scroll to top arrow or icon

Niger, Niger burning bright

Demonstrators gather in support of the putschist soldiers in Niamey, Niger.

Demonstrators gather in support of the putschist soldiers in Niamey, Niger.

REUTERS/Balima Boureima

Supporters of Niger’s junta – which overthrew democratically elected President Mohamed Bazoum last week – took to the streets of the capital, Niamey, on Sunday, waving Russian flags and denouncing France, its former colonial power. Protesters destroyed a plaque bearing the words “Embassy of France in Niger” and replaced it with Nigerien and Russian flags, while others set the tricolore ablaze.

What got protesters burning mad? Over the weekend, France and the EU joined the US in suspending aid to Niger, demanding that Bazoum be reinstated and order restored. In 2021, France provided 97 million euros in development and military aid, while the EU pledged 40 million euros to help train and equip Niger’s armed forces.

The Elysee was not amused by the demonstrations. French President Emmanuel Macron warned that his government “will not tolerate any attack on France and its interests” and will respond “immediately” to any aggression.

Niger’s neighbors also weighed in, with the 15-member Economic Community of West African States bloc declaring Sunday that it’s prepared to use force to “restore constitutional order” if Bazoum is not reinstated within a week. The eight-member West African Economic and Monetary Union could also suspend Niger from their financial institutions and deny access to the regional central bank and financial markets, putting the screws to the country’s economy.

None of this appears to have fazed coup leader Gen Abdourahmane Tchiani, head of Niger’s presidential guard unit, who pushed back, noting the junta’s “firm determination to defend our fatherland.” But on Monday, Bazoum was reportedly seen for the first time since the coup as he met with Chad's leader Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno in Niamey. Déby said he is trying to mediate a peaceful resolution to the crisis.

Meanwhile, Wagner Group leader Yevgeny Prigozhin seemed to applaud the coup, much like he cheered on last year’s coup in Burkina Faso. He offered to send his mercenaries to “keep order” – Niger could be big business for Wagner, which is already battling Islamic insurgents in Mali. But it’s also a big opportunity for Putin as Niger produces 7% of the world’s uranium.

The bottom line: The West is concerned that Niger could pivot towards Russia just as both Burkina Faso and Mali did after their own recent coups.


Subscribe to GZERO's daily newsletter