The July 26 coup d’état (or is it a revolution?) in Niger that ousted the country’s first democratically elected President has become the latest symbol of Africa’s second anti-colonial war.
Western media have framed it as a coup, but the overthrow of President Mohamed Bazoum could be considered more as a revolution, given the rather mass support it received from the people of Niger.
General Abdurahman Tchiani, who has since formally assumed leadership of the National Council for the Salvation of the Motherland, has taken over from Bazoum’s pro-Western administration.
The eight coups in West and Central Africa since 2020, including the one in Niger, show how vulnerable and politically unstable the region is. However, they also show how frustrated people are with French and other western influences in the area.
Similar coups have been recorded in Burkina Faso and Mali, and the ongoing processes in Chad, the Central African Republic and other African states can be considered the second anti-colonial war.
The first anti-colonial struggles in Africa took place in the second half of the 20th century and resulted in what political scientists have largely described to be the acquisition of ‘paper and flag’ independence.
The post-colonial era was replaced by a more insidious form of colonialism, couched in the term neo-colonialism, and which offers little difference from the previous dark period. While the west kept exploiting Africa’s vast natural resources, they did little to develop the continent, forcing African countries to keep on borrowing-and at rates that are too high to be sustainable.
Landlocked Niger, a nation of 26 million people and one of the poorest countries on planet earth, has, since the latest coup, taken up the headlines, even in Western media, and this begs the question: why is an impoverished country like Niger so important to the west?
The former commander of the NATO forces in Europe, retired US Navy Admiral James Stavridis believes that the situation in Niger can escalate into a full-scale war on the African continent.
“Will this lead to a full-blown war in Africa? It certainly has the potential to do so, and would be a significant and devastating event,” Mr. Stavridis posted on X (former Twitter social network). And there are reasons for such fear in Niger.
There are reasons for this growing global interest in Niger. The country is home to vast reserves of strategically important raw materials: uranium, tin, and gold, as well as rare earth metals necessary for the development of high-tech sectors.
Large quantities of Niger’s uranium were exported to France virtually for free and Niger provided 30% of the French nuclear industry. The new leadership has banned the export of uranium to France.
The US may have six thousand soldiers in its military bases across Africa, but Niger has been the West’s most astute ally in the Sahel region, and the US has since 2018 been using its base in Niger as a springboard for control over the Sahel.
The rising anti-western sentiments in Niger as in Burkina Faso, Mali, the Central African Republic, and Guinea, is now matched by a growing pro-Russian feeling. After all, Russia stood by Africa in its struggles for freedom during the era of colonialism. It may also stand by Africa in its struggle against neo-colonialism. It won’t be a surprise if Niger’s new man in charge tells French and US soldiers to leave his country.
ECOWAS-the Economic Community of West African States has threatened to use military force to restore Bazoum to power, but there are concerns that such a move would lead to an all-out war in the Sahel that nobody wants. First, the military junta enjoys wide national support. Second, French military interventions in Africa have rarely been crowned with success, and the US is too involved in the Ukraine war to want to intervene in a new war with no end in sight. And besides, Burkina Faso and Mali are ready to back Niger militarily should ECOWAS forces, or any other militaries, march in to forcefully restore Bazum to power.
Whether the West adapts to the situation, or try to destabilize it remains to be seen, but the loss of Niger is not only a serious blow to France, but even to the larger European Union. In desperate hopes of reducing or even stopping gas imports from Russia, there have been plans to lay a gas pipeline from Nigeria to Algeria passing through Niger. The plan is now under threat.