Niger's Coup D'état: Yet Another Chapter in Intensifying Imperialist Rivalries

The Sahel

On July 26, 2023 a military junta presided by Abdourahamane Tchiani, former commander of the presidential guards, overthrew the "democratic" regime of president Mohamed Bazoum. The National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland was proclaimed on state television channel Télé Sahel by the air force Colonel Amadou Abdramane alongside nine more military officers. Most anti-Bazoum demonstrators and activists have cited deteriorating living conditions, corruption and declining security from the various jihadist and ethno-separatist movements with the working class caught in the crossfire. The junta has already closed international borders, declared martial law and suspended most civil rights.

Niger has just experienced its fifth coup d'état since gaining independence in 1960. It remains one of the poorest peripheral states, towards the bottom of the Human Development Index, on the far fringes of capital accumulation where the effects of the deepening set of crises are most brutally felt. The workers and toilers right across the Sahel are paying a growing price for the ever changing machinations of various states in their brutal struggle for survival in the world imperialist arena. The region, which stretches across the African continent, below the increasingly advancing Sahara Desert, has been coined "the coup belt", as Sudan, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Chad and now Niger have all recently experienced coups that have installed military juntas. This poses a serious threat for French imperialism which is increasingly aware of the international dimensions of the crisis brought about by the Ukrainian-Russian war alongside heightened tension with China.

‘We are now in a wartime economy’, says France’s top military procurement official

Le Monde, March 15

French Imperialism in Peril

This deepening crisis is a consequence of the stagnation and decline of capital production and has led to the growing usage of war in an attempt to solve the mounting imperialist contradictions which are only pushing the world towards a more generalized imperialist war. France's last major military base in the region is located in Niger which, until the July 26th coup, was France's partner of last resort, alongside the USA which has a base that houses 1,000 military personnel, with drone and CIA installments. France's strategy of aiding incompetently corrupt and brutally repressive "democratic" regimes has been unraveling in the face of the crisis. The struggle between contending imperialist powers has thus intensified, the more established states in the region such as the UK, France and the USA want to maintain their economic, military and political influence over the region.

"Soft Power Imperialism"

For over the last decade Chinese capital has made massive imperialist inroads in the region, oftentimes coined "soft power" but that doesn't also rule out arms sales. The Chinese state has long made diplomatic overtures in Niger by supplying aid especially in the form of food to curtail the further pauperization of the working class, which could cause a social situation difficult to handle. This is alongside massive investments into the Nigerien energy sector through a cooperative venture between the China National Petroleum Corporation and the Soraz oil refinery; together they've exploited the Agadem fields since 2011. China has also upset the near-monopoly French capital has had on exploiting minerals in Niger, such as gold, but also including lithium, tantalite, tin and nickel. China's exploitation of uranium in Niger has its origins in the 2006 award of Tegguida(1), then in 2007 with the formation of the Sino-Niger company Somina which had been awarded a second field in Azilik in the Agadez. Chinese Uranium exploitation would surpass the French multinational Areva which held a monopoly on uranium exploitation in Niger until then.

This offensive has caused French capital to scramble in order to prevent losing too much ground to the growing imperialist rival in Africa, much less a region they held sway over. Areva had at one time supplied France 40% of its uranium needs for the civilian nuclear power program and for arms. As of now Niger supplies France with 20% of its uranium needs; this is still a major motivation for France to retain its influence over the state. China has also been expanding its influence over the energy sector across the Sahel in various states such as Chad and Mauritania.

The Exigencies of War Production

Control over uranium exploitation has grown in greater importance for both states, France since the Messmer Plan(2) has based the future of its imperialist aspirations on nuclear energy. States around the world have increased their investment into nuclear energy during a time where the US's strategic oil reserves are at an all time low. Nuclear energy is of interest to stem the further decline in profits production due to inflated hydrocarbon energy prices. With the deepening crisis nuclear energy plays a major role in military preparedness and rearmament.

