Niger has become a focus of international interest and discussion since the military elite presidential guard seized power from Mohamed Bazoum and placed him on house arrest on Wednesday July 26, 2023. General Abdourahmane Tchiani, the head of the Niger’s elite presidential guard, has declared himself the leader of the country.
There has been massive protests in Niger showing anger against the long years of French domination and pillage, but some have illusions in Russia, as Russian flags were waved amidst anti-French slogans outside the French embassy in Niamey. Although General Tchiani cited “deteriorating security” and the Bazoum’s handling of the war on terrorism, in reality, the coup was a response to the president’s threat to remove him as the head of the presidential guard. The real reason for the power struggle within elite circles remains unclear.
Working people and youth must condemn the coup and also oppose any foreign aggression, be it ECOWAS or the imperialist powers. The Nigeria-led Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has rejected the coup and demanded a return to civilian rule and the reinstatement of Mohamed Bazoum on or before Sunday August 25, 2023 or face military intervention. Already, a number of sanctions have been imposed on Niger. For instance, land borders in the southern part have been closed while Nigerian government has cut off electricity supply to Niger. The country depends for 70% of its electricity from Nigeria.
Niger is the largest landlocked country in West Africa and bordered by Libya (Northeast), Chad (east), Nigeria (South), Burkina Faso and Benin Republic (Southwest) and Chad (east), Algeria (northeast) and Mali (west) and this means it depends on neighbouring land borders for importations. ECOWAS sanctions have led to sharp increase in food and commodity prices with dire consequences for the country’s working class and poor. Already, France has suspended all aid and other donor countries like Germany and USA have suspended some of their aid packages, actions that will worsen living standards in Niger. However, a chunk of the aid is corruptly looted by the capitalist ruling elite and its military wing.
Just like many African countries, Niger has had four successful coups and several other failed attempts since its independence in 1960 from France having been under colonial rule since the 1890s. ECOWAS leaders fear the spread in coups in West Africa as witnessed in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso in the last 3 years and could be replicated in some other countries in the unstable region. Nigerian President Tinubu, who heads the ECOWAS regional bloc, wants to use this opportunity to further convince Western imperialist powers that he is a strong man and can do their bidding as a puppet. Prior to the recent 2023 general election in Nigeria, President Tinubu was not the western imperialists’ choice candidate. But since his emergence, he has carried out sweeping IMF and World Bank dictated anti-poor policies, such as removal of petrol subsidy, devaluation of the naira, growing commercialisation of education, planned hike in electricity tariff, hike in taxes etc.
The economic crisis in Niger is huge despite the country being rich in uranium, coal and gold. It has a population of 25 million people and is ranked by the United Nations as the second least developed country out of 188 countries. Three million people face acute poverty and hunger, and the illiteracy rate is 37%. French imperialism and some other European countries rely on Niger for uranium; it is the 7th largest producer in the world, and France needs it for its nuclear energy power. In order to sustain the plundering of Niger’s mineral resources and the interest to limit migration to Europe, French imperialism stationed 1,500 troops, as well as an air force base in Niger, and has strong financial control. This huge force in a small country is simply a reminder of the bloody and plundering period of colonization. It is a force ready to be unleashed in order to sustain neo-colonialism and the continuous defense of powerful interest at the expense of the Nigerien people. These foreign powers in collaboration with the Nigerien capitalist ruling elite have so ruined the country such that the it has been dependent on foreign economic and security aid, and about 45% of the budget comes from this aid, which is over $1 billion yearly.
Rogue capitalist and military elites and the imperialism
A growing disagreement between rogue capitalist ruling and military elites and the French imperialists over resources is what is playing out in the region, and the Russian and Chinese elites are exploiting it. Many people in these countries do not see any hope of improvement in their lives under French domination and have become resentful of the continuous foreign intervention. Putin opposed the coup in Niger through a foreign ministry statement but Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, the Russian private mercenary force with close ties to the Kremlin regime, praised the coup. Pretending to be an anti-imperialist, Prigozhin said: “What happened in Niger is nothing other than the struggle of the people of Niger with their colonisers … [The Nigerien people are] effectively gaining their independence. The rest will without doubt depend on the citizens of Niger and how effective governance will be, but the main thing is this: they have got rid of the colonisers,” Wagner forces are already in Mali.
France understandably has backed the ECOWAS’s resolve to reinstate civilian rule while Mali and Burkina Faso have declared support for Niger and have pledged to deploy military support for Niger. The leader of the Wagner Group, Prigozhin, while supporting the coup, also declared a readiness to offer military support, just like in Mali. This is a recipe for dangerous regional war with a huge potential for destabilization, civilian displacement and exploitation of ISIL, and other jihadist terrorist organisations, to strengthen themselves and create more havoc in Sahel.
