Tensions in West Africa are boiling over in response to an unconstitutional power grab in the landlocked country of Niger after members of the presidential guard deposed its democratically elected pro-West president on July 26. The swift reaction from the international community and regional leaders has pitted African nations against other African nations.
But a July 30 communique that included strong talk, a threat of stiff economic sanctions, and a less than veiled threat of war if the deposed President Mohamed Bazoum—who ruled since April 2021—is not reinstalled in “one week” sparked serious concern for a possible intra-African conflict. ECOWAS, or the Economic Community of West African States, is a regional political and economic union of 15 countries located in West Africa. In a joint statement, the military governments of Burkina Faso and Mali countered that military intervention in Niger is tantamount to an act of war on them and they would respond in like manner. The Republic of Guinea sent a similar warning to ECOWAS.
The August 6 deadline expired with no sign of retreat nor returning the deposed president to power. Thousands filled the 30,000-seat Seyni Kountche stadium in Niger’s capital Niamey in support of the Junta as the region dipped deeper on edge. The junta reclosed airspace and placed border forces on high alert.
“According to the information we have forces of a foreign power are preparing an act of aggression against Niger and its people in coordination with ECOWAS and armed terrorist groups,” said Amadou Abdramane, spokesman for the military junta.
“Faced with the threat of intervention that is becoming clearer through preparation from a neighboring country, Niger’s airspace is closed as of today for all airports until further notice. Any attempts to violate National Airspace will be met with an energetic and instantaneous response,” he said.
By presstime ECOWAS had not stated its immediate next move now that the deadline ended, and their ultimatum is unmet. Analysts said ECOWAS countries are faced with local legislators approving military intervention, which had not been done by presstime. So far Nigeria’s senate rejected President Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s proposals for intervention. He also serves as ECOWAS chairman.
The bombast of the threat is one thing, getting clearance from their respective Parliaments for troop deployment is another. The failure in Nigeria, with its major role in the region poses a problem for ECOWAS, to legally act. Some analysts said for Mr. Tinubu, as the new ECOWAS chairman and new president of Nigeria, a question of credibility is at stake.
The crisis has brought the region to the precipice of a situation that threatens regional stability, but also placed a spotlight on intensified anti-American and anti-France sentiment in Niger, say observers and analysts.
“I think it’s a two-prong issue,” said Abayomi Azikiwe, political analyst and editor of Pan-African News Wire, an international electronic press service. “On the one hand, the civilian leadership in the ECOWAS region is alarmed at the degree of discontent within the military apparatus in regard to their governance, and this is a threat to them,” he said.
“At the same time, the United States and France is concerned about the coup in Niger because it is an outpost for their military operations in the Sahel and other parts of Africa,” Mr. Azikiwe told The Final Call.
America operates two drone bases in Niger, one in the capital, Niamey, and a $100 million location known as Base 201 in the city of Agadez Through AFRICOM—the U.S. African Command—there are upwards of 1,100 U.S. servicemembers in the country.
For America, turmoil in Niger could have major implications, as a central country the U.S. relies on in its counter-terror strategy against militants spreading in the West African Sahel region. Violent militants began spreading throughout the continent after the U.S. and NATO overthrew Libya and assassinated its leader, Muammar Gadhafi, in 2011. The Libyan leader was successful and strong enough to contain the extremist element.
America and her NATO cohorts were warned by the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam that their destabilizing actions will revisit them. The crisis of extremism across the Sahel has proved his warnings true.
“To the No. 1 Beast, America: Through “AFRICOM” you have sent your wicked mischief-makers into Africa,” Minister Farrakhan said, during Part 8 of his 58-week lecture series, “The Time and What Must Be Done,” which aired in 2013.
“And after you killed my brother Gadhafi, what did you do? Well, just as I heard somebody say once, ‘Who let the dogs out?’ America, when you killed my brother you ‘let the dogs loose.’ Everything that you have done that you thought would be ‘in your favor’ is now coming against you,” he continued. “All of your ‘mischief-making,’ all of your ‘putting one brother against another,’ ‘one kingdom against another,’ ‘one nation against another,’ ‘one people against another’: Keep on going, because it’s coming back home to you!” Minister Farrakhan warned.
Investigative journalist Eugene Puryear said dissatisfaction over the lack of progress in controlling or eradicating the extremist elements plays a large part in the popular dissatisfaction, which also leads to supporting the coups.
“We’ve seen this certainly from Mali and Burkina Faso, raising this very directly on the world stage,” he said. How is it possible that all of these major countries are involved in security programs for years and the insurgencies are getting worse? “You start to wonder, what are they really there for? That’s playing a huge role,” he said.
The mischief-making and blood-shedding continue but with African hirelings. The interests of ECOWAS, AFRICOM, and the French Armed Forces coincide. With the instability that exists in West Africa, if ECOWAS uses military force, it will have to be backed by America and France, analysts said.
