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Nigeriens waving Russian Flags

Greece (Brussels Morning Newspaper) In the wake of a military coup, hundreds of people participated in protests in Niamey, the capital city of Niger, against the sanctions put on the nation by many of its neighbors. 

Since the unexpected imprisonment of the nation’s elected president by the commander of his own special guard on July 26, anti-Western sentiment, mainly directed towards the former colonial power France, has provided a backdrop for the events in Niamey.

The Flags

Thousands of supporters of the junta were waving Russian flags, chanting the name of the Russian president, and forcefully denouncing former colonial power France. Niger is home to 24.4 million people where two in every five live in extreme poverty, on less than $2.15 a day. There is a large part of the population that does not want the Russians either because they think that they are also Europeans. Although Moscow appears to have promised security and market reform, many are reluctant to cooperate with other superpowers.

The rebels said they overthrew President Mohamed Bazoum because he failed to protect the country from rising Islamic violence. Bazoum was elected two years ago in Niger’s first peaceful, democratic transfer of power since independence from France.

“Everybody is wondering why this coup. That’s because no one was expecting it. We couldn’t expect a coup in Niger because there’s no social, political or security situation that would justify that the military takes the power,” Prof. Amad Hassane Boubacar, who teaches at the University of Niamey, told The Associated Press.

If Bazoum’s administration is not reinstated by August 6th, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional group that includes Niger and 14 of its neighbors, has confirmed that it is willing to authorize the use of force.

A key West partner nation

In the Sahel region of Africa, where Russia and Western nations have competed for influence in the war against extremism, Niger has until now been regarded as the West’s last trustworthy ally. Given the millions of dollars in military aid that the international community has poured in, Niger has the most to lose if it rejects the West.

Niger has been viewed as a crucial ally in the Sahel region thanks to its elected president, Mohamed Bazoum, who has been effectively kept in his home for more than a week by the head of his own elite guard force.

The former colonial power in Niger, France, which still maintains 1,500 troops there and collaborates with Niger’s military, has been charged with failing to safeguard the Nigerien people against Islamist extremism. The seventh-largest producer of uranium in the world, Niger, also houses a French military facility. A quarter of the fuel, which is essential for nuclear power, is shipped to Europe, particularly to the former colonial power France.

The government of Mr. Bazoum repeatedly forbade anti-French demonstrations in Niger. In 2022, when Mr. Bazoum’s administration authorized the relocation of France’s Barkhane forces to Niger after they had been told to leave Mali, a number of civil society organizations started ramping up their anti-French rallies. Of course, this did not stop the protesters from organizing more effectively and breaking out not protests but riots. The National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland, is the result of this policy, as it gave the chance to the military to create an illegal body, a  Council that has formed a parallel government and rules the country. 

The neighbors

Under pressure from the Islamists, the troops of Burkina Faso and the neighboring Mali, both of which were once French colonies and still retain significant French interests, recently seized control, claiming that doing so would aid in the fight against jihadists.

Gen. Salifou Mody, the former chief of staff of Niger’s armed forces and a member of the junta in charge currently, visited Mali to meet with its own post-coup transitional leaders. It was the first visit abroad by a member of Niger’s post-coup leadership. African media speculated that Mody had gone to Mali to talk about the potential deployment of Wagner forces to Niger to support the junta. Later, Mody went to Burkina Faso, where a military coup had already overthrown a democratically elected government. There he met Capt. Ibrahim, the current de facto leader.

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