By Joe Dredge-Fenwick, MA Anthropology of Food and Intensive Japanese
Niger’s unexpected coup d’état on the 26th July saw President Mahomed Bazoum ousted by his former head of security, General Abdourahmane Tiani. Bazoum had been the first president to come to power in a smooth democratic transition, following his own party’s previous leader Mahamadou Issoufou in 2021.
Bazoum’s argent attempts to curb the military’s power and anti-corruption campaign had not endeared him to the country’s military and political elites. His administration saw Niger increase its military cooperation with France and the US with the stationing of a combined force of over 2,000 troops, according to Reuters. This closeness to Niger’s former colonial powers made Bazoum unpopular with the population.
Niger’s coup and subsequent junta follows its Sahel neighbours Mali and Burkina Faso in the past three years by putting pressure on the lingering French military presences in its former colonies to pull out, some of which had been redeployed to Niger.
Niger’s place as a key strategic position in the Sahel region had already led to fears in the EU and US of a rise in Russia’s presence. Such fears have been duly realised with the Niger-Russia accord for developing military ties announced on the 16th January.
The coup’s popular support among many Nigeriens exposes a wide disenchantment with the established political classes’ corruption and privileges while Niger’s employment opportunities continue to fall, as well as deep resentment for continued French influence in the region.
Gabon’s own coup on 30th August, just a month after the coup in Niger, saw the end to the Bongo political dynasty and revealed the same rejection of continued French power over its former colonies. The country’s junta leader Brice Clotaire Oligui Nguema recently vetoed the French firm Manuel & Prom’s takeover of Gabon’s domestic oil company Assala Energy on the grounds of Gabon’s sovereignty, according to The Africa Report.
The rejection of French state and corporate power coupled with a strategic alliance with Russia, in the case of Niger, does appear to be a cessation of colonial power in the former colonies. A recent Guardian piece by Nels Abbey expresses the popular feeling that the recent coups are not “the-run-of-the-mill coups. Instead, welcomed as legitimate and overdue revolutions against French continu[ing] colonial activity and the ineffective, inept puppets it spawned.”
Moves have been made in forming a new regional grouping, with Niger’s leader Tiani announcing in December the planned economic and political alliance of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso as the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), breaking away from the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS).
The sense of colonial rejection does seem palpable. Whether or not the so-called “overdue revolutions” do bring needed radical change is yet to be seen. For now, we can only hold tentative hope for the realisation of socio-political parity.