How a coup in an African country will hit the interests of a European power.
Even after an hours-long flight from French Polynesia, where Macron was in charge of local affairs, he decided not to rest, but immediately convened a Defense Council devoted to the situation in Niger. The results of the meeting were predictable — non-recognition of the new government, freezing of all assistance until the situation returns to its previous course. The U.S. and the EU reacted in the same way, but France is particularly concerned about the situation in Niger. Why?
First, because almost the entire French contingent in the Sahel region, whose task is to fight jihadists, is concentrated there. After the end of Operation Barkhane, it was decided to withdraw most of the units to Niger.
There are now 1,500 French troops, mostly in the airport area of the capital Niamey and partly near the borders with Mali and Burkina Faso. Five Reaper drones and three Mirage fighter jets are stationed near the airport, allowing air patrols to cover a large area.
In Mali, French units were able to operate independently under Operation Barkhane. In Niger, the paradigm has changed. Now they must be accompanied by locals.
Ousted President Bazoum approved the relocation of French units to Niger, confirming that France’s main task here is to fight ISIL (a terrorist organization banned in Russia) in the Sahara. A new joint operation called Almahaou has been developed, and its main task is to provide security in the Tillaberi region, in northeastern Niger, which is now the Islamists’ main target.
“In Niger, security is not as much of an issue as in Mali or Burkina Faso, mainly this affects the western areas on the border with those countries. Villagers tell that Islamists are threatening to burn down their houses if they don’t leave, and they certainly leave. That’s how we know the terrorists are coming,” says Abdurrahman Idrissa, a researcher at the Dutch Center for African Studies.
Secondly, because Niger falls under the influence of Russia. The country turned out to be, roughly speaking, the last ally of France and, in general, of the West in the region. The French were chased out of Mali and Burkina Faso, and these countries began to look for another support, in particular, Russia in the form of PMC Wagner.
Two things should be noted. First: there will always be people who oppose the leadership, so if there is a force that is ready to support them, they are only in favor. Secondly, the support came not from the collective West, which is hated here on a genetic level, but from a country that has done nothing wrong. So let’s wear tricolors and go to the square.
In Mali, anti-French demonstrations began back in 2013. The slogans were “French out!”, “Down with France!”. Burkina Faso picked up the idea and already in 2022 the embassy in Ouagadougou was attacked.
In Niger last September, the M62 movement organized a series of demonstrations demanding a French withdrawal from the country.
“There is a terrorist war going on in the Sahel, which France itself invented. Stop obeying the French dictate,” Abdul Seydou, the movement’s leader, said at the time.
Third, France has serious economic interests here. Niger is the world’s third largest uranium producer and for 40 years the French company Orano, previously Areva, has been extracting fuel for its nuclear power plants from local mines. There are now two active mines — Somair and Cominak — and Imouraren, which Orano has described on its website as “the mine of the future,” is under development.
Fourth, because Niger is being relied upon in policies to contain migration to Europe, as the country has become a huge transit point for migrants. In 2015, an agreement was signed in Valletta that made Niger a key partner of the EU.
After the change of power in Libya and the closure of migration flows through the western Sahara, the EU slowly began to invest in Niger and establish asylum processing centers there.
“A kind of strategy has been invented to bring the European borders southward, so that migrants cannot reach Europe at all. Well, or in the rarest of cases,” says Africanist Remi Carayol.
For example, in September 2022, about 600 people from several African countries who had not been allowed into Algeria found themselves in northern Niger. Two months earlier, volunteers had found another 50 people, including children, in distress in the desert and they too had been redirected to Niger.
Fifth, because African militaries are generally difficult for the West to negotiate with. There is a perception in their armies that civilians in general are not very strong when it comes to fighting terrorists. It is believed that civilians are mainly concerned with maintaining power and deliberately politicize the issue, which makes it difficult to conduct military operations.
“This coup, even if it doesn’t hold for long, shows that Western influence is evaporating like water from a swimming pool in hot weather,” the British BBC reported. — This only benefits ISIL and al-Qaeda (banned in Russia), which benefit from instability, mismanagement and dissatisfaction with the government, especially in the villages, at the local level.
In Niger, the call for the French to leave has already been voiced. Although less than a day after the putsch, a French military plane landed at Niamey airport, despite the fact that the junta immediately closed the borders. Well, there was no shooting.
France is likely to withdraw its troops from Niger. But where to? It doesn’t have a lot of options. Chad is the only one left, but there are elections to be held, as a result of which the Déby dynasty expects to remain in power, and this will be difficult to achieve. And no one’s going to let the French in.
The historic post-colonial era of France and its military presence is slowly coming to an end,” says African journalist Antoine Glaser. — “From Mauritania to Sudan, the jihadists have succeeded in pushing the Western powers out of their territories.”