In the early hours of July 26, 2023, the presidential guard spearheaded a coup d’ etat against Niger president, Mohamed Bazoum. The coup marked a significant shift in Niger’s geopolitical trajectory. Led by Brigadier General Abdourahmane Tchiani and other military figures, this move was accompanied by the closure of national borders and the imposition of a curfew. The military suspended the constitution, effectively curtailing basic freedoms. In a press release, the military cited concerns over the deteriorating security situation and deficient economic and social governance as driving factors behind their intervention.
Tchiani took to television on July 28 to declare himself the leader of the newly formed National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland (CNSP). The coup was swiftly met with condemnation from the West and its allies in the region. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) denounced the coup, vowing to deploy troops to reinstate the ousted President Bazoum. The African Union also aligned with this stance, while France and the United States, which maintain military bases in Niger, openly expressed their disapproval of the coup.
On the other hand, the military regimes in Mali and Burkina Faso extended their support to the new Niger regime due to its anti-French stance, underscoring the anti-French tide across former French colonies.
Besides the military build-up and threats, ECOWAS has started imposing sanctions. Nigeria has cut off electricity supply to Niger, with dire consequences for the Nigerien population, particularly the working class.
Niger: A Nation in Crisis
Ousted President Bazoum, from the ruling Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism, had been in power since April 2021, while his party has governed Niger since 2011. Corruption, insecurity, poverty, unemployment and inequality have ravaged the country. Rage against these policies laid the background for the junta’s rise to power. The former Nigerien president was widely seen as a pawn of French imperialism.
Niger stands as the world’s seventh-largest uranium producer, according to the World Nuclear Association (WNA). Despite the abundance of mineral resources, people live in poverty. The available resources fall prey to exploitation by the ruling class, in tandem to French imperialism.
Moreover, security concerns have cast a dark shadow across the Sahel region, in countries such as Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Senegal. Terrorism, insurgency and banditry threaten the lives and livelihoods of countless people. Thousands of lives are lost, women raped, children abducted and forcibly married, schools razed, and farmers murdered or forced to flee from their lands. The assault on farmers has led to food scarcity, adding to the region’s distress.
In Niger alone, over 4 million people now require humanitarian assistance- up from 1.9 million in 2017. There are also 370,000 displaced within the country, while an additional 250,000 refugees, mainly from Nigeria, Mali, and Burkina Faso, have sought shelter within its borders. Niger is heavily dependent on international humanitarian aid.
Coups and Civilian Rule in Africa
Africa has long been a battleground for conflicting interests. Presently, six African countries are under military rule. The recent coup in Niger comes as no surprise, given the region’s history of political upheaval.
Recent years have witnessed a surge in coup attempts, especially in the Sahel region. Guinea experienced a military takeover in September 2021, while Mali bore witness to two coups within the span of a year. Burkina Faso similarly witnessed two coups in January 2022 and September 2022. The difference this time is that most of these coups tend to align themselves with the rising imperialist block of China and Russia.
Western analysts are trying to present this trend as mere interference by Putin in Africa. But the truth is that the basis for the resurgence in coups was laid by the failure of civilian governments tied to western imperialist forces. Nigeria serves as an example for that- a nation that has been under civilian rule since 1999, yet has shown minimal progress in terms of infrastructure development and living standards. As a result, some among the younger generations, having no memory of the oppressive military regimes, tend to see positively the prospect of a military governance. However, it’s crucial to caution them that military rule historically offers no real solution for the working masses. Previous military regimes were riddled with corruption and financial mismanagement, leading to a current crisis marked by unemployment, insecurity, separatist movements, and economic turmoil. They were also championing exploitation of workers and the poor.
Most of the civilian governments in Africa are puppets of one imperialist power or another. And actually, most of them have turned to authoritarianism anyway. The possibility of more coups in the near future is certainly open, as competing military factions struggle for power, in an expression of the blind alley in which the area finds itself in.
The hypocrisy surrounding the Niger coup is glaring. The reaction from ECOWAS can only be characterised a façade. Nigeria’s president Bola Tinubu, who also holds the position of ECOWAS chairman, threatened military intervention in Niger to reinstate the ousted civilian president. However, this was met with rejection from the National Assembly. Despite the vocal support for military action from certain quarters, the junta enjoys public support within Niger itself, and its leaders have reached out to Russia and the Wagner Group for assistance in countering the prospect of an ECOWAS’s military invasion. At the same time, recent reports indicate that Niger’s coup leader, General Tchiani, has expressed willingness to engage in dialogue with ECOWAS.
