At a time when France is urgently repatriating its nationals, can it leave Niger to deal with two major problems on its own: terrorism, which is ravaging the region, and mass immigration to Europe? An in-depth analysis from a military officer who prefers to remain anonymous.
The coup d’état that took place in Niger on July 26 and 27, 2023, was carried out without violence. After some hesitation, it rallied all the country’s security forces. What’s also astonishing is that the main figures who have emerged are senior officers, perfectly installed in the country’s political and security apparatus. They represent neither a section of the army, as in Mali, nor the support of some junior officer’s personal adventure, as in Burkina Faso.
A loyal follower of former President Issoufou
The “President of the National Council for the Safeguard of the Homeland”, for example, is General Tchiani Abdourhamane, 12-year commander of the Republican Guard. He is a staunch supporter of former president Mahamadou Issoufou, who has just been deposed by his successor Mohamed Bazoum. Relations had deteriorated in recent months.
The Chief of the General Staff joined the officers behind the coup, as did General Mahamadou Toumba, number two in the army and commander of the joint operation with the French force.
Among the mutineers are Colonel Ahmad Sidi, second-in-command of the National Guard (responsible for securing all state sites), Colonel Abdoulkarim Hima, second-in-command of the Gendarmerie, and General Salifou Mody, former Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, who was dismissed last April. Colonel Amadou Abderamane, the spokesman, is an air force officer.
Two types of terrorist threat
From the first statement by the President of the CNSP, it seems that the main motivation for the coup de force was to put an end to poor security governance against armed terrorist groups.
Niger is unique in facing two types of terrorist threat:
- Islamic armed groups from Mali (mainly EIGS) operating in the Niger part of the tri-border area (Mali-Niger-Burkina Faso) in the Tillabéry region.
- Boko-Haram in the south-east of the country, near Lake Chad and the Nigerian border.
The main grievances against Mohamed Bazoum, set out by the new Chairman of the CNSP, are as follows:
- Mohamed Bazoum’s refusal to cooperate militarily with Mali and Burkina Faso, while armed groups operate between the three states.
- The many human losses (military and civilian) due to this situation.
- The release of several terrorist leaders at the behest of Mohamed Bazoum.
- Support for militias with the sole aim of defending the interests of those in power.
On the other hand, General Tchiani Abdourhamane speaks favorably of the support of foreign partners (France and the United States in this case) in the fight against terrorism, and calls on Technical and Financial Partners (TFP) to continue to help Niger.
France’s image has deteriorated
- Niger is the country that has best withstood the disastrous consequences of Gaddafi’s demise, managing the return of the Niger Touaregs through palaver (unlike Mali). Despite all this, it remains the country in the region facing two terrorist threats on two different “fronts”.
- It is also the country most affected by the collateral effects of the emigration of thousands of illegal immigrants from the sub-region, transiting through Agadez on their way to Europe. It is helped in this by the European Union. It also recovers thousands of sub-Saharans, deported back to the border in the middle of the desert by Algeria. But Niger is also ranked last (189th), with a score of 0.354 (France: 0.903, 28th), in the UNDP Human Development Index.
- Under these conditions, Niger’s military had a very hard time not being able to cooperate with their comrades in power in Mali and Burkina, with whom Mohamed Bazoum refused to engage in dialogue, in order to appear to the West as a good democrat. And yet, the creation of the G5 Sahel in 2015, at France’s instigation, was precisely intended to foster regional cooperation in the fight against terrorism… We must not lose sight of the fact that all these top military leaders in the region know each other very well.
- Mohamed Bazoum’s policy of “dialogue”, which has resulted in the release of jihadists “so they can talk”, has clearly not gone down well with the Nigerien military.
- Mohamed Bazoum, who comes from an Arab tribe, is very much in the minority in Niger’s ethnic landscape, which remains a major handicap in this region, especially if the accusation launched by the putschists of maintaining militias  to benefit its interests is proven true.