Ask officials and industry people, and the success of American nuclear energy is not just crucial for tackling climate change, but also for national security. America is competing with Russia and China to be the world’s supplier of advanced nuclear technology. Of the 40 reactors under construction since 2015 that use Russian technology, 27 are outside Russia’s borders, according to nei. China has more reactors under construction than any other country. America’s State Department has partnered with more than a dozen countries to help them fund and develop nuclear-energy programmes, and, eventually, small modular reactors.

The Economist, 'America aims for nuclear-power renaissance'

"Russia Is Family For Africa"

Russia has also had for about the same amount of time been increasing it's influence in the Sahel through it's growing control over the energy industry. In 2015 Gazprom's Trans Sahara Oil Pipeline was commissioned which brought oil through from Nigeria and the Sahel to Europe by way of Spain. This undermined the gains made by French imperialism in their Libyan interventions to bolster their position in control over the sector by making room for Total Fina.(3) There's a growing interest in mining precious metals such as gold; the long floated idea to peg the Russian ruble to a gold standard seems to be a growing likelihood to prevent further devaluation of it.

The Wagner Group, a private military contractor (PMC), acted as a direct appendage for Russian imperialism. It has been the go-to force to help these juntas maintain their grip on power in exchange for concessions, in various industries, for their own enrichment, making their relationship with the Russian state increasingly caustic and culminating in the failed Wagner revolt against the Russian state in June.(4) Russia, with the help of Wagner, supplanted France in Mali and backed the interim junta president Goïta in their conflict against Islamic insurgents.

Wagner operate in thirteen other states on the continent. They supplied the Sudanese Rapid Response Force in the 2023 Sudanese conflict. They've been a major supporter for the Libyan National Army in the Second Libyan Civil War and continue to back Haftar in the current Government of National Unity. It's not been confirmed if Traoré's junta in Burkina Faso has commissioned the PMC or has entered the Russian state's orbit. Wagner's billionaire financier Prigozhin was able to amass billions in concessions and loot. Significantly he was seen at the Russian-African Summit in St Petersburg on July 27-28, 2023, it's clear the Russian state is in a tenuous situation with the Wagner Group.(5) They're still of great importance for pursuing Russian imperialist aims, despite the war in Ukraine now becoming a defensive war to maintain Russian gains in the Donbass, Sea of Azov and Crimea.

Western Redoubts in Africa

Established imperialist powers in the region such as France utilize the West African & Central African CFA Franc (Financial Community of Africa Franc pegged at 655.9 to €1) to ensure development in the region supports the needs of French imperialism. Across the region which made up the former French colonial empire there's been coups that established military juntas that are Franco-phobic and "anti-imperialist" (in other words, in favor of a different imperialist). The USA hasn't condemned the "Nigerien Crisis" as a coup, and maintains economic and military aid and investments in Niger as an attempt to hold on to their diminishing position in the region. Then for British imperialism there's also the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) which is for the most part Nigeria with minor military and financial participation from other members, many being some of the poorest states in the global capitalist system. One by one most have left in order to pursue different national solutions towards the crisis by joining the Russian sphere, others have been unable to contend with the compounding crisis and deteriorating social situation.

ECOWAS put forward an ultimatum to restore President Bazoum, but the junta's president defied their demand and has given France an ultimatum to vacate military bases in Niger by September whilst states in similar situations such as Mali and Burkina Faso have declared their military support for the Nigerien junta should military intervention go ahead. At the time of writing that has not happened as means to finance and support an intervention haven't been worked out but Nigeria is conducting war through sanctions. It supplies 75% of Niger's electricity so by cutting the supply to their grid they can cause blackouts throughout Niamey. However there are also ambiguities in the relationships between Nigeria and the Western established imperialist powers as well as Russia and China. The Tinubu regime has been keen to play both sides off against each other for now in face of increasing energy prices and food imports caused by the Russian-Ukrainian war. They're currently accepting aid from whoever, though there's growing resentment towards the conditions stipulated by China for infrastructure projects.

