Published 8/5/2023 2:22 PM
At three in the morning on July 26, 2023, President Mohamed Bazoum was arrested by his own guard in Niamey, the capital of Niger. The troops were led by Brigadier General Abdourahmane Tchiani who closed the borders and declared a curfew. The coup d’état was immediately condemned by the West African Economic Community, the African Union and the European Union. Both France and the United States — which have military bases in Niger — said they were watching the situation closely. A dispute broke out between the army — which claims Bazoum — and the presidential guard that controls the capital, but that soon ended.
The following day, Army General Abdou Sidikou Issa made a statement saying that he accepted the situation to “avoid deadly clashes between the different forces… which could cause a bloodbath”. Brigadier General Tchiani went on television on the 28th to announce that he was the new president of the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland.
The coup in Niger follows in the footsteps of similar events in Mali (August 2020 and May 2021), Burkina Faso (January 2022 and September 2022) and Guinea (September 2021). Each of these coups has been led by army officers furious at the presence of French and US troops in their countries, as well as the economic crises that afflict them.
“At the heart of the ‘corruption’ is the so-called joint venture between Niger and France in the so-called Société des mines de l’Aïr (Somaïr), which owns and operates the country’s uranium industry.”
The African region of the Sahel faces cascading crises: the desertification of the soil due to the climate catastrophe, the rise of Islamic militancy due to NATO’s intervention in Libya in 2011, the growth of disturbing networks of trafficking in weapons, human beings and drugs into the desert, the appropriation of natural resources — including uranium and gold — by western companies that simply do not pay what is due for these riches and the entrenchment of western military forces, whether through the construction of bases or deadly operations carried out with impunity.
Two days after the coup, the Safeguard Council announced the names of 10 officers who would be its members. They came from all branches of the Niger Armed Forces, notably General Mohamed Toumba (Army), Colonel Amadou Abouramane (Air Force) and Deputy General Assahaba Ebankawel (National Police). It is clear that one of the most influential members of the Safeguard Council is General Salifou Mody, former Chief of Staff and leader of the Supreme Council for the Restoration of Democracy.
For his part, General Mody led a coup in February 2010 against then-president Mamadou Tandja, and he ruled Niger thereafter until Bazoum’s predecessor, Mahamadou Issoufou, won the 2011 election. United built the largest drone base in the world in Agadez and the French Armed Forces took the city of Irlit for the uranium miner Orano (which, in the past, was part of Areva).
“Surprisingly, Somaïr is 85% owned by the French Atomic Energy Commission and two French companies, while only 15% is owned by the government of Niger.”
It is important to note that General Salifou Mody is perceived as an influential member of the Safeguard Council given his influence in the Army and his international contacts. On February 28, 2023, Mody met with Mark Milley, Chairman of the United States Joint Chiefs of Staff, during the Conference of African Defense Ministers in Rome, Italy, to discuss “regional stability, including cooperation on counterterrorism and the continued struggle against violent extremism in the region.”
On 9 March, Mody visited Mali to meet Colonel Assimi Goïta and the Chief of Staff of the local Army General Oumar Diarra to strengthen military cooperation between Niger and Mali. A few days later, on March 16, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Niger and met Bazoum. This was perceived by many people in Niger as a marginalization of Mody, who was appointed on June 1 as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates. Mody, as they say in Niamey, is the voice in the ear of Brigadier General Tchiani, the current head of state.
Corruption and the West
A highly-informed source in Niger alleges that the military turned against Bazoum because “he is corrupt and a pawn of France. The Nigerians had had enough of him and his gang. They are in the process of arresting members of the ousted system, many of whom have taken refuge in foreign embassies as they have enriched themselves on public funds.”
“Corruption” looms over Niger, a country with one of the most lucrative uranium reserves in the world — and it concerns not just handsome bribes to government officials, but an entire structure, developed during French colonial rule, which in practice it prevents Niger from establishing its sovereignty over its raw materials and its own development.
“One in three light bulbs in France is powered by uranium from Niger, while 42% of that African country’s population lives below the poverty line.”
At the heart of the “corruption” is the so-called joint venture between Niger and France in the so-called Société des mines de l’Aïr (Somaïr), which owns and operates the country’s uranium industry. Surprisingly, Somaïr is 85% owned by the French Atomic Energy Commission and two French companies, while only 15% is owned by the government of Niger. Incidentally, Niger produces about 5% of global uranium — with the addition that local uranium is of high quality. Half of Niger’s export earnings are from sales of uranium, oil and gold.
One in three light bulbs in France is powered by uranium from Niger, while 42% of that African country’s population lives below the poverty line. The people of Niger have watched their wealth slip through their fingers for decades. An example of the Niger government’s weakness is that during the past decade, it has lost around 906 million dollars in ten arbitration cases against multinationals before the International Center for Settlement of Investment Disputes and the International Chamber of Commerce.
In 2002, France stopped using the franc as its currency, joining the euro system. However, 14 former French colonies remained in the African Financial Community (CFA), which gives France immense advantages: because of it, 50% of these countries’ reserves are held in the French Treasury and French devaluations of the CFA, as in 1994 , have catastrophic effects in the countries that use it.
“The African Union must stop condemning Africans who decide to fight their own Western puppet regimes.”
In 2015, Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno said that the CFA “pulls African economies down” and that “the time has come to cut the shackles that prevent Africa from developing”. There is now talk across the Sahel not only about the removal of French troops – as in Burkina Faso and Mali – but also about a break with French economic dominance in the region.
The new non-alignment
In February, Burkina Faso had already hosted a meeting that included the governments of Mali and Guinea. On the agenda is the creation of a new federation between these states. Niger is likely to be invited to these talks.
At the recent Russia-Africa summit, Burkina Faso’s leader, President Ibrahim Traoré, wore a red beret reminiscent of the uniform of his country’s murdered socialist leader, Thomas Sankara. Traoré reacted strongly to condemnation of military coups in the Sahel, including a recent visit to his country by an African Union delegation. “A slave who does not rebel is not to be pitied,” he said. “The African Union must stop condemning Africans who decide to fight their own Western puppet regimes.”
Originally posted on Globetrotter
Editing: Barbara Luz