The hypocrisy of both American and British imperialism is equally evident. Between 1970-1990, where Africa was completely dominated by the western imperialist powers, 100 military coups took place. Africans can’t forget the assassination of Thomas Sankara which was sponsored by the French establishment because of his anti-colonial struggle. In Cameroon, president Paul Biya has spent four decades in power while killing his country people in southern Cameroon for fighting for self-determination. In Côte d’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara has been serving as president since December 2010 and has changed the constitution to allow him to run for a third time.
In Latin America recently, US and other Western governments have sponsored attempts to overthrow elected governments which they didn’t like in Venezuela and Bolivia. So much for their ‘democratic values’…
Comrade Owei Lakemfa, former Secretary General in the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), wrote in December 2022 an article titled “Apes obey, but no free lunch in Washington”. He commented on why 49 African leaders visited Washington DC between 13- 15 December, 2022, for a meeting with US government. Lakemfa writes
“The US was not interested in the priorities of Africa, such as building basic infrastructure like railways, roads, seaports, or human capital development. Rather, they were mainly the same priorities the colonialists had when they came to Africa; exploitation of the continent’s minerals, preferably in their raw form with no value-addition, and securing markets for their goods and services. The only difference is that in this case, no human cargo is involved.”
He went further to report that
“The detailed agreements reveal that America will acquire cobalt, copper, and nickel mines in Zambia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania; Angola will award contracts to Americans for bridge construction; South Africa will assemble more Ford cars; Nigeria will purchase American energy storage systems; and, overall, America will fund the export of goods and services to Africa. President Joe Biden was not joking when, in his remarks at the Summit, he told the African presidents: ‘Look, this forum is about building connections. It’s about closing deals.’ And the deals that were closed were 95% in favour of the US.”
China and Russia Are No Friends of the People
The Niger juntas’ attempt to secure support from Russia’s Wagner Group to consolidate their power could lead to a wider escalation of inter-imperialist tensions in the region. The prospect of a proxy war between US and Russia-China in Africa cannot be ruled out.
The recent African-Russia summit in St. Petersburg offered a platform for Burkina Faso’s Ibrahim Traore to appeal to Russia for support, while making anti-French remarks. Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s assertion that Africa, with its vast natural resources and population density, represents “a new center of power” underscores the growing interests of China and Russia on the continent.
But its important to note that neither Putin nor Xi Jinping are friends of the people. Putin runs a corrupt state which benefits the oligarchs, while he oppresses every oppositional voice. China employs a monstrous police state, while exploiting every inch of the countries it invests in.
The activities of Russia’s Wagner Group in the Central African Republic underscore the extent of their imperialistic pursuits. This private military organization operates as a de facto state agent, aiding the government in suppressing opposition, perpetrating sexual violence against women, and seizing control of valuable resources like gold mines.
Many African youths, disillusioned by Western influence, are looking to Moscow and Beijing as alternatives. However, changing an imperialist force with another, will not offer anything substantial for the working masses.
Fight for Peace- Against Imperialism and Its Local Lackeys
Any potential invasion of Niger by ECOWAS forces must be unequivocally condemned.
The resolution to the Niger crisis lies within the working class movement, requiring concerted efforts to build resistance. Any move to deploy West African armies must be resisted, as it will undoubtedly lead to civilian casualties and escalate tensions. The recent events have galvanized the youth and energized the struggle against imperialism. To preempt potential attacks on Niger, Nigerien workers must appeal for international solidarity, sustain mass protests and strikes and educate the masses to reclaim their destiny by building local councils against any invasion and against the new regime.
The labor unions in Niger who do not align themselves with either Tchiani nor French imperialism must unite and organise the struggle. History has shown that military rule is often detrimental to workers rights. The Nigerien people must assert their control over resources free from foreign interference- be it French, American, or Russian.
To combat poverty and lack of democracy across Niger and the African continent, a socialist confederation of Africa is necessary. This would ensure collective utilization of human and natural resources for the betterment of all, rather than serving the interests of imperialism and a select few ruling elites in Africa.