Shifts in the Imperialist Order

As the crisis of capitalism deepens we're beginning to see imperialist blocks consolidating. We can compare the current events in the Sahel and West Africa to those in the 90s' through early 00s'. The USA and France gave support to Liberia's president Charles Taylor and the National Patriotic Liberation Front party. Liberia's special forces would be supplied through Sahel by Gaddafi's Libya and Burkina Faso. Liberia would act as intermediaries and fence "conflict diamonds" harvested in Sierra Leone by the Revolutionary United Front for weapons used in the Sierra Leone civil war against the Kabbah government supported by the British and the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Group (ECOMOG). The USA would play another card in that saga by taking over financing ECOMOG in order for them to remain in Freetown, Sierra Leone. British imperialists were disrupted when they withdrew ECOMOG forces to begin installing their own military bureaucrats to administer the state.

The older established Western imperialists are more united thanks in large part to the conflict in Ukraine, which has brought the EU members of NATO and the UK behind the USA's imperialist requirements. The war has also caused Russia to place themselves at the mercy of China alongside India and all the other member states in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization for political and economic support. With the ever increasing list of crises from Covid-19, inflation, cost of living mounting, capitalism's crisis of profitability has led to more brazen assaults on workers in order to revitalize profitablity. It's however unlikely despite the bluster that any of the contending imperialist states will directly militarily intervene in Niger when these states can barely maintain their social situations happening domestically. There's other considerations such as the increasing unpopularity for giving aid to Ukraine when it's clear they're only financing a mission to delay Russia. These states also have their main focus on China and want to keep themselves free from extending military intervention beyond deploying special forces and diplomatic pressure.

Russia has been calling for mediation to resolve what's now been coined the "Nigerien Crisis". The Russian state has yet to declare a state of exception and has been wearing its military personnel thin in the now-defensive war in Ukraine. Russia also has an increasingly tenuous relationship with it's PMC's and has been pushing the support of its allies to the brink. China's plans for the Belt and Road initiative has been pushed back with the war in Ukraine which has left the field open for the US Dollar to recover its strength.

Flashpoint in the Sahel?

Goïta, the interim president of the military juntas of Mali, and Traoré, interim leader of Burkina Faso, have stated they will not accept any military intervention by ECOWAS. Mali spokesperson Abdoulaye Maiga stated:

I would like to remind you that Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have been dealing for over 10 years with the negative ... consequences of Nato's hazardous adventure in Libya ... One thing is certain, President Goita and President Traoré have clearly said no, no and no. We will not accept military intervention in Niger. They are coming for our survival.

The USA has yet to accuse Niger of using the Wagner Group, however ironically United States Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has warned the Nigerien interim president of the "dangers" of PMCs. After all, US imperialism has first hand experience with them. The chances of Niger following suit behind other states in the region in utilizing the group in anti-insurgency campaigns which in themselves demonstrate the complex relationships between various imperialist states and other alliances. The USA, Britain, France, Russia, Germany and China have been increasing weapon exports to the region since 2020, initially to offset declining profits and then later the economic decline stemming from COVID-19. The interest in supplying the region with arms has grown greater too in order to contend for influence in the region.

Internationalist Perspective vs Imperialist Slaughter

Whether Bazoum and "democratic rule" is reinstated, or the military junta continues to maintain its grip over the Sahelian state, there's no other prospects here than continued precarity and pauperization. The state violence of the junta is but a continuation of the repression of past "democratic regimes". It is a further indictment of the democracy the junta emerged from. Neither the pro- nor the anti-coup activists have anything to offer the working class. Both of these nationalist perspectives can and will be utilized by capital to mobilize workers for future rounds of imperialist slaughter. Only the global working class organized on its own terrain and directed by its revolutionary political organization can overcome the ever-growing crisis brought on by capital’s scarcity of profits.

Internationalist Workers' Group
20 August 2023


Image: Vincent van Zeijst (CC BY-SA 4.0),

(1) The China Nuclear Uranium Corp (CNUC) was awarded a uranium license in Tegguida in July 2006.

(2) The French nuclear expansion began with the Messmer Plan, announced in response to the oil crisis of 1973.

(3) TotalEnergies SE is a French multinational integrated energy and petroleum company founded in 1924 and is one of the “seven sisters” of supermajor oil companies.

(4) The Wagner Group Revolt and Future Course of the War

(5) In fact, since this article was written, Prigozhin has been declared dead following a plane crash on August 23.

Thursday, August 24, 2023