Burkina Faso and Mali have declared their willingness to defend Niger with armed force if France, Nigeria, or ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) were to intervene in Niger following the recent change of power.
“Any military intervention against Niger would be tantamount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali,” read a joint statement issued by Mali and Burkina Faso on Monday, July 31.
Any military intervention against Niger would lead to the withdrawal of Burkina Faso and Mali from ECOWAS, as well as the adoption of self-defense measures in support of the armed forces and people of Niger.
In a further statement, the West African nation of Guinea expressed “its disagreement with the sanctions taken by ECOWAS, including military intervention,” and “decided not to apply these sanctions, which it considers illegitimate and inhumane.” Guinea, Mali, and Burkina Faso are currently suspended from ECOWAS, and did not take part in recent resolutions deliberated by ECOWAS.
“Mali and Burkina Faso, and just lately Guinea, also have shown support for Niger,” analyst Kambale Musavuli said during an interview with Telesur English.
So what is really unfolding is that if ECOWAS today decides to send its soldiers to Niger, there is a huge risk of having a regional war similar to that which took place in the DRC, in the Congo, in the late ‘90s, where many African nations ended up there.
“The possibility of a foreign military intervention in Niger and, potentially, other West African nations, is very seriously on the table,” agreed Ben Norton of Geopolitical Economy Report.
It is a threat that many countries in West Africa are taking seriously, and we have seen statements from neighboring countries of Niger that have similar governments, like in Burkina Faso and also in Mali, that have said that if there is a foreign intervention, they would consider this a declaration of war. The possibility of war breaking out in West Africa is very real, and, as is pretty much always the case, Western powers are the ones fueling the fire of this conflict and threatening war. Let us not forget that this is a region where there were very recent examples of Western military intervention. In 2013 and 2014, France led a military intervention in Mali, a neighbor of Niger, and in 2011, NATO, led by the United States, with the support of France, Canada, and other European nations, destroyed the central government of Libya that was led by the revolutionary leader Muammar Gaddafi. They killed Gaddafi and still, today, a decade later, Libya has no central government. It has been in a state of civil war, and now there is a possibility of the Western powers expanding that conflict to the west and to the south to the Sahel region.
Threats issued by France, U.S., and ECOWAS
The joint statement by Burkina Faso and Mali took place following threats issued by French President Emmanuel Macron, on Sunday, July 30, of “immediate and uncompromising” action if French citizens or interests were attacked in Niger. Earlier that day, thousands of Nigeriens, expressing their support of the anticolonialist implications of the coup, gathered outside the French embassy in Niamey, smashed its windows, and set fires. Many pro-coup demonstrators were burning flags of France, waving flags of the Russian Federation, and chanting slogans such as “France, go home.” France maintains about 1,500 troops in Niger, while the U.S. keeps about 1,100 armed forces personnel in the country. Niger’s armed forces, by comparison, number 12,000 personnel, 3,700 of whom are police.
ECOWAS issued a series of stern warnings on Sunday. Omar Alieu-Touray, president of the ECOWAS Commission, read out a series of resolutions, including the willingness to use force if Niger’s overthrown President Mohamed Bazoum was not reinstated within seven days. Other resolutions implemented the closure of land and air borders between ECOWAS countries and Niger, as well as the imposition of a no fly zone on all commercial flights to and from Niger. Furthermore, ECOWAS resolved to “freeze all service transactions, including energy transactions,” “freeze assets of the Republic of Niger in ECOWAS Central Banks,” and to “freeze assets of the Niger State and the state enterprises and parastatals in commercial banks.”
Panicked statements condemning the coup issued by France and the U.S. have reinforced the representation of the coup as another blow to the hegemony exercised by the U.S. and its NATO allies. U.S. secretary of state, the neocon Antony Blinken, declared “unflagging” U.S. support for the deposed president, Bazoum. Citing an anonymous state department official, Reuters reported that “there is a narrow opportunity to reverse last week’s military takeover in Niger, and U.S. diplomatic and military posture there will depend on whether the democratically elected government is reinstated in the coming days and week.”
The situation in Niger
“General Abdourahamane Tchiani is the general who is currently leading Niger,” explained Musavuli,
and from the moment he took power, he has engaged in public actions. One of them is to rein in any of the former members of the government who are alleged to have participated in any form of corruption, to actually bring back any money that they have embezzled. One has already been arrested, the minister of defense, others are actually hiding in foreign embassies—Western embassies—at the moment.
“What is clear to see on the ground is the overwhelming support of the Nigerien people for the coup,” Musavuli added.