- According to Touareg contacts in France, former president Issoufou is no stranger to this putsch. According to them, Mohamed Bazoum had pushed the moralization of public life too far, which would have harmed the personal interests of the former president and his followers (to be verified). Former President Issoufou, who was awarded the Mo Ibrahim Prize in 2020 (which rewards good governance in the least developed countries), had set his sights on becoming Secretary General of the United Nations. Unfortunately, he was caught up in accusations of corruption (kickbacks) in the sale of 2,500 tonnes of uranium to Orano in 2011.
The MondAfrique website in an article on the troubled role played by ex-president Issoufou in the coup d’état.
In Niger, as elsewhere in the region, France’s image has deteriorated: very violent riots against Charlie Hebdo, recurring difficulties with Orano (formerly Areva), Bolloré’s failure to build the Niamey-Cotonou railway line (the line stopped at Dosso), recent rewriting of the lyrics of the Nigerien anthem to “decolonize” it.
A huge reservoir of migrants
- The Russians are sure to take advantage of the situation.
- The Chinese are already exploiting Niger’s oil resources, and are about to take over work on the railroad to Cotonou.
- France has already condemned the coup and is starting to evacuate its nationals, which will close the country and pose a problem for our military operations in the region. Perhaps it’s time to review our position vis-à-vis the five G5 Sahel states, now all led by military officers, to which we can add Guinea, presided over by a former Foreign Legion officer, who also came to power through a putsch!
The difficulty for France lies in the following equation:
- North Africa (Maghreb + Libya) and the sub-Saharan states are the potential reservoir for the majority of migrants, illegal or otherwise, seeking to reach Europe, and France in particular (French-speaking countries already have a large diaspora in France). The Office International des Migrations estimates that there are 3,500,000 legal migrants in France from these countries, to which must be added the illegal immigrants (500,000?). Recent riots in France have shown that a fraction of naturalized French citizens from these countries also represent an integration “difficulty” for their adopted country.
- Measures aimed at controlling or regulating this immigration have shown, and will continue to show (barring a highly unlikely change of method) their limits, if not their ineffectiveness.
- Possible solutions require a sincere relationship with the countries of origin, aimed at limiting departures to Europe and returning illegal migrants to their countries of origin.
- Accompanying this relationship is development aid cooperation that encourages people to envisage a future in their own country. Bear in mind, however, that a large proportion of migrants are people who have had access to development aid, which has enabled them to raise their level of education (a certain command of the language) and raise the sums needed to attempt the adventure.
The Islamist threat
- The countries in this zone (Maghreb + Libya + sub-Saharan states) are overwhelmingly Muslim and have been under the threat of violent radical Islamism for over thirty years. This has resulted in tens of thousands of deaths in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, and has necessitated, in the case of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, direct military intervention by France in conjunction with the UN and other Western allies.
- Stopping these military actions could result in either the intervention of other partners (Russia in particular), or the victory of armed terrorist groups and the establishment of Islamist regimes, or both.
- With regard to sub-Saharan countries, the combination of development cooperation and military support in the fight against terrorism has yielded highly inadequate results, enabling neither the economic take-off of these countries, nor the reduction of migratory flows, nor the return of illegal immigrants to their countries of origin, nor the reduction of armed terrorist groups. As for the Maghreb countries, despite improvements in the security situation, economic development is stagnating and emigration to France is increasing, while the return home of illegal immigrants remains anecdotal.
Let it happen or dialogue?
Our relations with Algeria are execrable, with Morocco difficult, with Tunisia uncertain, with Libya anecdotal, and with Mali, Burkina Faso and now Niger non-existent. They remain satisfactory with Mauritania and Chad, which remains a country with a regime that is nevertheless unacceptable according to current political morality (but which is not yet subject to Islamic violence, and provides very few immigrants to Europe).
Under these conditions, is it possible to face up to the threat of violent extremism in these countries and restrict migratory flows from them? The answer is no.
The choice is therefore between letting things happen, contemplating the deterioration of living conditions in these countries, letting the Russians, Chinese and Turks play with our own security, or agreeing to re-establish contact with provisionally unelected governments, which by the way are no more corrupt or violent than their “democratically elected” predecessors.
 There are many village militias in Niger, tolerated to defend the population, sometimes working with the army, often suffering heavy losses and sometimes responsible for major human rights violations.
 Article dated August 1, 2023