Niger’s democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum has been overthrown. Niger is a part of the sub-Saharan African region known as the Sahel, a belt of land that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea. The area is home to various jihadist groups and military regimes.
He has been replaced by Gen Abdourahmane Tchiani as head of state – the very man who commanded the presidential guards who stood watch outside Bazoum’s palace. His captors have suspended the country’s constitution. Tchiani says he has taken over to address security and corruption issues.
The country has about 25 million inhabitants and produces 7% of the world’s uranium. Under Bazoum it was a key ally of the west in the fight against Islamic State in the Sahel. Around 1,000 US military personnel have been deployed there, plus around 1,500 French soldiers. Germany’s military, the Bundeswehr, which trained Niger’s special forces, has around 100 soldiers there. The military coup has put the current set-up in some jeopardy.
Western nations had looked to Niger as a bulwark against further disorder and spreading Russian influence in the region. But that turned out to be short-lived. It is ominous that the leader of Russia’s Wagner group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was quick to praise the leaders of the coup, no doubt seeing an opportunity to extend Wagner’s influence in the region.
Such coups have become endemic in Africa in recent years, having taken place in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso. Western observers fear this signifies a pivot towards Russia and more unsettling times ahead.
Lt Col Stuart Crawford is a defence analyst and former army officer. Sign up for his podcasts and newsletters at www.DefenceReview.uk
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