The belt of coups in the Sahel is completed by Niger: Niger is a key country in the Sahel, both because of its geographical location and the concentration of Western military bases on its soil.
The belt of coups in the Sahel is completed by Niger
In the Sahel, everything seems to converge on Niger, which until the July 26 coup d’état appeared to be an island of relative security stability in a region haunted by jihadist insurgency. In a report published in 2022, the US State Department even described the country as a “linchpin for stability in the Sahel”.
As The Washington Post recalls, the country was an exception in the midst of a “coup d’état belt”, an expression used to describe the horizontal line running from west to east between the countries of the sub-region that have seen a brutal overthrow of the authorities in power in recent years.
This small country of 25 million inhabitants is also home to numerous Western military bases. According to the Washington Post, the United States has around 1,100 soldiers and a drone base. As for France, after the disappointment and rejection of the Barkhane force by Mali and Burkina Faso, it chose Niger to establish the bulk of its forces, i.e. between 1,000 and 1,500 soldiers.
Finally, Niger abounds in mineral wealth, including precious uranium. In another article, the Washington Post estimates that the country, the world’s seventh largest producer of this mineral, has some of the largest gross reserves in Africa. It is also one of the main exporters of uranium to Europe. If the situation in Niger were to worsen, “this could force European governments to reconsider new punitive measures against Russia, one of the world’s biggest uranium exporters”.
So, will Niger follow in the footsteps of its two neighbors? In Niamey, the scenes involving Russian flags and anti-French slogans are already reminiscent of the events in Mali and Burkina Faso.
International position on the coup d’état in Niger
U.S. President Joe Biden called Thursday for the immediate release of Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum, who was ousted last week in a military coup.
Biden said in a statement that Niger is “facing a grave challenge to its democracy.”
“The Nigerien people have the right to choose their leaders. They have expressed their will through free and fair elections—and that must be respected,” Biden said.
Briefing journalists at UN Headquarters in New York, Léonardo Santos Simão reiterated condemnation of the attempted overthrow of Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum on 26 July.
He also underscored support for efforts by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) aimed at restoring constitutional order and consolidating democratic gains in the country.
“The unfolding crisis, if not addressed, will exacerbate the deteriorating security situation in the region. It will also negatively impact the development and lives of the population in a country where 4.3 million people need humanitarian assistance,” he said, speaking from Accra, Ghana.
He added that “Niger and the region do not need coups d’état. Populations deserve to enjoy peace, democratic governance and prosperity.”
A delegation from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is currently in Niger to “negotiate” with members of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP), which overthrew the elected Nigerien president, Mohamed Bazoum, said one of the Community’s officials at the opening of Wednesday’s meeting of West African chiefs of staff in Abuja, Nigeria.
“Nigeria disconnected the high-voltage line carrying electricity to Niger yesterday (Tuesday),” the source told the media. A Nigelec official said that the capital, Niamey, was “supplied by local production”.
Exit France, Russia seduces in the Sahel
After Mali and Burkina Faso, Niger is the third country in the region to experience a coup d’état since 2020. Each time, France’s presence is denounced. A situation that benefits Russia, which is conducting intense propaganda on the ground.
“A bas la France!”, “Vive la Russie!” It’s a familiar scenario in the Sahel. After Mali, hit by two coups in 2020 and 2021, and Burkina Faso, hit by two putsches in 2022, it’s the turn of neighboring Niger to be overthrown by the military. Here again, supporters of the putschists have denounced France’s presence in their country. On Sunday July 30, in front of the French embassy in Niamey, they tore down the building’s plaque before trampling it and replacing it with Russian flags.
For several years now, France, the former colonial power, has been unwelcome in the Sahel, a region stretching from Senegal to Chad. The French army has been driven out of Burkina Faso and Mali, and Operation Barkhane, launched in 2014 to combat terrorism, forced to withdraw to Niger in summer 2022. Taking advantage of this situation, Russia continues to extend its influence and present itself as an ideal political, economic and security partner.