French officials confirm ‘talks’ on Tuesday with Nigerien Junta military officials to withdraw about 1,500 troops from Niger following the military’s coup on the nation’s government in late July. The Nigerien military held the Nigerien President, Mohamed Bazoum, at the Presidential Palace with plans to prosecute the official for ‘high treason’ since the initial attack.
President Bazoum is the tip of Niger’s long history with French colonialism, not garnering their independence from the country until 1960. Since 1990, 27 coups have occurred in French African colonies, leading experts to speculate on future coups. In February, the Nigerien government ended a years-long agreement with the French military, barring them from operations in the nation.
Nigerien Junta Military officials met with The Wagner Group, a Russian state-funded private military, in the neighboring Junta country of Mali. They met with the group several times before the coup took place in July, and their support could provide the necessary human resources to maintain national power.
In Washington, D.C., a debate is taking place over whether democracy, human rights, or short-term security challenges should come first when Russia supports Niger’s coup and is rallying African countries. U.S. political, social, and financial interest is another factor causing the Biden Administration to practice caution as it is yet to officially state that it classifies the situation in Niger as a “coup.” The U.S. has yet to sever relations with Niger, despite the foreign interest and involvement from other nations like Russia but remains cautious of the risks their international cooperation poses.
The U.S. also maintains a $110 million drone base in Niger and launched a nearly $443 million plan to improve the economy with the small foreign assistance agency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation. The future of these projects and the presence of around 1,000 U.S. troops on the ground have been thrown into limbo since the takeover began.
U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland met with Nigerien General Moussa Soalaou Barmou, in early August, to discuss a path forward. Barmou is the self-proclaimed chief of defense, after the resignation of General Issoufou Mahamadou, who was forced to step down after widespread protests against his government. Nulan stated it was “an extremely frank and at times quite difficult conversation” and told American reporters that the U.S. has kept the door open for further discussion. However, “their ideas do not comport with the Constitution, and that would be difficult in terms of our relationship if that’s the path they take.”
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which administers Niger and much of the Sahel region in Africa, issued a twofold response in the days that followed the coup. Made up of 15 member states, the organization is a political and economic union located in West Africa, similar to the European Union. ECOWAS’ response imposed sanctions on the nation. It issued an ultimatum to the ruling military, referred to as a “junta” or military-backed political party, giving the insurgency a week to stand down before taking possible military action.
Located in Africa, the Sahel region stretches across the continent from west to east. The Sahara Desert is rich in natural resources such as oil, radioactive chemicals, precious minerals, and ores. Being a desert makes it extremely hard to control. Various terrorist groups dug in, plaguing the region for decades. In times of instability, these groups use the chaos as an opportunity to take more territory, exacerbating already tenuous situations.
National security in Niger has deteriorated rapidly since the coup, with the first significant attack in six months from jihadi forces taking advantage of Niger’s power vacuum and instability mere weeks after. A Nigerien military unit was attacked en route from Boni to Torodi in the Tillaberi region by jihadi forces, leaving 17 dead and 24 wounded.
Wassim Nasr, a journalist and senior research fellow at the Soufan Center, called it a “worrying sign of possible escalation.” In a statement to AP, Nasr stressed that “what we are witnessing today is both jihadi warring factions, the Islamic State group and (al-Qaida affiliate Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin), marking their territory because of the security void caused by the coup” (AP).
Strained talks continue between France, the United States, ECOWAS, and the Nigerien Junta Military. ECOWAS, as of early August, finalized an intervention plan and is urging member states’ militaries to prepare for intervention if talks fail. Tensions continue to rise amongst officials and experts within Africa and abroad in anticipation of a broader outbreak of coups in the Sahel region.
By Dillin Bett