Last week's coup in Niger is already fast becoming an internationalized conflict situation, as the West African nation's former colonial ruler France has denounced and condemned the junta—while urging that ousted President Mohamed Bazoum be immediately reinstated. Coup supporters are now attacking diplomatic locations and French interests, including the French embassy in the capital of Niamey.
Bazoum is reportedly in good health following the harrowing events days ago when he was taken captive by his own presidential guard. Interestingly, the very rationale of those who overthrew his democratically elected government (merely two years in) centers on geopolitical matters: growing jihadi violence has become a major issue and he's been severely criticized for failing to secure the nation and the safety of the population. But others say that's just a pretext for what was an internal power struggle and military machinations. Currently, there are emerging reports in Mideast-Africa regional sources that Niger (under the junta) has suspended all exports of uranium and gold to France. FT is confirming:
The junta has continued to step up anti-French rhetoric. It announced it was suspending the export of uranium to France with immediate effect. Niger is the world’s seventh-largest producer of Uranium and France, which relies on nuclear energy for 75 per cent of its power, is a significant importer.
There are already widespread allegations of direct French military intervention being imminent, after on Friday the head of the presidential guards unit Gen Abdourahmane Tchiani declared himself Niger's new ruler of the country.
France has asserted it will only recognize the only legitimate authority as Bazoum, whose precise whereabouts remain unknown —though he has just met with the leader of Chad, who is reportedly trying to mediate.
France and the now-ruling military have exchanged threats and warnings, amid claims that the now ousted government has been encouraging French strikes against the presidential palace and coup leaders.
Colonel Amadou Abdramane, who is among the coup leaders and a spokesman, has alleged that Niger's foreign minister had signed a legal order which authorizes external French military intervention to restore political stability. There are even allegations of French forces preparing a missile attack on the presidential palace. France has neither confirmed nor denied that the exiled Bazoum government requested this, however.
Further, Abdramane warned Monday that foreign governments must not attempt to free Bazoum or intervene on behalf of his officials, vowing that bloodshed and further chaos would follow.
Niger announced that it was suspending the export of uranium and gold to France with immediate effect: BBC— CGTN Africa (@cgtnafrica) July 31, 2023
Complicating matters, and adding to the geopolitical pressures and tensions, is the fact that Niger has long been a major operating hub for French special forces, with some 1,500 French troops in the country, who regularly conducted joint operations with the prior government.
The 'anti-imperialist' nature of coup supporters in the streets has been demonstrated by their waving Russian flags. Alarmingly, while both French and American troops are in the region, the Russian mercenary group Wagner is just next door in Mali. Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin, who days ago popped back up in Russia for the first time since the June 23 mutiny events, in a rare message positively celebrated the coup and blasted past French and Western colonialism in Africa:
In a long message posted to social media, Prigozhin blamed the situation in Niger on the legacy of colonialism and alleged, without evidence, that Western nations were sponsoring terrorist groups in the country. Niger was once a French colony and, before this week’s putsch, it had been one of the few democracies in the region.
Meanwhile, Russian flag-bearing protesters have attacked the French embassy in Niamey...
French embassy in the Niger capital surrounded by supporters of the coup— COMBATE |🇵🇷 (@upholdreality) July 30, 2023
People chant "Long live Russia", "Long live Putin", "Down with France", "Down with Macron" pic.twitter.com/Jn3eQc3Wmq
All of this has prompted a fresh response from President Emmanuel Macron, who said his government "will not tolerate any attack on France and its interests" in Niger. He blasted the coup d’état as "perfectly illegitimate" (ironic given this implies he believes he can bestow some coups with legitimacy but not others).
Tensions are also building along the borders, after coup leaders claimed neighboring allies of the West are plotting against them. West African leaders held an emergency meeting on Sunday in Nigeria over the coup and crisis.
The 15-nation regional bloc Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called for Bazoum's immediate restoration to office, saying it will "all measures" to restore democratic government and the constitution. The biggest warning from ECOWAS was seen in the following statement:
"Such measures may include the use of force for this effect," it said in a statement.
The White House in a weekend statement said it is "closely monitoring" the coup and events inside the country, while staying in communication with military leaders.
"We remain deeply concerned about the unfolding developments ... the United States condemns in the strongest terms, any effort to seize power by force," NSC spokesman John Kirby said. "A military takeover may cause the United States to cease security and other cooperation with the government of Niger, jeopardizing existing security and non security partnerships."
But as The Intercept highlights, this is yet another problem and change of government that's at least in part of Washington's own making... that is, another African coup leader who was trained by US special forces. According to The Intercept:
BRIG. GEN. MOUSSA SALAOU BARMOU, the chief of Niger’s Special Operations Forces and one of the leaders of the unfolding coup in Niger, was trained by the U.S. military, The Intercept has confirmed. U.S.-trained military officers have taken part in 11 coups in West Africa since 2008.
“We have had a very long relationship with the United States,” Barmou said in 2021. “Being able to work together in this capacity is very good for Niger.” Just last month, Barmou met with Lt. Gen. Jonathan Braga, the head of U.S. Army Special Operations Command, at Air Base 201, a drone base in the Nigerian city of Agadez that serves as the lynchpin of an archipelago of U.S. outposts in West Africa.
On Wednesday, Barmou, who trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, and the National Defense University in Washington, joined a junta that ousted Mohamed Bazoum, Niger’s democratically elected president, according to Nigerien sources and a U.S. government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The military regime in Niger has with immediate effect, banned the export of uranium to France. Over 50 per cent of the uranium ore extracted from Niger is used for fuelling French nuclear power plants. 24% of EU uranium imports, come from Niger, pic.twitter.com/exYLkFWcXt— Africa Archives ™ (@Africa_Archives) July 31, 2023
But again, France has significantly more at stake concerning the chaotic political situation of its formal colony, given Niger provides 15% of France’s total uranium needs.
Uranium stocks and nuclear power-related companies are sharply up, climbing on reports that the Niger junta has suspended exports of uranium and gold to France with immediate effect (as well as news that Southern Co.’s expanded Vogtle nuclear power plant in Georgia is delivering power to the grid after years of delays)...
It should be noted that about one-fifth of the European Union's uranium stock derives from Niger.
From the West's perspective, looming large in the background is expanding Russian influence in Africa. Already there are hyped headlines claiming Putin is now eyeing extending his influence to Niger and across West Africa.