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US Out of Niger: West’s Last Stronghold in Africa Collapses

20 Mar 2024 11:25

Islam Times - While these days the American warships and military bases in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea are under Iraqi and Yemeni attacks and calm is grabbed from Washington in the region, likewise in the other part of the world, in Africa, the developments are not at all going in favor of the White House. Though over the past nine months of Niger coup, the US maintained its military presence in this West African country, it does not seem its new leaders are interested to continue cooperation with the West.

In this regard, on Sunday, the spokesman for new Nigerien government Amadou Abdramane stated that considering the demands of the people of Niger, Nigerien government has decided to revoke an agreement with the US that allowed the American military personnel and non-conbat staff of the Department of Defense to be stationed in the country. 

Stating that the American military presence is illegal and violates all constitutional and democratic laws, Abdramane stressed that the revoked agreement was unfair and was unilaterally imposed by the US on July 6, 2012, on his country. After high-level talks with American diplomatic and military officials, Niger's military government announced in recent days that the American military presence in the country is no longer justified.

An American delegation met several Nigerien officials recently, including the Prime Minister Ali Mahamane Lamine Zeine, with the aim to discuss extension of the security agreement between the two countries. It, however, failed to meet the coup leader General Abdourahamane Tchiani. 

One of Niger's military officials said: "Niger regrets the intention of the American delegation to deprive the people of Niger of their sovereign right to choose their partners and the types of partnerships that are able to really help them in the fight against terrorism. The American delegation acted against diplomatic protocols and did not even inform the hosts of its agenda and date of arrival." He further said that the US delegation's tone was humiliating and jeopardized Niger's sovereignty. 

Reacting to Niger's move, Washington said that the revocation of the military cooperation agreement was not an option for the US, adding that it would join France and other Western countries in taking practical measures against Niger's new leaders. The US has about 1,000 troops stationed in Niger under the excuse of fighting terrorism. 

Since its June 2023 coup, the country nixed its security partnership with the EU and did the same to its military deals with France and expelled its forces. 

Niger was key to the US military operations in the Sahel region of Africa and is home to a major air base. The US is concerned about the spread of violence in the region, where local groups have pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda and ISIS terrorist organizations. In recent years, the US military began operating a large airbase in the Niger city of Agadez, about 920 kilometers from the capital Niamey, using it for surveillance flights of manned and unmanned aircraft and other operations. Washington has also invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the years to train Niger's army. These investments may well explain why Washington does not want to lose this strategic base that allowed it to include North Africa in its security observation circle. 

Immediately after coup, the White House issued a statement condemning any attempt to take power in the country using force and warning that power grab will lead to Washington cutting off cooperation with this country. The statement also called for releasing the ousted President Mohamed Bazoum. 

This was not the first time that the White House condemned a coup in Africa and issued warnings, but its statements remained words and hardly developed into actions. In order to maintain its strategic base in Niger, Washington tried to move close to the coup leaders diplomatically and secure its interests. As part of this approach, Victoria Nuland, the US’s acting deputy secretary of state, visited Niger, a move drew French anger. The French foreign ministry’s representative said the Americans "did the exact opposite of what we thought they will do. With such allies, we don't need enemies." 

In October, Washington officially labeled Nigerien government a coup d'état rule and limited military and financial aid to the country. American leaders have always claimed that their main goal of military cooperation with Africa is to develop democracy in the countries of this continent, but the occurrence of coups proved otherwise. 

Expelling the West from Africa 

Until a couple of decades ago, African nations were under Western and European colonization, and despite official independence in the second half of the twentieth century, local governments remained under the yoke of unofficial Western mandate. But, now the governments are developing an understanding of the global realities, something motivating their push to totally uproot Western neo-colonialism in Africa. In recent years, North African countries one after another toppled Western-subjected governments and formed independent ones. The new junta governments in Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso who are leading the struggle against the Western colonialism in September formed "coalition of Sahel countries" after expelling the French military and moving closer to Russia. This new military alliance may be a motivating factor for anti-Western forces in Africa to break free from the Western yoke after decades. 

Niger, among the poorest countries in the world, lacks a considerable trade and geopolitical position, but many analysts argue this country was the last reliable ally of the West in Africa. 

For many centuries, Westerners have been plundering the rich resources of Sahel countries by exploiting Africa. France has benefited from relations with Africa more than others, but recently, Paris's hands have been cut short from African resources. 

Niger's coup has accelerated the wave of Western military expulsion from Africa, and this process can spread to countries in the south of the continent and forever cut off the hands of the US and Europe from these countries' resources. 

In the last twenty years, the Sahel region has been a setting for various conflicts. The fragility of the governments, poor governance, unemployment, ethnic conflicts, foreign exploitation of resources and military intervention have led to an increase in poverty, despair and illegal immigration, and the security initiatives of the West have aggravated the sufferings of these countries instead of solving the problems. 

