Niger Coup: Washington Targets French Influence

A group of military personnel belonging to the presidential guard in Niger announced through national television the ousting of President Mohamed Bazoum and the closure of borders, as well as the imposition of a curfew starting from the night of 26 July 2023. Colonel Amadou Abdel Rahman, surrounded by nine other military personnel, stated, “We, the defence and security forces, gathered in the National Council for the Protection of the Nation, have decided to put an end to the regime,” adding that it came as a result of the continued deterioration of the security situation and the economic and social mismanagement. The council affirmed its respect in adhering to all the commitments made by Niger and reassured the national and international community regarding the physical and moral integrity of the deposed president. Another statement by the coup group called on all foreign partners not to interfere.

This coup coincided with the start of the Russia-Africa Summit taking place in St. Petersburg, through which Russia seeks to break international isolation and expand its investment and political presence in the void generated by the declining influence of France in Africa as a result of being targeted by the US and faced with competition from China and Turkey. Meanwhile, the African countries affected by the Ukrainian war and its impact on food prices are seeking to secure the flow of grain that Putin uses as leverage against the West’s standpoints and sanctions on his country. These African efforts to address the grain crisis are encouraged by the US, given global concerns and fears of supply chain disruptions and rising food prices, which are pressing for an end to the Ukrainian war, particularly with Germany revealing a few days ago the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. This American encouragement to African countries regarding their specific relationship with Russia further adds to France’s woes, as it still rejects classifying Russia as an enemy of NATO and the Western alliance.

It is also noticeable that the military coups that took place in Central African Republic, Chad, Mali, and Burkina Faso in recent months, and whose executors’ link to America became evident through the training and supervision they had received, and was acknowledged by the US Africa Command (AFRICOM), occurred amid France’s conflicting standpoints with the US regarding NATO, the Ukrainian war, and its relationship with China. Additionally, France has attempted to act independently from the US in the Libyan file since the Western military intervention against Colonel Gaddafi. Evidence of this can be found in a memorandum by Sidney Blumenthal, an advisor to the US Secretary of State, warning against Sarkozy’s haste in getting rid of Gaddafi and highlighting France’s objectives, including obtaining the majority share of Libyan oil, enhancing French influence in North Africa, reaffirming French military presence globally, and thwarting Gaddafi’s efforts regarding the unified African currency, which threatened the French currency in circulation and undermines French influence in Africa.

The coup in Niger against President Mohamed Bazoum took place in the context of the US targeting French influence. Some media outlets reported Bazoum’s close ties with France and his previous work in French companies. It is known that he has been involved in countering what is referred to as “terrorism” and has been attempting to combat “jihadist” activities in Niger since he took over the Ministry of Interior, accusing “jihadist” movements of having foreign connections. This “jihadist” activity, which the US benefits from, has reached Niger through Mali with Saudi support. It is also worth mentioning that Niger hosts the largest French military presence after reducing their forces in Mali, with an estimated 1,500 soldiers stationed on the Mali border.

The weightiness of Niger lies in being the most important African country in uranium production, ranking second globally after Kazakhstan. Its importance to France lies particularly in supplying about 35% of France’s uranium needs through the French company “Areva” to operate nuclear power plants, contributing to 75% of France’s electricity production. France exploits the wealth of Niger, while the Nigerien government receives only a 5.5% share of the produced uranium. Due to the importance of Nigerien uranium, France carried out a military coup in 2010 that ousted President Mamadou Tandja, who had renegotiated with “Areva” the uranium agreement and opened investment in Niger’s resources to foreign companies, including Chinese, Indian, and Canadian firms. The US has been encouraging this to break France’s monopoly on Nigerien uranium and urging African countries to rebel against France. Moreover, since China became interested in Nigerian uranium and oil, the Nigerien government has been encouraged to claim some of its rights from the French. This is done by fuelling the Nigerien people’s discontent with France and “Areva” through civil society institutions.

Additionally, the United States aims to provoke competition between China, India, and Russia for investment in Africa, as well as with France. This is to hinder rapprochement between them and obstruct their cooperation. In this context, Macron slammed the Russian Wagner Group presence in Mali and the Central African Republic, describing them as “providing life insurance to failed regimes in Africa” and accusing them of conducting a “predatory” campaign on natural resources and committing violence against civilians, including rape. In response, the US has sought to increase its military presence in Africa through AFRICOM, citing the pretext of “terrorism” to gain control over African energy sources and tighten its grip on the interests of major powers and limit their influence.

As for the recent coup in Niger, which is likely linked to the US, some media reports suggest that the true mastermind behind it is the Nigerien Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, who is the former Chief of Staff of the Nigerien Army, General Salifou Modi. The news mentioned that he was on his way to Niger to assume the presidency after the ousting of Mohamed Bazoum.

One of the most notable aspects of the coup’s timing is the visit of the French President to the South Pacific region. This visit is an attempt to strengthen French presence in its former colonial territories and promote what is called the “third option” in the Pacific region, which is France as an alternative to the US and China. This is interpreted as an effort to counter Chinese dominance in the area. The visit is also seen as an attempt by Macron to remain neutral amid the US-China conflict in light of the pressure of the US urging European countries to sever ties with China. Moreover, the visit is aimed at bolstering his precarious domestic position. All of these factors place military coups in African countries, particularly in Niger, Mali, Chad, and Burkina Faso, within the context of competition and power struggle between France and the US in Africa.

Information from Western sources indicate that the coup leaders received training from the US military. For example, Captain Amadou Sanogo, who led the coup in Mali, received basic infantry training in Georgia and military intelligence education in Arizona. Colonel Assimi Goïta, who led the coup in Mali in 2020, worked with US Special Forces for years and participated in exercises such as “Flintlock” and the Joint Special Operations University Seminar at MacDill Air Force Base. Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, who ousted Burkina Faso’s president last year, participated twice in the US-Africa sponsored “Flintlock” exercise and attended the US-Africa Intelligence Officer Basic Course, as well as having engagements with the Civil- Military Support Element affiliated to the US Department of Defence.

This is the reason for the concentration of the French military presence in Niger, Chad, Mali, and Burkina Faso, where coup leaders demanded the departure of French forces. These countries are also areas of activity for “jihadist” organisations, occurring in regions of French influence and Chinese “Belt and Road” areas.

In the race between France and the US for influence in Africa, France exploited the Al-Qaeda attack on Areva’s headquarters in Niger in September 2010, where seven of its employees were kidnapped. France used this “jihadist” card, which the US employs to enhance its military presence, to launch Operation “Serval” in Mali, followed by Operation “Barkhane.”

In light of the available data, the coup in Niger is a blow that further weakens Macron, who is struggling domestically and desperately seeking to restore France’s colonial dignity abroad.

Copyright LCIR 2023

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