The Coup in Niger and its implications on West Africa
After Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso, another coup hits Africa, and the new leaders seem to have the support of the people against Western imperialism. Will it bring further instability in the region?
On 26 July 2023 a coup d'état occurred in Niger, in which Niger's presidential guard detained president Mohamed Bazoum, and presidential guard commander general Abdourahamane Tchiani proclaimed himself the leader of a new military regime.
Presidential guard forces closed the country's borders, suspended state institutions, and declared a curfew. The coup also came in the wake of recent coups in nearby countries, such as in Guinea, Mali, and Sudan in 2021, and two in Burkina Faso in January and September 2022, which has led to the region being called a "coup belt".
Niger is a member of ECOWAS, which has already suspended Guinea, Mali and Burkina Faso from membership due to successful coups in recent years. Analysts said the rising cost of living and perceptions of government incompetence and corruption may have driven the revolt. The country frequently ranks at the bottom of the UN's Human Development Index and has also suffered from Islamist insurgencies led by Al-Qaeda, Islamic State and Boko Haram.
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Bola Tinubu, President of Nigeria, who himself is heavily contested in his own country on allegations of a fraudulent election, was appointed Chairman of ECOWAS on July 9, 2023 and already warned in statements that same day that "We will not allow coup after coup in the West African sub-region. We will take this up seriously with the African Union, Europe, America and Britain”. Holding to the reputation of many unpopular leaders, he talks about Europe, the USA and Britain like some sort of parent to whom he has to report a misconduct to. He even went as far as threatening a military intervention in Niger, to forcefully reinstate Bazoum. Bazoum, despite being under arrest by the military, appeared in good spirits and in good health when the President of Chad visited yesterday.
As a direct consequence of this threat from ECOWAS, Burkina Faso and Mali have issued a joint statement saying that they would regard any military intervention in Niger as a declaration of war on them. They promised to defend Niger and also quit ECOWAS. The government of Guinea has also joined the call.
The warning from the two military-led countries marks a significant twist that could escalate the volatile regional, as they themselves admitted that such a move would be disastrous and destabilizing. These countries have severed ties with the West and embraced alliances with Russia. Like Niger, they were colonized by France and have been fighting extremists in the Sahel.
In a march at the request of Abdourahmane Tchiani and organized by the M62 movement (until the coup, a movement known for its opposition to the Bazoum government and Operation Barkhane and its support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine), thousands of pro-coup Nigeriens gathered in Niamey's Place de la Concertation, in front of the National Assembly, and went to the French Embassy carrying Nigerien and Russian flags, with slogans such as "Down with France, out with Barkhane, we don't care about ECOWAS, the European Union and the African Union!", "Arrest the former dignitaries to return the stolen millions.", and "Down with France, long live Putin!". The demonstrators also called for an immediate intervention by the Wagner Group. During the march, the entrances to the French and American embassies were closed. The French embassy’s walls and gates were set ablaze and damaged whilst Nigerien soldiers and General Salifou Modi were seen on the ground urging the crowds to disperse peacefully. The crowd left after police fired volleys of tear gas in response.
Speaking of France and the West, they condemned the coup, like they usually do when their interests are at stake. The new military leader of Niger is planning to follow the suit of Burkina Faso and Mali, by banning the exploitation of minerals in their countries by foreigners. Uranium from Niger is very vital to France, and Macron will definitely be siding with ECOWAS to invade Niger, which might create a situation in the region like in Libya. This will ironically be after the firm condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Russia, on the other hand, will strongly oppose any intervention in Niger by foreign countries, having recently held a summit where Putin promised to protect African interests. In the streets of Niamey, the capital of Niger, thousands of Nigeriens were seen burning the flag of France and harboring that of Niger and Russia. This shows that the people are tired of France exploiting their country since before the 1960s and just needed a boost.
The anti-imperialist African leaders come as a breathe of fresh air for the citizens, but whether they will carry their countries to economic success is yet to be seen, just like we are still to find out whether the wave of Pro-Russian support in these African countries will be positive in the long run.