The failure of Europe, especially France, as the historical partner of this region, to protect the security has caused internal conflicts between the rulers and people of Sahel region in recent years, finally leading to expulsion of French forces from Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. 

Over the past decade, European countries have worked, through influence in North Africa, to check illegal migration waves from Africa, but this project seems failed now and the region has slid out of control of the West. 

Opportunity for rivals 

Although Niger does not have a very good economic situation in terms of development indicators, this poor country has various natural and mineral resources, especially uranium, which puts it fourth largest owner of this valuable mineral. In addition, oil, gold, coal and silver are the sectors that attract the investment of foreign powers including China, Russia, Turkey and even Iran. 

An important point that can be seen in the recent coups in African countries is that after each coup, demonstrations are held to condemn the West and the Russian flags are raised and slogans are raised to welcome the Russians. 

After severing relations with France, the military leaders of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso became politically and militarily close to Russia. Russian flags were also waved in Niger protests in front of French military bases. Le Monde Afrique reported last August that Ali Mohamane Lamine Zeine, the Prime Minister of Niger, visited Moscow. Lamine Zeine is also interested in cooperation with Turkey, Iran and China as alternatives to the West. Some reports suggested that the militants of the Russia's Wagner Group, a private security company, entered Niger to support the coup government against the military actions of France and its African allies, drawing the concerns of the US. 

A report of the Center for African Studies shows that in recent years, Russia has expanded its influence in Africa more than any other foreign actor, and by supporting coup governments and making arms deals in exchange for natural resources, it has tried to solidify its influence in these countries. According to the center's report, these Russian strategies are low-cost and high-impact and aimed at promoting a world order that is very different from the Western-dictated order and is aspired by the African countries. 

In the past decade, Russia has gained a lot of influence in the crisis-stricken countries of Libya, Sudan, and continues its security superiority in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Moscow is very charming to Africans because of the relative success it has achieved against the West in Ukraine, and these African tendencies make Moscow's leaders focus more on this continent. 

The rivalry between the US and Russia in Africa has increased over the past years and there are several reasons behind its expansion. Politically, the African continent includes 55 countries, all of which are members of the United Nations, which means that Africa has a high voting power in international organizations. The result of the voting in the UN General Assembly in March 2022 on the resolution to condemn Russia's military operation in Ukraine, from which 17 African countries abstained and some did not attend its meeting, showed that these countries are not aligned with the policies of the West against Moscow. Reaching out to Africans is of great importance to Russia, as it is an important way out of the international isolation imposed by the West. 

From another aspect, Africa is rich with oil, gold, and renewable energies and this is what spurs world powers' competition to control this continent. 

Africa is a very important strategic energy reserve for all international powers, in addition to being a large consumer market and a stimulus for global markets. According to Faros Center, oil reserves of more than 100 billion barrels on coasts of this continent need to be explored, and natural gas reserves in this continent are estimated at around 500 trillion cubic meters. Therefore, this is a good opportunity for Russia, which has a long history in the field of oil and gas exploration and production. 

The burgeoning Russian and Chinese influence in Africa has raised Washington’s concerns about consequences of development of the two powers on the West. With their major projects in mineral and infrastructural sectors across Africa, Chinese private companies have made this emerging power the top trade and investment partner of Africa. 

Demand for China's security services in Africa has surged following the launch of the Belt and Road Initiative megaproject. Chinese companies are increasingly ahead of their Western rivals in terms of making quick decisions and implementing their projects in Africa. 

In the last two years, China and Russia have been seeking to establish a new global order, and in order to achieve this goal, they have especially counted on the developing countries of Asia and Africa. Actually, influence in the coastal countries of Africa, which are turning against the West, paves the way for the realization of this new order.

According to European Studies Center (ESC), Washington sees Beijing's behavior in Africa as if it is creating a ground to challenge the international order that is based on rules that seek to advance the exclusive American trade and geopolitical interests and also to undermine the US relationship with African people and governments. 

The ESC adds that as for Russia, Washington believes that the region is an open environment for paramilitary and private military companies, and Moscow is allegedly creating instability for strategic and financial gains in the region. According to this report, in August 2022, Washington tried to counter the presence of Russia and China by supporting African communities and by offering democratic and security privileges and providing economic opportunities.

In addition to Russia and China, Africans are bolstering ties with other Eastern powers. Der Spiegel in January reported that the three countries of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger have recently continuously downgraded their ties with the West and are upgrading them with Iran. 

Finally, we it can be said that the current international reality is witnessing various struggles to shape the future international world order as the US is seeking to maintain its hegemony over the international community while other actors like Russia and China are seeking to substantially change the global structure and form a multipolar system away from Western dominance. This makes the resource-rich African countries that are on their way to break up with the West the center of attention of the emerging Eastern powers. Meanwhile, Niger's move sets a clear outlook for terminating the Western colonialism in Africa. 

Story Code: 1123773

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