For instance, the insurgency in Nigeria could worsen as the country will be enmeshed in different theatre of military interventions and could be overstretched. Furthermore, the situation in Niger is not the same as it was in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, and in Gambia in 2017, when ECOWAS intervened militarily to oust leaders. Since then, we have seen an intensification of Great Powers competition and imperialist rivalry in Africa which has led to a new carving up of areas of influence among the West, led by France and USA, and also China and Russia. As a result, the 15-member ECOWAS bloc is now divided; Burkina Faso and Mali are backing Niger, saying that they would see any foreign intervention in Niger as “a declaration of war” against them. This sets the stage for countries which have Russia mercenaries in them to be in a potential bloody confrontation with an ECOWAS force. This possibility itself reflects the decline of US imperialism and the end of its unipolar monopoly on the global stage.
The Niger military may want to enter into a deal with ECOWAS to pledge return to civilian rule sometime in the future. This could be like the promises made by Mali and Burkina Faso coupists, which they never kept, and a ploy to try to buy time to consolidate power and maneuver. Or to dare ECOWAS to go into confrontation, hoping for support from Mali and Burkina Faso to resist ECOWAS forces.
Nigeria, which will supply the most funding, equipment and troops, if an invasion is decided, is hobbled by opposition at home, reflected in the refusal of the Senate to approve military intervention. Northern Senators openly criticized the government approach and called for dialogue with Nigerien leaders. This is not surprising. The foreign borders imposed by the European imperialists, when they carved up Africa between themselves, cut across tribes and nations. Fighting in Niger would inevitably have an impact in northern Nigeria, as a big portion of Nigeria’s Northern population is Hausa, who are also the second biggest ethnic group in Niger.
An ECOWAS military intervention led by Nigeria, which in reality will be a war between brothers considering the fact that Northerners make up a huge portion of Nigeria’s army, can easily lead to protests back home. So, as we count down to the end of ECOWAS ultimatum, a last minute diplomatic solution cannot be ruled out, with the possibility that detained President Bazoum might be released as a sign of good faith.
Unions weak and divided
Unfortunately, the trade union movement is not only weak but divided over the crises in Niger. The working population organised in the trade unions total 60,000, just 5% of the total working population. The Democratic Confederation of Workers of Niger, the country largest trade union centre, condemned the coup and demanded reinstatement of civilian constitutional order. The Trade Union Action Unit (UAS Niger), made up of smaller trade union centres, issued a statement supporting the coup, and called on Nigeriens and workers to rise up to defend the country against any foreign aggression. The once united trade union confederations that responded to the former president Mamadou Tandja’s tenure extension plan, and sweeping constitutional review that concentrated more power to the president, through a 24-hour general strike in 2009 that undermined Tandja’s regime, are now in disarray. There has been no trade union centre in the regional bloc that has responded any way. This gives the capitalist corrupt leaders room to freely intervene as a means to protect certain powerful interests.
The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM – the CWI in Nigeria) calls on the trade unions and working masses to unite to reject the military coup, defend democratic rights and reject foreign aggression and intervention. The workers’ movement should demand and mobilize for a constituent assembly dominated by elected representatives of working people to bring about a constitution that puts the country resources under democratic control of the working people of Niger. The working people and poor need to organise themselves; their future cannot be decided either by military leaders or foreign intervention. People’s defense committees should be formed in workplaces and communities that can be the basis for a popular government led by the working class and oppressed. Alongside appeals to the rank and file of the Nigerien armed forces to support such a government, there should be an appeal to workers in the region to give active solidarity to the working people of Niger, including where necessary coordinated protests and general strikes against their respective aggressive countries.
While we agree with Nigerien protesters demands for France to leave Niger, however, we must say that accepting another imperialist power in the form of Russia is not the way out. The current despotic Putin regime is not the same as the former Soviet Union of the 1970s and 1980s which, for its own reasons, supported the anti-colonial struggle in Africa, up to a point. Emerging from the October 1917 socialist revolution, the Soviet Union, although bureaucratized for the most part under Stalinist rule, was a degenerated workers’ state that rested on a different social class and economic base compared to Putin’s capitalist regime today. Putin’s regime is a capitalist one based on Russian oligarchs who came to power following the dismantling of the Soviet Union in the late 80s and early 90s. Its interest in Africa is as imperialist as that of USA or France. This is why Putin has never and will never support any genuine anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist revolt in Africa.
What is needed in Niger, as well as in Nigeria and the entire continent of Africa, is a socialist revolution that enthrones a workers and poor people’s government, armed with socialist policies to end landlordism and capitalism. Such a revolution will probably start from one country but can quickly spread becoming a regional and continental mass movement for a real change in the way society is run. A workers’ and poor people’s government will take into public ownership the commanding heights of the economy, such as the banks, industries, oil and gas, mines, and put them under workers’ democratic control and management, to ensure the economy works for the interest of the mass majority, instead of profit for a few.
WORKERS AND POOR MASSES MUST REJECT THE COUP AND FOREIGN MILITARY INTERVENTION!
FOR A CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY BASED ON A SOCIALIST PROGRAMME LINKED WITH REGIONAL WORKING CLASS SOLIDARITY!