(LifeSiteNews) — In the last 24 hours a military coup has seized power from the incumbent President of Niger. The West African nation, predominantly Muslim and a former French colonial possession, has some of the most precious uranium reserves in the world.
President Mohamed Bazoum – seen as a close friend of France and of the West – has been ousted by this, the second coup in two years. On the night of March 30, 2021, a group of soldiers from the national army attempted to seize the Presidential Palace immediately prior to President Bazoum’s swearing-in ceremony.
A troubled region
This is the seventh coup in the region since 2020. Both Burkina Faso and Mali have seen two military coups each in the last three years, with additional neighbors Chad and Guinea both seeing their governments replaced by military rule in 2021.
Former colonial power France had been running a regional military security operation since 2013. Named Operation Barkhane, it centered on policing the unrest in Mali, with cooperation from the British Army, Sweden, and Estonia.
The French withdrew in 2022, having committed over 5,000 troops across the region, with bases in Mali, Chad, Ivory Coast, Niger, and Burkina Faso. Anti-French sentiment has been exacerbated by the failed intervention, which is blamed for increasing violence and instability.
The French army fought alongside that of Niger in counter-jihadi operations. Despite being brothers in arms – over an eight year anti terror campaign – the French were disappointed to find that their former allies had turned against them.
A CNN report from July 26 repeated unconfirmed rumors of the Nigerien Army’s false assurances to the West:
A statement on the presidency’s social media channels said President Mohamed Bazoum is “doing well” and the army and national guard were “ready to attack the elements of the GP [Presidential Guard] involved in this fit of anger if they do not return to their better senses.” CNN cannot verify the statement.
Meanwhile, the Nigerien army is rumored to have assured the French that it was moving to the capital, Niamey, to halt the coup in the last remaining pro-French nation in the Sahel.
Yet when the army arrived, they announced their support for the rebels.
The Niger Army told the French they would come into Niamey to stop the coup but instead they assisted. Reason for all the conflicting reports and confusion. 🇳🇪 pic.twitter.com/wgeM13LLPf
— Mahamat M Adam Bechir (@BlazianP) July 27, 2023
News of the coup was denounced as Russian propaganda by Paris-based Marwane Ben Yahmed, Tunisian founder of “Africa’s Number One News Agency,” Jeune Afrique.
As the coup unfolded, a $100 million US drone base in the region was reportedly placed on “lockdown.”
Air Base 201 was constructed outside Agadez to allow the US Air Force to strike at terrorists across the Sahel.
The U.S. has flown Reaper drones from another base – Base 101 – in the capital city of Niamey since 2013. Both USAF facilities are located within existing Nigerien Air Force bases – a situation likely to raise complications now that the armed forces of Niger have ousted the pro-Western government.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Niger as recently as March 16th, 2023, during which he stressed the importance of the United States’ partnership with then President Bazoum. He described the state as “a strong example of democratic governance … a leader in trying to advance regional security …”
Four months later Bazoum and his exemplary leadership were gone, replaced in a coup which has been roundly condemned by the U.S., the United Nations, and France, among others.
Russian influence growing
The presence of the Wagner Group – the Russian Private Military Company – in West Africa was rumored as far back as 2018.
Reuters noted unconfirmed reports of Wagner’s presence in the Central African Republic five years ago. Following the announced drawdown of French forces from their former colony in 2022, Wagner PMC was invited to Mali by the military-led government.
From Time magazine:
U.S. partners battling extremists in the Sahel are dwindling. Notably, Mali’s military junta last month ordered the 15,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping mission there to leave, claiming they had failed in their mission. Now Wagner forces remain there, accused by watchdogs of human rights atrocities.
The United States in early 2021 said it had provided Niger with more than $500 million in military assistance and training programs since 2012, one of the largest such support programs in sub-Saharan Africa. The European Union earlier this year launched a 27 million-euro ($30 million) military training mission in Niger.
Western initiatives – from the US, through the UN and European Union – are no longer welcome in the region, which saw Mali expel the UN peacekeepers in June 2023.
The Wagner Group was made briefly famous by its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s spectacular military challenge to President Vladimir Putin on June 25 of this year. Whilst Prigozhin himself announced this was not a coup, it was widely billed in the West as a sign of incipient Russian collapse.
In the real world, the Wagner Group are viewed as Russian patriots whose operations have secured Russian interests in conflicts at home and abroad.
The Wagner Group, described as a cognate of the French Foreign Legion, have been somewhat dispersed following a military convoy protesting measures to dissolve the group, and to urge a more aggressive order of battle against what they claim to be the frustrating hesitancy of the Russian General Staff.
With their proven efficacy on the battlefield, and obvious popularity in their destination states, Russian influence looks likely to be vouchsafed in a region marked by rapid regime change.
Earlier this year, Russia signed a deal to establish a naval base in Sudan, where Wagner PMC has operated since 2017. The group has a proven track record in paving the way for major Russian deals.
A wider impact
Blessed with coal, gold and oil, it is to be remembered that Niger has some of the highest grade uranium deposits, providing 5 percent of global consumption. Its two uranium mines boast that they have never once interrupted production in the last 50 years.
Around half of Niger’s uranium was formerly used to fuel France’s nuclear power plants, accounting for one-third of French uranium consumption. It is not known whether this arrangement will survive the latest regime change away from the West.
The loss of Niger sees the last pro-Western nation in the Sahel turn to the Russians, whose combination of military services and strategic trade deals appears to have more appeal to the new masters of the region than those offered by the West.
Ahead of the BRICS summit next month, this is a further sign that the post-Soviet Liberal consensus is in rapid retreat. The world is moving on from a unipolar settlement which saw the United States lead the West in a moment of unchallenged supremacy.
The loss of this regional influence comes after a failed and protracted military campaign which saw former allies peel away from the former hegemon. There is a pattern forming in the wake of neoconservative “diplomacy.” It is one we are likely to see repeated in another campaign, closer to the heart of NATO.