release and offered Washington’s “unwavering support”. He warned that US security ties with Niger were under threat. US aid to Niger totals around $500 million since 2012, including a $100 million air base 5 km southeast of Agadez, making Niger the largest recipient of US aid in west Africa.
On Friday, the African Union issued a statement demanding that the army return to barracks and reinstate the president within 15 days.
Bazoum may have been ousted because he sought to change the military high command. Although detained with his family in the presidential palace in the capital, Niamey, he was in telephone contact with international leaders, including Blinken. His election in 2021 marked the first democratic transition of power in Niger, a country that has experienced four military coups since gaining independence from France in 1960.
Speaking on state television on Friday, Tchiani said he had taken control of the government to prevent the country’s “gradual and inevitable disappearance” and said he was the “president of the National Council for Safeguarding of the homeland”. He said that while Bazoum had tried to convince people that “everything is fine […] the harsh reality (is) a lot of death, displacement, humiliation and frustration”. He added: “Today’s security approach has not brought security to the country despite heavy sacrifices”, a reference to Niger’s dependence on military support from France.
Colonel Amadou Abdramane, spokesman for the putschists, said the army had closed Niger’s borders, declared a national curfew and suspended all state institutions. He warned against any foreign intervention, saying, “Any foreign military intervention of any kind poses the risk of disastrous and uncontrollable consequences for our people and the chaos of our country.”
The French presidency declared that “Anyone who would attack French nationals, the army and interests would see France respond in an immediate and intractable manner… The President of the Republic will not tolerate any attack against France and its interests”. In response, coup supporters tried to set fire to the French embassy on Sunday, shouting their support for Russian leader Vladimir Putin despite calls from the Kremlin for Bazoum’s release.
Macron traveled to France’s former colonial possessions of Vanuatu and New Caledonia in the Pacific in a bid to reassert France’s interests in the region, not only against Beijing but also against Washington.
Behind the threats of the imperialist powers and the former colonial master of Niger, who has no qualms about crushing opposition to his rule in the interest of the French financial elite, there is considerable fear that the coup of state endangers their predatory interests in the region.
Landlocked Niger has become an increasingly important ally for imperialist powers in their efforts to quell Islamist insurgencies in the resource-rich but impoverished Sahel region, particularly after military leaders who rule Mali and Burkina Faso demanded that they withdraw their troops after the failure of the Barkhane and Saber military operations. This latest coup is the sixth since 2020 in the greater Sahel region, after the one in Guinea, two in Burkina Faso and two in Mali. Neighboring Mali forced France to withdraw its soldiers in 2021 in favor of the Russian Wagner Group, which was able to take advantage of the deterioration of relations of France and other Western countries with the Sahelian states.
Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin supported the coup, saying Thursday that “what happened in Niger is the fight of its people against the colonizers. […] This means gaining independence”.
Niger has some of the world’s largest reserves of cobalt, diamonds, platinum and uranium. It is the main supplier of uranium to the European Union, ahead of Kazakhstan and Russia. Since 1968, the company Orano (formerly Areva), 45 percent owned by the French state, has been mining uranium around the desert town of Arlit in the north of the country. Just two mines account for about a third of the multibillion-dollar company’s total global uranium production used to generate France’s nuclear power that not only supplies 70 percent of the country’s electricity, but also a large part of Europe, including Germany.
Orano’s mining concession, bought cheaply and tied to some aid, mostly in the form of loans to the country, has depleted the region’s water resources – few local people have running water – producing millions of tonnes of radioactive waste and left Niger at the bottom of the global wealth classification. More than 10 million of Niger’s 24 million people live in extreme poverty, while around 17 percent of the country’s population is in need of humanitarian assistance. The Nigerien government’s annual budget generally represents a fraction of Orano’s annual revenues.
The imperialists’ “war on terror” is a fraud. The US, UK, France and NATO have used these same groups to wage their proxy wars in Libya and especially Syria. After fighting in the NATO-led war against Libya in 2011, Al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups took refuge in countries in the Sahel region. Using these wars as a pretext, imperialist powers like France, America and Germany plundered Africa’s richest resources. In October 2021, Malian Prime Minister Choguel Kokalla Maïga accused the French government of secretly arming Islamist terrorists to fuel conflict in the country and justify French military occupation.
The worsening bloodshed in the region, which includes many of the world’s poorest countries, is the result of more than 10 years of French-led neo-colonial warfare in the Sahel region. Violence has resurfaced in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and other countries. The imperialists are using divide and rule policies to maintain control over the region characterized by multiple ethnic and tribal groups, causing ethnic riots and bloody massacres in the region.
Niger’s ongoing conflict of kidnappings, killings, robberies and threats had displaced nearly 380,000 people by the end of March, while the country hosts more than 700,000 refugees and asylum seekers, mostly from neighboring Mali and Nigeria. . Niger is also a transit route for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa heading to northern Europe to escape conflict and poverty.
This article is originally published on wsws.org