The coup in Niger is the seventh in West and Central Africa since 2020. UN chief António Guterres spoke of a “disturbing trend” on Thursday. What’s going on in the region?
On Friday, General Abdourahamane Tchiani appeared on Niger state television. With nine soldiers in the background, he announced a coup and presented himself as the country’s new leader.
The coup plotters imprisoned President Mohamed Bazoum, suspended the constitution, dissolved the government, closed the borders and imposed a curfew. According to them, this was necessary because of “poor governance” and a “deteriorating security situation”.
The coup in Niger is already the seventh coup in three years in West and Central Africa. Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Mali (twice) and Sudan preceded Niger. Most countries are in the Sahel. That is an area that runs between the west and east of Africa and separates the northern Sahara desert from the southern greener savannah.
The general who seized power in Niger this week, Abdourahamane Tchiani. Photo: Reuters
Jihadism in the Sahel
The Sahel has long been plagued by militant groups affiliated with terrorist organizations such as Boko Haram, Al Qaeda or Islamic State (IS). According to the UN refugee agency, 4.9 million people have now fled the violence. Not only in Niger, but also in other countries in the region, the deteriorating security situation was given as the reason for a coup.
For example, in Burkina Faso, where President Roch Kabore was ousted in January 2022 after the army blamed him for the ongoing violence by jihadist groups. The coup leader promised to improve security, but the terror attacks continued, followed by a second coup eight months later.
The increasing violence leads some to believe that only a tough military hand can solve the problems. For that reason, many people would also support the coup. But in Sahel countries that have been ruled by a junta for some time, that has not made much difference, the BBC analyzes.
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Impact of Niger coup on anti-terror operations
Niger was seen by the West as an important ally in the fight against jihadism in the Sahel and stopping migration to Europe. For example, several European countries and the United States have stationed troops in Niger.
Former colonizer France has between 1,000 and 1,500 soldiers, drones and warplanes in Niger. The US has about 1,100 soldiers there, Italy 300 and the European Union has 50 to 100 troops in Niger for a training mission. Over the past two years, these numbers have risen sharply due to the coups in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso, from which Western troops were subsequently expelled.
Due to its colonial past, many residents of Niger are not happy with the French troops. CNN correspondent Larry Madowo reports on X, formerly Twitter, how protesters supporting the coup burned a French flag while chanting, “Down with France! We have uranium, diamonds, gold, oil, and we live like slaves? We have the No need for the French to keep us safe.”
The raw materials that Niger possesses make it very interesting for the rest of the world. For example, the country is responsible for about 7 percent of the global supply of uranium. France in particular gets a lot of this raw material from the country. But that may now be coming to an end.
Niger residents who support the coup parade with a Russian flag. Photo: AP
European Union introduces sanctions against coup plotters
The anti-Western sentiment and the coup give Russia the opportunity to further expand its influence in Africa. For example, Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin was quick to congratulate Niger’s army. “What happened in Niger is nothing but the struggle of the population against settlers,” Prigozhin said in an audio message. “They have shaken off the colonizers.” A role for Wagner in Niger is not inconceivable; for example, Prigozhin’s troops are active in Mali and Sudan.
The European Union reacts very differently. Soon after the coup, the EU announced that it would immediately suspend financial support and security cooperation with Niger. This concerns hundreds of millions that the EU gives to Niger for, among other things, improving governance, education and sustainable growth.
But instead of support, European sanctions now threaten. “The European Union will not recognize the coup d’état in Niger,” said Joseph Borrell, EU foreign policy chief. According to him, Mohamed Bazoum remains “the only legitimate president of Niger” and should be released immediately, says Borell.
The African Union is also displeased and gives the soldiers 15 days to surrender. The coup leader refuses and calls on his supporters to take to the streets to support him. Niger is threatening to enter a very turbulent period, and with it the entire region. “I am very concerned that Sahel Africa is going to collapse,” Paul Collier, a professor at Oxford’s Blavatnik School of Government, told The New York Times.