August 7, 2023
While the Western World, in particular, was shocked by the July 26, 2023, coup in Niger, I was not. This is now the fifth or sixth coup, (depending how you count) in the Sahel and Western Africa, following Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan, and Chad. Sadly, more coups may follow, unless we face the truth, and change Western policy. The primary underlying cause for these coups, is poverty, resulting in despair and desperation in the population. We should be clear that Russia may benefit, but they are not the cause of Africa’s coups. It is obsessive reliance on kinetic counter terrorism programs in the Sahel, all of which have failed, that drives policy makers to repeatedly fail to see the error of their ways. Niger’s coup should make it obvious to the architects of U.S.-European policy for Africa, unless they are brain-dead, that a radically new course of strategic thinking is required. Promoting economic development is the most vital element of a new strategic policy for Africa, and the Sahel in particular.
For those of us who have been involved in Africa for decades, remember the Malian coup in the Spring of 2012. Prior to the removal of Malian President, Amadou Toure, by the military, Mali was touted by the West, as the show case of democracy and stability. It was viewed as a strong ally of the United States, with their armed forces trained by the U.S. The immediate trigger for the collapse of Mali, was the disastrous decision to overthrow the government of Libya and assassinate President Omar Gaddafi by President Obama, and his assemblage of war-hawks (witches); Susan Rice, Hilary Clinton, and Samantha Power. Obama’s October 2011 regime-change of a stable Libyan nation, unleashed hell across north Africa and the Sahel with thousands of armed Tuaregs and violent extremists set loose to occupy weak state regions and ungoverned territories. Similar to U.S. support of Mali, Secreatry of State, Antony Blinken, made a special visit to Niger in March 2023, to strenthen U.S. backing for another nation in the Sahel.
With the end of French-Afrique well on its way, particularly with the French being kicked out of Mali, and the failure of the French anti-terrorist military deployment in the Sahel, known as Operation Barkhane, the U.S. designated Niger as the center of its counter-terrorist operation in North Africa.
At the time of the July 26 coup of Nigerian resident, Mohamed Bazoum, by his presidential guards, there were 1,500 French troops and 1,200 U.S. troops based in Niger. Additionally, the U.S built its largest drone base in Africa, Air Base 201, at the cost of over $110 million dollars, to provide intelligence and surveillance in the U.S. campaign against violent extremism. Estimates are that the U.S. spent almost half a billion dollars training the Nigerien armed forces.
Chris Olaoluwa Ògúnmọ́dẹdé insightfully reports in worldpoliticsreview/niger-coup:
Last week’s coup in Niger caught much of the outside world by surprise, given the country’s image as a relatively stable outlier in a region beset by frequent upheaval. Many outside observers found it hard to understand how President Mohamed Bazoum, a seemingly well-regarded leader believed to enjoy popular legitimacy, was overthrown by the armed forces. But if foreign observers were stunned by Bazoum’s toppling, it did not come as a shock to many Nigeriens, and not solely because of their country’s history of military coups.
To begin with, tensions between Bazoum and the army’s top brass and senior Defense Ministry officials were well-known to Nigeriens. Bazoum was also ushered into power in 2021 by a controversial election in which a popular opposition candidate was barred from running and that featured allegations of electoral malpractice. The protests that followed were marred by at least two deaths, many more injuries and mass arrests. And harsh crackdowns on recent public protests against the rising cost of living and Niger’s security partnership with France likely did little to assuage Nigeriens’ concerns.
Claims of an improved security landscape in Niger amid the fight against Islamist jihadists are also open to debate. But beyond the vagaries of statistical analysis, many Nigeriens simply do not believe that their lives have become safer and more prosperous, and seemingly favorable comparisons with their neighbors are no consolation. Niger remains one of the world’s most impoverished nations…
Security, economic progress, and social development are necessary to sustain public support for any system of government, including democracy. (Emphasis added)
Development Not Understood
During the years of the Obama Presidency, members of his administration would repeatedly and publicly lecture me that “we don’t do infrastructure.” Now, in the two and a half years of Joe Biden’s Presidency, both he and Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, openly espouse that the overarching intent of U.S. policy towards Africa (and the rest of the world) is to export “democracy” and “ good governance.” They believe, that only when nations embrace and commit to implement their constructs, will they be allowed to join the “rules-based international order.”
A July 17, 2023, opinion by the Editorial Board of the Washington Post reveals, unintentionally, the tragic flaws of the Biden-Blinken policy towards Africa.
As we have argued in this space before, the Biden administration should compete with Russia’s aggressive maneuvering, as well as China’s, for influence in Africa by focusing on what the United States does best: building the infrastructure of democracy. That takes time. But in the long term, it is the key to ending chronic instability and crippling poverty (sic), reining in corruption, and jump-starting economic development.
There is only one thing wrong with this policy; it is no damn good! Stability, peace, and democracy are dependent on a population that is prosperous, educated, and secure. Without economic development, these goals will not be achieved. If the tens of billions of dollars that was spent on kinetic counter-terrorism programs to diminish violent extremism, had been deployed for building infrastructure, the Sahel would be in far better shape than it is today. Electricity, roads, railroads, water management, farming, and manufacturing are essential for the wellbeing of a nation.
Without a continuously rising stanard of living for its people, Niger, like many other African nations, will not achieve peace, and stability. The physical economic improvement in the material existence of the lives of the population is not optional, not secondary, but a primary-essential requirement for a nation state’s continued existence.
The failure to comprehend these fundamental concepts is at the crux of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Western political-financial elites and their inability to design a successful strategy towards Africa.
Listen to my 20 minute PressTV interview on Niger.
Read my earlier post:
Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is a teacher, writer, public speaker, and consultant on Africa. He is also the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com. Mr. Freeman’s stated personal mission is; to eliminate poverty and hunger in Africa by applying the scientific economic principles of Alexander Hamilton