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The Dartmouth
February 24, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Dunleavy: Question the West’s Intention in Niger

Western interest in the Niger coup originates from the West’s desire to maintain their status quo.

In the weeks following Niger’s military coup, the West and its African allies announced the intention to restore constitutional order in Niger. However, the true intent of intervention is questionable, given the West’s inconsistencies in their commitment to democracy and French neo-colonial control over Niger’s natural resources like uranium and fossil fuels. Western interest in the Niger coup is not driven by concern for democracy, but rather the Western desire to maintain the status quo — French control in West Africa and the exploitation of West African natural resources. 

In late July, the Nigerien presidential guard removed President Mohamad Bazoum from power, replacing the democratically elected leader with a military junta led by General Abdourahmane Tchiani. The European Union, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) quickly condemned the coup and called for the reinstatement of President Bazoum. ECOWAS sanctioned Niger, called on the U.S. to intervene and announced its readiness to begin military intervention in Niger to restore the president to power. Ominously, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that France “will not tolerate any attack on France and its interests.” 

The Nigerien coup follows a growing trend in West Africa of rejecting French influence. Some West Africans are even condemning ECOWAS with accusations that the West African organization is only a puppet for Western powers, particularly France. In neighboring countries Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso, governments are breaking away from the legacies of French colonial control by expelling French troops, removing French as an official language, and announcing plans to adopt a new currency untethered to the Euro. When Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso created new governments and cut ties with France, the breakups received a fraction of the media attention Niger is receiving. The Western uproar surrounding Niger’s coup indicates that France is digging its claws into Niger in a desperate attempt to maintain influence and power in Western Africa.  Initially, mainstream Western news claimed that Nigeriens were opposed to the coup. However, videos and reports of large-scale protests outside the French embassy and demonstrations in support of the coup increasingly suggest that the coup is welcome in the face of growing anger towards Western influence in Western Africa. 

Niger’s break from France spotlights the role of Nigerien natural resources in European economies and elsewhere. Niger is rich in natural resources, including uranium, coal, iron ore, tin, phosphates, oil and gold. Niger is the world’s seventh-biggest producer of uranium, producing the highest grade uranium ore in Africa and providing 20% of France’s natural uranium. That uranium plays a key role in France, where nuclear energy powers 70% of the country. In sharp contrast, around 18% of Nigeriens have access to electricity. Niger will also be essential for Europe to diversify its natural gas supplies, as the planned Trans-Saharan pipeline must pass through Niger to carry Nigerian natural gas to Europe and Northern Africa. With the U.S. destroying the Nord Stream Pipeline that delivered Russian natural gas to Europe, access to Nigerian natural gas will profoundly impact European relations with Russia as Russia invades Ukraine. Unquestionably, the West has a vested interest in ensuring continued natural resources from and through Niger.

The West and its allies claim intervention is necessary to stabilize Niger and manage the threat of increased Islamic terrorism. However, France has contributed to destabilizing the region, and military intervention would only further destabilize Niger. French rule and its legacy impoverished the region and kept Niger poor. When francophone Africa became independent, France forced military agreements that allow French troops to intervene to protect its interest, even if that means propping up pro-French leaders against the wishes of a country’s citizens, thus enabling corrupt and violent governments. France also pressured their former colonies to use the CFA franc, which forced CFA franc-using countries to store half their currency in French banks. The continued use of the CFA franc allowed France to set Western African monetary policy, narrowing Niger’s options in creating its own economic policies to improve its status as one of the poorest countries in the world.

The arguments in favor of intervention to restore democracy and constitutional order also fall short. Abroad, the U.S. and its allies are understandably perceived as negligent in their mission to encourage democracy. In fact, the U.S. actively works against democracy by interfering in elections and supporting coups. Despite American politicians’ outrage over other world powers like Russia and China interfering in elections, the U.S. is the biggest offender. Carnegie Mellon scholar Dov Levin found the U.S. interfered with 81 elections between 1946 and 2001 — 45 more elections than the Soviet Union interfered in during the same period. 

The world knows the U.S. government’s disregard for democratic elections and popular government has bloody consequences. During the Cold War, the U.S. intervened covertly in 64 regime changes and overtly in six regime changes. The Association of Responsible Dissent credits the CIA’s covert regime change operations for 6 million deaths between 1947 and 1987 alone. Famously, the CIA replaced democratically elected Guatemalan president Jacobo Arbenz with a military dictatorship in 1954, largely to protect the profits of the United Fruit Company. When the CIA-supported military, led by CIA-trained officer corps, massacred 200,000 people in the “Silent Holocaust,” the U.S. looked the other way.

Clearly, West Africa’s skepticism of the West’s support of democracy is justified. In addition to U.S. interference in democracies and regime changes around the world, the CIA has an extensive record of manipulating African politics. In 1962, a CIA tip-off allowed the South African apartheid government to arrest Nelson Mandela, which led to him spending 27 years in jail. To add insult to injury, the democratically-elected President Nelson Mandela was on the U.S. terrorist watch list until 2008 in response to the racist South African government’s claims. Understandably, the suspicion extends to Western European countries with an even longer track record in Africa of violent colonialism. France, Germany and the U.K. assassinated five leaders of 1960s African independence movements to maintain their control over Africa and its resources. 

Western approaches toward the Nigerien coup must critically consider the horrifying legacy of French colonialism and the continued destructive Western interference. True allies to democracy must question the motives of global powers’ interests in Western Africa before designing Western “solutions” to issues that directly affect African people and that the West has no right to interfere. Although advocating for global democracy and stability is noble, the international community must refrain from perpetuating the cycle of exploitation and control.