The Niger crisis and the intricate web of dynamics in the move for freedom.
In the heart of West Africa, a crisis has taken root by reshaping the sociopolitical landscape of the region, the ‘Niger Freedom’. The events in Niger are purely driven by the desire to break away from colonial power and gain independence with a sense of self-determination and empowerment. The events have not only garnered attention in the region, bringing security tension, but also on the global stage with the involvement of France and the United States of America. The general political events surrounding Niger as a strategic location in West Africa involve exploring its origins, motivations, challenges, and potential impacts. Let’s delve into the intricate web of dynamics in Niger’s move for freedom.
Niger has become a haven for fighting terrorism but has turned into a victim of neo-colonial exploitation. France has ruthlessly exploited Niger’s mineral resources and held the Sahel region, hostage, as seen during the NATO intervention in Libya.
Niger’s chronic coups
Niger has been a past colony of France, which colonised a big chunk of West Africa. Many reasons make it a very strategic location to control. It is the world’s third-largest producer of uranium and France’s largest producer. This country powers a big part of France and has become very valuable. Politically, Niger has instability in its leadership. The West African country has experienced five coups since its independence. The recent coup removed President Mohamed Bazoum after a bloodless coup led by General Abdourahamane Tiani. The coup d’état took place on July 26, 2023, with the president being detained by the presidential guard in his palace by the military junta. Niger has experienced a coup every decade since it became a republic, including 1974, 1996, 1999, and 2010. It is a country that is led by a military junta once a democratic election is held. The big question is: What are the reasons for all these coups? Are they influenced by the government’s affiliation with the colonial master, France?
Western countries have interests in Niger, including France and the United States
The United States of America operates the largest drone base in Niger and Africa. The base, located in Agadez, Central Niger, was built by the 409th Air Expeditionary Group of the U.S. Air Force and cost upwards of $100 Million. The project commenced on April 19, 2016. Agadez is the fifth-largest city in the country and has over 100,000 residents. The base is the largest construction project the Air Force has completed. Reconnaissance (ISR) Flights by MQ-9 “Reaper” Drones began at the Base in 2019 and are considered extremely important to Counterterrorism Operations in Africa, including intelligence and surveillance.
In addition, the Central Intelligence Agency has a drone base in Dirkou. The base is used to carry out surveillance in southwestern Libya, where Al Qaeda has operations. It is also used to pay close attention to other extremist groups that operate in the Sahel region of Niger, Chad, and Mali.
The French government has 1,500 troops in the country. The troops are present in the country under bilateral agreements.
France recalls that the legal framework for its defence cooperation with Niger is based on agreements concluded with the legitimate Nigerien authorities. France, along with the rest of the international community, only recognises these, as the ministry stated in a statement.
France is currently evacuating people from Niger. 577 French citizens have since been evacuated via French military planes, along with 50 nationals of other countries, France’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
France’s Dependency and Exploitation of Niger’s Uranium
France relies heavily on Niger’s uranium for its domestic use and to run its enormous nuclear power plants. On this note, France has focused on the exploitation of uranium in the West African country. The focus has made France fully dependent on natural resources and could negatively affect the French industry sector. The exploitation has taken place for over four decades by a French nuclear fuel cycle group, Orano, formerly known as Areva.
There are three major mines currently operating in Niger under Orano. They include:
- The Ar mines operating company, Somair, is 63.4% owned by Orano and is based near the town of Arlit.
- The Akokan mining site, around ten kilometres from Arlit, has been closed since the end of March 2021, with reserves exhausted after four decades of mining.
- The Imouraren mine. It is located 80 kilometres south of Arlit and is considered to be one of the world’s largest uranium deposits. Orano holds a 63.52% stake in the mine.
Despite the unrest in the country, the company has stated that it will continue with its mining activities.
To date, activities at the operational sites in Arlit and the headquarters in Niamey are continuing with an adapted organisation in the context of the curfew in place throughout Niger
The 88,200 metric tonnes of natural uranium imported into France came mainly from three countries: Kazakhstan (27%), Niger (20%), and Uzbekistan (19%). France has sought to diversify its imports, but the exploitation of Niger uranium still plays an important role in France’s supplies. It has supplied a total of 17,615 metric tonnes in the last decade.
Source: Comité technique Euratom
Tense affairs between the military junta, France and ECOWAS
Tensions between the junta and the French government have progressively escalated since the coup began. The military junta gave an ultimatum for the French troops to leave Niger or face forceful removal. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs refused the demands, citing that they were from a rogue leadership and unconstitutional. President Emmanuel Macron of France issued a stern warning about the political crisis in Niger, citing the importance of President Bazoum returning to power. He also threatened that there would be a military intervention in cases where France’s interests were compromised. Macron clearly stated that the response would be ‘immediate and uncompromising’.
The Economic Community of Western African States (ECOWAS) has been at the forefront of preparations for a military intervention against the junta in Niger. They initially gave a two-week ultimatum for the junta to restore President Bazoum to power, but it proved futile. They added another week to be in line with the African Union ultimatum, but an approach in that direction seems to have failed.
The economic bloc has decided on a D-Day to attack Niger as diplomacy takes shape through negotiations with the military junta. ECOWAS Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace, and Security, Abdel-Fatau Musah:
We are ready to go any time the order is given…The D-day is also decided. We’ve already agreed and fine-tuned what will be required for the intervention…As we speak, we are still readying [a] mediation mission into the country, so we have not shut any door.
However, not all countries in ECOWAS support the intervention. Cape Verde, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Guinea are against the war. Captain Ibrahim Traore of Burkina Faso and Colonel Assimi Goïta of Mali have been at the forefront of offering imminent support to Niger through military and economic support in place of the sanctions imposed on Niger.
Algeria has also condemned the proposed ECOWAS military intervention and voiced the importance of peaceful talks and the use of diplomatic means.
The majority of Niger citizens support the coup
Thousands of protesters have since protested in front of the French embassy in Niamey, Niger’s capital, with some yelling “Long live Putin” and “Down with France.” Putschists accused France earlier this week of plotting strikes to liberate Bazoum. They also accused France of plotting a military intervention in the country, which France’s Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna denied. The broadcast of French media outlets RFI and France24 in the country was interrupted on Thursday.
Many Niger citizens have come out to express their desire to volunteer and sign up for the people’s militia called Volunteers for the Defence of Niger.
The heartbeat of the movement for freedom resonates with the aspirations and sentiments of the citizens. They clearly express their resentment towards the Niger leadership, which is always controlled by Western powers and ends up being a puppet government. They are tired of oppression and exploitation with no solid return on their resources. This move signifies a long-awaited opportunity to shape the destiny of their nation.
Beyond the citizens, the local leaders have also expressed their support for the coup. They are playing a crucial role in shaping the collective sentiments of the citizens. They are at the forefront of ensuring that freedom from neo-colonialism is achieved.\
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