Photo: U.S. Air Force plane taking off from Air Base 201 in Niger. Public domain.
Niger is facing the prospect of a U.S. and France-backed invasion that threatens to cause suffering and chaos across the entire region. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has threatened the West African nation with military intervention following the seizure of power by General Abdourahamane Tchiani, deposing former President Mohamad Bazoum on July 26. In addition, the ECOWAS regional bloc implemented economic sanctions, with the aim of strangling one of the world’s poorest nations. Burkina Faso and Mali have stated that a military intervention by ECOWAS and the West would be considered a declaration of war against their nations as well.
In the course of several days, Niger has experienced demonstrations of thousands of people to support the coup and demand the withdrawal of French troops. Protesters attempted to storm the French embassy to express their outrage at the decades of colonial and neo-colonial domination their country has suffered.
Threat of imperialist-backed military conflict looms
Former colonial powers France, the European Union, and the United States have stated unwavering support for the former pro-West President Mohamed Bazoum. In a Washington Post op-ed published Wednesday evening, Bazoum made a dangerous plea for the United States and the “international community” to restore his government – a thinly veiled request for military intervention.
The Sahel region has already seen what U.S. and European-backed intervention creates. The 2011 NATO intervention in Libya and assassination of Muammar Ghadafi raised regional turmoil to new, complex extremes. As a consequence of the North African nation’s destruction in the war carried out principally by the United States, France and the UK, armed conflict bled into neighboring countries and eventually across West Africa. Existing conflicts in the region rooted in ethnicity or religion were ignited in the chaos following the collapse of Libya – like the long-standing fight of Tuareg forces in the north of Mali for a separate state. As these conflicts spiraled, right-wing Islamist armed groups were able to step into the vacuum and establish military and political control in large areas. Climate change was also an important material factor driving the situation, as the steady expansion of desert areas led to heightened competition for diminishing water resources and arable land.
On the pretext of combating religious fundamentalist fighters, in 2014 France formed the G-5 Sahel – a military alliance incorporating Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania. The U.S. military played a supporting role in this effort.
But this did not eliminate the fundamentalist armed groups. These forces remain highly active and hold swaths of territory (which could expand dramatically in the chaos of a military intervention in Niger). What this so-called counter-terrorism campaign did accomplish, however, was cementing and expanding the military footprint of the western powers across the region. As military officers in Mali and Burkina Faso ousted pro-Western governments in 2021 and 2022, Niger’s significance grew as the last major stronghold of the imperialists. The Pentagon’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) currently maintains a massive drone installation at Niger Air Base 201 near the city of Agadez. Establishing this base was the largest construction project ever undertaken by the U.S. Air Force. The Pentagon has about 1,100 troops based in Niger, and France has approximately 1,500.
For now, France, the EU and the United States deny plans to carry out a direct military intervention in Niger. On August 2, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani noted that such a move would be, “perceived as a new colonization.” A direct invasion can be a risky and costly endeavor, as the tragic occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate. Western imperialist forces would prefer to use regional proxies like ECOWAS to carry out intervention in the name of “democracy.”
When Mali kicked out the remaining French and United Nations troops from the country, ECOWAS established its own regional force. This is led by chiefs of defense staff of member nations with the stated aim of combating terrorism and coup attempts within the member nations. Their troops are composed of soldiers from the nations making up the regional bloc. The unmistakable anti-French, anti-imperialist mass sentiment in West Africa makes it a much more attractive option to use this force.
Nigerien “democracy” according to the imperialists
Behind the noise made by imperialist countries about democracy and human rights is cynical self-interest. Democracy for France, the United States, and the EU does not revolve around respect for the people’s rights or self determination. African countries are awarded the empty label of “a democracy” if Western corporations are the primary benefactor of cheap raw materials (especially energy), unhampered movement of goods through secure supply chains and timely and regular payments of debt to Western banks.
In 1960, several West African nations secured independence after the fall of the French Fourth Republic. Political independence was declared on paper but ongoing economic dependence on France hobbled the region. France holds 50% of West Africa’s foreign currency reserves in the French public treasury, which it trades on the world market. The West African CFA franc is pegged to the value of the euro, which prevents an independent monetary policy and independent development.
Niger is the world’s 7th biggest producer of uranium, contributing 5% of the supply on the global market. Uranium production in Niger is run by the French company Orano, which owns 63.4% of the Niger-based firm Société des Mines de l’Aïr (SOMAÏR). The nation in 2022 was the second-largest supplier of natural uranium to the EU, while France imports 15% of its uranium from the country.
West Africa rising against neo-colonialism
Following ECOWAS’ ultimatum, the transitional governments of Burkina Faso and Mali issued a joint communique denouncing the regional organization for imposing sanctions and threatening military intervention on behalf of former colonial powers. The joint communique underscored the dwindling legitimacy of the region’s neocolonial institutions and emphasized territorial sovereignty and the right to self-determination of the peoples of the African continent. The two states expressed unwavering solidarity to the people and government of Niger while explicitly stating that a military intervention headed by ECOWAS would lead to the withdrawal of the two member states from the organization, and would signal a “declaration of war” against Burkina Faso and Mali. Guinea on Sunday released a separate communique expressing similar condemnation of ECOWAS and support for Niger.
People’s movements and political organizations such as the Socialist Movement of Ghana, West Africa Peoples Organization, and the Communist Party of Benin released statements surrounding the developments in Niger, denouncing the possibility of imperialist-instigated war.
The dramatic developments of the past week – and the broader trend of collapsing pro-Western governments across the region – have made it clear that West Africa is fed up with the systematic violation of sovereignty by former colonial rulers. This rejection of neo-colonialism can take many different forms, with popular movements and military revolts taking place simultaneously and interacting with each other.
This is cause for huge concern among the imperialist powers. The U.S. government, along with its French allies, must not engineer a military intervention that could snowball into a disastrous regional war. All U.S. and French troops must be withdrawn now. And all those in the United States who support independence for the people of Africa should stand against the ruthless plunder of the continent’s resources by the multinational corporations and Wall Street bankers who exploit and oppress us all.