They came out this past Sunday, on July 30th, in a rally of support for the coup, and many of them went to the French Embassy. The French Embassy has been defaced. Windows have been broken. The people have expressed that they see the coup as a way of liberation from French control. In the protests, you are seeing people saying ‘France dégage!’ (‘France, leave’). In the protests, you are seeing Russian flags, you are seeing people saying ‘vive Putin!’ (‘long live Putin’). Clearly, the people of Niger are saying ‘we want to break our ties with the West, we want to continue our connection with Russia in creating a multipolar world.’
Mixed messages in mainstream media
Nevertheless, Western analysts have feigned confusion at this turn of events, or attempted to portray these anticolonial gestures as products of disinformation or astroturfing. In an interview with German mainstream news outlet Deutsche Welle (DW), for example, Christoph Schmid of the Social Democratic Party of Germany said “we have to keep the population in mind, but demonstrators can be bought. We saw this in the region. We saw this in Mali. We see this now in Niger, and I’m not too sure about what we really see with demonstrators burning French flags. Are they really aware of the European footprint with development? Are they really aware of what they get from Russia? Because they do not get partnership from Russia, so I’m not quite sure about the real situation.”
Perhaps Schmid is unaware of the centuries of exploitation that have resulted in the poverty of Niger’s people. Although the nation contains vast mineral wealth, including about 5% of the world’s uranium, Niger is only permitted to retain 12% of the royalties from the exploitation of this resource, which provides about one-third of France’s uranium and is 63% owned by the French.
In a similar vein, U.S. outlets such as The Intercept have focused on the ties of West African coup leaders to U.S. military institutions: “Brig. Gen. Moussa Salaou Barmou, one of the leaders of the unfolding coup in Niger, was trained by the U.S. military,” The Intercept reported on July 27. The outlet, among others, has noted that other West African coup leaders were also trained in the U.S., including heads of state of Mali (Goïta), Guinea (Mamady Doumbouya), and Burkina Faso (referring to recent military leader Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who had trained with U.S. forces. Damiba was overthrown in September 2022 by Ibrahim Traoré—who has not been connected to U.S. training).
“Since 2012,” added The Intercept,
US taxpayers have spent more than $500 million in Niger, making it one of the largest security assistance programs in sub-Saharan Africa. Across the continent, the State Department counted just nine terrorist attacks in 2002 and 2003, compared with 2,737 last year in Burkina Faso, Mali, and western Niger alone, according to a report by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, a U.S. Defense Department research institution. U.S. troops train, advise, and assist their Nigerien counterparts, and have fought and even died there.
Information from The Intercept must be viewed with suspicion. The Grayzone has revealed that its billionaire owner, Pierre Omidyar (founder of eBay), “funds regime-change networks and partners with CIA cutouts.” As such, reports from The Intercept, although rooted in truth regarding the coup leaders’ training, may be intended to encourage the false perception that the U.S. is not, in fact, losing ground in the region. On Monday, Niger’s new leadership halted uranium exports to France. It is clear that this harms the French economy, heavily reliant on nuclear power. The effects of the coup in Niger on the power of the U.S., however, are less clear.
While the leaders of Mali and Burkina Faso have officially expelled French troops from their countries, U.S. troops remain and the U.S. continues to pour millions into these countries’ military and law enforcement agencies, although U.S. officials have heightened their criticisms of Mali and Burkina Faso’s leadership. Since the departure of French troops, Mali has welcomed Russia’s private militia Wagner Group to help it combat terrorism.
Pan-African Winds Blowing Across West Africa
In February 2023, Burkinabé Prime Minister Kyélem de Tambèla met with the president of Mali, Assimi Goïta, and other Malian authorities to express Burkina Faso’s desire to form a Pan-African federation, according to the Thomas Sankara Center for African Liberation and Unity. “We are considering a Federation this day,” said Kyélem de Tambèla. “This is our short or medium-term objective. We need everyone’s support, in this sense, because as long as we remain isolated, we are fragile. The Mali—Burkina Faso Federation will constitute a much more decisive striking power.” In a recent article penned by Kambale Musavuli and Vijay Prashad, People’s Dispatch agreed that Niger “is likely” to be included in future discussions about a West African federation.
“We have to understand why this is happening in West Africa,” said Musavuli, in the aforementioned interview with Telesur.
The people of West Africa—from Mali, Niger, Senegal, Burkina Faso, mostly francophone Africa—they want to break ties with France. They do not understand why, in 2023, France still controls their resources, France still controls the currency, and France still controls the politics of the country. So, for over a decade, people in West Africa have demanded the French leave. Mali has requested that the French military leaves. They have done so. Mali has changed the official language of the country. They have removed French as the official language. Burkina Faso has followed their lead, and they just participated also at the Russia—Africa Summit. Burkina Faso was very clear about France leaving, and now we see Niger. So, we have a new non-aligned movement on the African continent being led by Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, where they want France’s military and French presence to be out of Africa, so that Africans can determine their own affairs.