Pro-junta protesters took to the streets in Niger’s capital city, Niamey, waving Russian flags on Sunday and chanted “Putin” just days after soldiers in the country ousted President Mohamed Bazoum, a major ally of the U.S. who was elected in 2021.
These protesters also denounced France, a colonial power in the country, with military bases. President Emmanuel Macron announced Sunday that Paris would respond immediately if there were an attack on any French institutions there.
The Associated Press reported that protesters materialized in front of the French Embassy and chanted, “Long live Putin” and “Down with France.”
Protesters damaged parts of the Embassy building until being dispersed with tear gas. Euronews reported that some of the protesters attempted to enter the building, “while others tore down the plaque reading ‘French Embassy in Niger’ before trampling it on the tarmac and replacing it with Russian and Nigerian flags.”
One protester told the news wire that he would like to send a message to the European Union: “Please, please stay out of our business.”
“It’s time for us to take our lives, to work for ourselves. It’s time for us to talk about our freedom and liberty. We need to stay together, we need to work together, we need to have our true independence,” he said.
TRENDPOST: On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron warned the coup leaders of Niger that “Anyone attacking French nationals, the army, diplomats or French bases would see France retaliate immediately and intractably,” his country will retaliate “immediately and uncompromisingly.”
What should be noted, but barely reported is that first of all, what right does France have to say what Niger, a nation it long colonized, should do. And, France wants a government it has some power over since the nuclear plant nation gets some 15 percent of the uranium that it needs while Niger accounts for some 20 percent of the EU’s total uranium imports.
The New York Times said the coup could have serious consequences for the U.S.’s ability to fight Islamist militants in the Western African region and gives Russia an opportunity to grow in influence. Wagner forces have already been staged in Mali. The concern is that the Nigerian Armed Forces could turn its back on the U.S. and turn to Russian mercenaries instead.
The coup follows similar upheavals in Mali and Burkina Faso. One senior U.S. official told The Times that Niger is considered the “last domino that we hope doesn’t fall.”
“If it falls, I don’t exactly know what you’re going to do,” the official said, noting that the country is the “last major footprint” in the Sahel for both the U.S. and French forces. (The U.S. has about 1,100 troops in the country and France has about 1,500. Washington continues to hope that somehow the coup could still be reversed.)
The U.S. military has special forces located in the country, along with drones, and has been providing training for Nigerian troops so they could be equipped to fight terror groups like Boko Haram and ISIS. The report said the U.S. has spent about $500 million on the training and the European Union also pledged another 1 billion euros to assist the country to slow immigration.
Meanwhile, Gen. Abdourahmane Tiani, the head of the presidential guard, has declared himself leader.
There was an emergency summit in Nigeria that included countries from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc and called for Bazoum to be reinstated within a week, Al Jazeera reported. The bloc said all options would be on the table to restore order.
TRENDPOST: Col. Maj. Amadou Abdramane, a spokesman for the coup plotters, told The Times that one of the main impetuses for the bloodless coup was the fact that France continues to ignore calls to stop landing military jets at the country’s main airport.
The U.S. has laws in place that put strict limits on cooperation with governments formed during coups and there is a risk that Washington could lose influence in the region. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the country earlier this year and tried to buy friends with a $150 million check for “humanitarian aid,” to show the benefits of siding with the U.S. over Russia’s Wagner, the paper said.
Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s top diplomat, called the coup unconstitutional and said, “In such cases, we always take a clear position.”
But Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, the famed Russian mercenary, said the coup was an effort by another African country to break free from its Western colonizers. The Times said Prigozhin seemed to be making a business pitch that, when distilled, says, if foreign soldiers couldn’t bring water to Niger, it might be worth giving Wagner forces a chance.
The situation seems like how the Syrian government has relied on Russian forces to help provide stability while American troops remain uninvited and on the fringes of the country. (See “U.S. SAYS RUSSIAN JETS ARE GRINDING FOR A FIGHT OVER SYRIA” 2 May 2023.)
Bazoum struck a defiant tone after his ouster. His security detail said it stepped aside peacefully to avoid a bloody conflict, and said he will defend the country’s “hard-won” democratic gains over the past few years. He has since disappeared from public view, leading to more uncertainty about who exactly is leading the country.
TRENDPOST: The Trends Journal has reported on how African countries have been grappling with former colonial powers to obtain true freedom. The Niger coup would be the continent’s sixth military junta in the past few years. (See “FRENCH TROOPS EXIT FORMER COLONY, AMID TENSIONS WITH MALIANS” 23 Aug 2022, “3 MILLION SUDANESE DISPLACED, ABOUT 3,000 DEAD…BUT WHO GIVES A SHIT?” 25 Jul 2023, “U.S. ATTEMPTS TO BULLY SOUTH AFRICA AWAY FROM RUSSIA” 20 Jul 2023, “MAJORITY OF CITIZENS ACROSS WEST ASIA AND NORTH AFRICA DECRY U.S. INTENTIONS” 18 Apr 2023, and “BLINKEN GOES TO AFRICA TO PEDDLE ‘DEMOCRACY’ IN EFFORT TO BLOCK CHINA AND RUSSIA’S INROADS ON CONTINENT” 16 Aug 2022.)