Abdullah Abbas İdi*
For a while, the West African nation "Niger Republic" has been in the news. There has been an overthrow within the nation, and as seen in the media, a significant portion of the populace welcomed the coup, accepting that it would decrease the impact of colonialist France within the nation and even challenge the French minister. The July 25 overthrow in Niger was the fifth coup in Niger, making it apparent that the nation is familiar with such upsets. However, the coups in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea, all within the same region, have occurred within the last two years, and these coups have been associated with the anti-French sentiments rising in West Africa. However, it appears that these nations within the region find themselves in a global struggle for control.
On July 25, 2023, the Republic of Niger was shaken by a coup after 13 years. The coup was led by a 59-year-old presidential guard, Brigadier General TIANI Abdourahamane. The coup came to light on Thursday morning when entry and exit to and from the presidential palace were banned and the president, Mouhamed Bazoum, was held by his guards. Sources close to Bazoum state that the coup leader is described as a "strong man" and has been at odds with the president for some time. According to news reports, the coup leader would be replaced at a cabinet meeting on July 26. The reason for the disagreement with the president is that he is uncomfortable with the way the guards have been operating since the previous president, Mahamadou Issoufou (2011-2021), and is considering austerity measures due to the high budget allocated to them. However, it is believed that this is not the case in reality.
Since 1960, Niger has faced its five coup d'état. In previous coups, it was usually carried out by a securit force and the presidential guard did not surrender easily. This sometimes led to clashes between the forces, with casualties on both sides and even civilians affected. In the last coup, however, the situation was different. At around 00:00 on the night of the same day, a statement was made on television featuring uniformed soldiers, representatives from the police, gendarmerie, armed forces, national guard and presidential guard. This shows that the coup was carried out by several security services and that there was no resistance from the guards.
It seems that the absence of casualties and injuries in the successful coup could be attributed to the fact that the coup was orchestrated by the guards themselves. Their forceful response, including the use of weapons against those who resisted the coup, likely played a role in preventing more severe outcomes. Throughout the coup operation, the guards resorted to firing shots into the air, which effectively dispersed the opposing protesters. Unfortunately, this tactic also resulted in some of the protesters sustaining injuries during the process.
Overview of the coup
General Tiani, the ringleader of the coup plotters and head of the Guard since 2011, emphasized three main issues as the reasons for the coup:
- The lack of a realistic solution to security policy and ongoing regional security problems, particularly the terrorist attack in December 2019 and public allegations that France was behind it.
- Sociopolitical problems.
Then, on July 30, people took to the streets in all 8 regions of Niger. Most of the protesters demanded the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Western troops from the country, while there were also protesters waving Russian flags and supporting Russian cooperation. On the other hand, some opposed the coup plotters, demanding the reinstatement of the former president. This shows that the political situation in Niger after the coup is complex, with people reacting with different demands and views.
As in the coups in other countries in West Africa, the anti-French stance of the soldiers in the interim government was supported by the people of the region and gained the support of other former French colonial countries. These countries who have severed diplomatic relations with France and expeled French troops from their countries supported the coup. Such events led to the belief that anti-French tendencies in the region would increase.
However, following the coup, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) organized a meeting on Niger coup on July 30th in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria. However, representatives of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger did not attend this meeting. At the meeting, which was expected to be attended by the presidents of 15 member states, they promised to impose heavy economic sanctions on Niger and close borders until it returns to democracy. It should be noted that similar sanctions were previously imposed on Burkina Faso and Mali regimes. This time, however, the most important condition is that the new government must be wary of the possibility of using military force.
ECOWAS imposed additional heavy sanctions on the new government and said that the elected president, Mouhamed Bazoum, must be reinstated within a week. Otherwise, the option of military action would be brought to the table. It is noteworthy that in the history of ECOWAS, such a situation has never happened before. In this situation, it was planned that other member states could intervene with a military operation to reinstate the elected President of the government, Mouhamed Bazoum.
The fact that this military intervention and the heavy sanctions against Niger were immediately supported by the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and France gives the impression that ECOWAS is only being their mouthpiece. On the other hand, the following day, the Mali government spokesperson made a historic statement on behalf of both Mali and Burkina Faso. He condemned the sanctions imposed on Niger by ECOWAS and expressed support for Niger, stating that "any military operation against Niger is a declaration of war for Mali and Burkina Faso". Guinea made a similar statement the following day. The fact that the junta regimes in Mali and Burkina Faso are close to Russia gives the impression that a bloc is preparing for a war in West Africa, where wars between countries are not common. Although negotiations are ongoing, according to news reports, Nigeria, which supplies 70% of Niger's electricity, has cut off electricity to the country. At the same time, it is rumoured that Nigeria has started deploying its army to Sokoto, a border state close to the Niger capital, for possible military intervention.
When talking about Niger, it is said to be from poorest countries of the world, but why is it so important?
Why is Niger important?
According to the World Bank, Niger's GDP was 8.2 billion dollars in 2020 and GDP per capita was 454.4 dollars in 2020. According to this data, Niger is the 166th economy in the world. Despite being classified as a low-income country, Niger's importance on the global stage should not be underestimated. The country is rich in mineral resources, with uranium being the most notable asset. Niger is the fourth largest producer of uranium, while its former colonial ruler and leading trading partner, France, is the world's largest consumer of nuclear energy, and Niger's uranium plays a major role here.
Besides France's economic activities in Niger, Niger is in a strategic position for both the US and France. As a result of France's disputes with other Sahel countries, only Niger and Chad remains. France has earlier withdrew its military presence in the Sahel region and stationed them in Niger. On the other hand, there has been pro-Russian military activities in Chad's neighbouring countries of Central African Republic, Libya and Sudan. Therefore, Chad is not as safe for France as Niger. Strategically, Niger is also very important for the United States. This is because Niger is home to the largest US drone base in Africa (Air Base 201), located in the Sahara desert near Agadez. This base is of strategic importance given its isolation, climate and location in the region; it can be used for espionage and attack activities against various countries around the Sahel region. The importance of the Niger to both countries can be seen in their swift contact with the President of Nigeria, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who is also the President of ECOWAS.
Considering all these circumstances and Russia's African policy in recent years, it is clear that the coup in Niger is of great importance. At a time when there is a proxy war between NATO and Russia in Ukraine, the potential for conflict between ECOWAS and Wagner-backed regimes in Africa over Niger is increasing. African countries must not play the game between their religious and ethnical brothers and sisters and the imperialist powers, otherwise, they may find themselves involved in massacres. Especially as Niger and Nigeria, the leading countries in ECOWAS, are fighting against the Boko Haram and ISWAP terrorist organizations, it is clear that such internal turmoil will lead to an increase in terrorist activities in the region. This shows how sensitive the security and stability in the region is. Meanwhile, these terrorist organizations are the easiest tool that imperialist powers can use to easily exploit resources.
In a recent development, a coup occurred in the country, garnering substantial backing from a segment of the population. This support was largely driven by public discontent with pro-Western administrations. The new ruling junta has promptly called for the suspension of diplomatic ties, particularly with France. Presently, their stance is anti-Western, and this sentiment is projected to intensify with impending decisions. The future impact of these changes on the well-being of the Nigerien populace and the possibility of similar actions by other actors remain uncertain, awaiting the test of time.
*This article was translated from Turkish to English by Zekiyenur Gök