“It’s interesting that these military leaders, almost all of them have been trained by France and the United States and they have been collaborators with AFRICOM and the French Foreign Legion,” Mr. Azikiwe pointed out. “The contradiction is that these are the people that are causing them sleepless nights and the pressure is also coming from below, among the masses,” he said.
Pro-junta supporters have been in the streets of Niamey since the overthrow with images of the Russian flag alongside the Nigerien flag. Protesters converged on the French Embassy, throwing stones, burning the French flag, and calling for the French to leave Niger. This is redolent to similar scenes in Mali and Burkina Faso who had recent coups. That also places America in a difficult position to regain the type of influence they have exercised, even with a military intervention, say observers.
France, America, and other European countries evacuated their nationals from Niger after the pro-coup demonstrations at the French Embassy. France’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the evacuation of French nationals was triggered by the embassy attack in Niamey and the closure of Niger’s airspace.
A State Department readout said the U.S. stands behind the deposed president and committed to be actively engaged with ECOWAS and West African leaders on “next steps” to preserve Niger’s democracy. However, the sordid history of America and France in Africa is a history of troublemaking, divide and conquer, and causing Africans to fight and kill Africans.
Despite the charm both powers gave African leaders through security partnerships and military might against the scourge of violent extremists, their promises have failed. The Nigerien people, like Mali and Burkina Faso, are saying France must go.
Intervention would cause more instability and, coupled with domestic problems facing ECOWAS member states, a transnational conflict could jeopardize their standing within their own nations, explained Mr. Azikiwe. “They should try to work out some type of negotiated solution,” he added.
Mr. Puryear agrees. There is a general trend of discontent amongst African peoples in former French West Africa and Central Africa about poverty, humiliation, domination, and the subordination of their countries by imperialist powers, he said. “That’s bubbling up in major ways,” said Mr. Puryear. “And that’s intersecting with a complex and contradictory situation amongst elements of the so-called more elite forces of these African countries … manifesting itself through the military,” he explained.
Considering ECOWAS’s hardnosed position, some observers raised the question, why Niger? Coups have swept through the region, with no calls for military intervention or pressure to return to civilian rule, an interim government, or dates for elections.
Niger was the latest in a wave of coup d’états across the African Sahel—a belt stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the Red Sea in the east. In the last few years, coups happened in Burkina Faso (Jan. 2022 and Oct. 2022); Mali (May 2020 and Aug. 2020); the Republic of Guinea (Sept. 2021); Chad (April 2020), and in northeast Africa, Sudan (April 2019 and Oct. 2021).
But Niger, despite its arid landscape, sand, and dust storms, and poverty, Western powers want its uranium, which is controlled by French multinational companies. Niger is the world’s seventh-biggest producer of uranium, according to the World Nuclear Association. The radioactive metal is the most widely used fuel for nuclear energy. However, the French business equation is a bloodsucker of the poor arrangement for Nigeriens.
The National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland (CNSP) led by the now transitional leader Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani cited “continuous deterioration of the security situation and poor socio-economic governance,” for carrying out the overthrow.
In a failed effort to deliver ECOWAS demands to the military junta, an ECOWAS delegation led by Nigeria’s former President Abdulsalami Abubakar visited Niamey on Aug. 3. West African military chiefs met around the same time in neighboring Abuja, Nigeria to discuss the crisis and possible intervention, that they said is a “last resort” option—a softer tone than ECOWAS communique that sparked the furry of harsh reaction from the junta and African countries opposed to intervention.
This crisis is showing some bold leadership unafraid of Western exploitative power or their African minions. If America and France lose Niger, it may signal the gig is up for White power in Africa. The pushback being exerted against the ECOWAS, and by short extension, France and America by the military leaders in Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Guinea-Conakry is a sign of a new day, said anti-imperialist observers.
“It is a reflection of the fact that there is a fundamental shift of power that’s taking place from the White world, if you will, back to the people,” said Ajamu Baraka, a national organizer with the Black Alliance for Peace. “These folks still have tremendous amounts of power,” he added.
But the shift is seen in African nations like Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, etc., that are part of the French Neo-colonial network, he reasoned.
The resentment many people had for decades toward the French has now exploded. They can now flourish without being easily crushed by the Western powers because they have options like the Russians and indirectly the Chinese.
“The balance of forces is such, that some of these countries like Burkina Faso, like Mali, can make a counter-threat to the threat that came from ECOWAS,” said Mr. Baraka. “This is one of the most significant developments—in my opinion—in decades on the African continent,” he added. “This might be the method of change on the African continent. Maybe it’s going to take a Hugo Chavez approach, working through the military, to finally bring about some kind of process of Pan-African Unity,” stated Mr. Baraka.
“It’s clear that the petty-bourgeois African Leadership … don’t have the guts or the interest to move to a real authentic stance of Pan Africanism.”