OPINION

The Niger story: Another liberation?

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By: Aditya Vashisht

The West African state of Niger has witnessed another coup, which has led to the deposition of democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum, and the establishment of a military junta which calls itself the National Council for the Safeguarding of the country. The event comes in the backdrop of the volatile situation which West Africa has experienced in its politics since 2020, with four states experiencing coups by their respective armies who pose themselves as the new ‘saviours’.

It is not difficult to see that the deteriorating security situation in the Sahel region, which can be unmistakably termed critical, has direct relation to the coup. Though Niger’s security woes are not as critical as those of its neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso, but nevertheless they affect the country. To overcome its towering security challenges, Niger took the aid of its former colonial master France and the collective West.

The scenes which have lately taken place in Niamey are reminiscent of a pattern which was seen in Mali and Burkina Faso when they witnessed coups. This pattern involves the expression of anti-French sentiments by burning its flag, by attacking its embassy and institutions and chants of “à bas la France” (down with France), which stand alongside chants of “Vive la Russie” (Long live Russia). While France’s flag is burned, that of Russia is waved jubilantly. All this makes many to point fingers at Russia, accusing it of orchestrating coups. Such accusations become stronger at this juncture since Russia and the collective West are at loggerheads with each other.

But to only use Russia to explain the situation in Niger is distorting the whole scenario. The collective West’s effort to aid and solve Niger’s problems bore no fruit. France’s own version of ‘war on terror’ hasn’t achieved success, with attacks increasing manifold in Niger , in part due to the failure of French military to stem the critical security situation in Mali whose spillover has wounded Niger deeply. Terror attacks with death tolls crossing 50 are not uncommon.

On top of France and the collective West’s failure to alleviate security woes of Niger, when one adds France’s neo-colonial practices, one has got the recipe for the development of strong anti-French sentiments which are not expressed but burst out. Combining these above two factors with the spillover of the encouraging effects of coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, it doesn’t become too difficult to understand the events which have taken place in Niger.

As to its geopolitical dimension, the coup in Niger merits attention. Niger was reliable partner of the collective West under President Bazoum, a status which gained more importance when Mali and Burkina Faso became anti-French. The fall of Bazoum has brought to power a leadership which is undoubtedly going to engage in a course correction and would mirror the policies which had been followed Malian and the Burkinabe junta.

It’s highly likely that the famed Russian mercenary group Wagner would be invited, with it carrying on its shoulders the responsibility to help Niger in tackling jihadist insurgency. Establishment of Wagner in Niger means entry of Russia and a pro-Russian policy will definitely ensure that the Russia has the upper hand in gaining access to the rich uranium deposits for which Niger is envied, not to mention the boost which Moscow’s influence would gain in the West African region.

It’s obvious that the loss of influence in a region which France considered as its own backyard, coupled with the loss of the upperhand which it enjoyed in gaining access to Niger’s resources generate resentment in Paris. Hostile West African states shall also threaten the existence of the CFA Franc, the currency of the colonial times through which France exercises significant control over West African economies. It’s indeed a serious matter that within a span of three years, France has lost three major states in the region.

As such it might not be a mistake to say that Niger might be regarded as the last straw by France and the collective West. Owing to the hostile reactions of the collective West comprising the EU and the US along with France, it can be speculated that France might not leave its ground in Niger just like that. On hearing of the coup, President Emmanuel Macron had convened a meeting of his security council. Even regionally the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) and the African Union have given ultimatum to the junta to stand down and reinstate President Bazoum, otherwise they risk facing consequences. The ECOWAS has been categorical regarding a military intervention, with France supporting the decision.

It is being therefore speculated that a military intervention might take place through which France and the collective West shall attempt to draw a line. But a military intervention shall not be feasible. It would increase violence in an already violent region. Moreover the Nigerien junta is not without support. Not only the army but the country’s main opposition party also supports them apart from the popular support. Moreover, in the event of a conflict, Niger is likely to receive direct military support from Mali and Burkina Faso, and indirect military support from several sympathetic African states along with Russia and its likeminded partners. Besides, such an attempt would only tarnish further the image of the collective West and would only make many Africans despise it further.

It must be kept in mind that coups in Niger are not a novelty. The country has already witnessed three coups before the latest one. In fact, the whole of the Sahel region is known as the ‘coup belt of Africa’. What makes this coup significant is that it comes at a time at time when the international political situation is energized with activities that are generating frictions between major states, thereby making every event a part of a larger powerplay. It might be that Niger’s new ‘saviours’ might help in improving the security situation, owing to the efficiency of Wagner troops. But in the larger sphere, stability shall come at the cost of lessening Western influence, which shall only create further tensions and new avenues for conflicts.

The writer is a blogger. [email protected]

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