Niger Confronts Covert Colonialism

Niger’s military government could trigger Africa’s fight against covert colonialism.
Keywords: Niger, France, Colonialism, War, Military, Conflict, Aid, Development, Export, Gold
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Niger reacted to France’s decision to suspend aid to Niamey after its military coup by banning the export of gold and uranium to Paris, on July 30, 2023. With this startling move, land-locked Niger’s military government could trigger Africa’s fight against covert colonialism, the post-colonial stranglehold on the continent’s rich resources that powered the wealth of the Western industrial nations. Unsurprisingly, President Mohamed Bazoum (deposed July 26, 2023) has given France permission to strike Niger to free him and restore his government. 

Caught on the back foot, President Emmanuel Macron initially said that France “will not tolerate any attack against France and its interests” (July 30, 2023). The Elysee presidential palace issued a statement that “anyone attacking French nationals, the army, diplomats and interests would see France respond immediately and intractably.” 

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) promptly announced sanctions on Niger. The European Union declared its willingness to support a military operation against Niger if requested by the pro-Western governments in ECOWAS. The West African economic bloc urged the coup leaders in Niger to restore the country’s democratically elected president (though there is evidence that it was not a free and fair election), Mohamed Bazoum, to power within one week, or face possible military intervention. But ECOWAS does not have its own military force, so the threat does not seem viable.

France is now evacuating all French and European Union citizens from Niger, in what could be a prelude to a wider conflict. Italy also announced an evacuation flight on August 1, 2023. Niamey, meanwhile, ordered its Armed Forces to arrest any European national still in the country until France and other Western Powers agree to withdraw their military forces from Niger. Washington said Niger has suspended all military flights from Air Base 201, near the city of Agadez. This is a large drone base, built at a cost of more than $100 million; it began operations in 2019.

On August 1, 2023, Burkina Faso President, Captain Ibrahim Traoré, announced a ban on the export of uranium to France and the United States, though his country does not have uranium mines. Mali has uranium deposits but has not mined them so far. Traoré has already expelled French troops from Burkina Faso, as have Niger and Mali. At the recent Russia-Africa Summit in St. Petersburg (July 27-28, 2023), Traoré said, “My generation does not understand this: how can Africa, which has so much wealth, become the poorest continent in the world today?” 

France is deeply concerned over the potential impact on its nuclear plants. Around 50 percent of Niger’s uranium ore is exported to France and comprises 15 percent of French imports of the precious mineral to fuel its nuclear power plants; 20 percent of the European Union’s imports of the mineral come from Niger. Yet Niger is one of the poorest countries in the world; 80 percent of its citizens have no access to electricity and 80 percent live on less than $2 a day.

To allay public anxieties, the French government announced that it has stocks for two years, to run its power plants. An official spokesman said, “France is not dependent on any one site, company or country to ensure the security of supply for its power plants. The situation in Niger poses no risk to France’s security of supply for natural uranium.” 

Yet the challenges for Europe are grave, as it is still struggling to phase out its dependency on Russia, a major supplier of uranium to Europe. Possibly Russian uranium will not be sanctioned now, as Niger’s ban is expected to hike international prices of the commodity. In 2021, Niger was the EU’s top uranium supplier, followed by Kazakhstan and Russia, according to the Supply Agency of the European Atomic Energy Community.

Aware of the tragedy that befell Libya and Muammar Gadhafi, the coup leaders emphasised that any outside intervention would be met with force. They accused France of wanting to intervene militarily to reinstate the deposed president. This was denied by French Foreign Affairs Minister Catherine Colonna, who said, “France’s only priority is the safety of our nationals.” 

Uranium, however, is of critical interest to France to power its nuclear reactors, especially after France and the European Union, at the United States’ insistence, denied itself access to cheap Russian gas in the wake of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. France, unlike Germany, retained its nuclear plants. Technically, after the Niger ban, it can turn to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, but the transport of uranium to Europe is controlled by the Russian state nuclear power company, Rosatom. 

Meanwhile, the governments of Burkina Faso and Mali issued a joint statement declaring that any military intervention in Niger would be tantamount to a “a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali.” Guinea President Mamady Doumbouya joined them saying, “If anyone dares invade Niger due to the military takeover, coup d’état, we will declare it as a war against them and we will send our military to defend the country.” Iran could also adopt an anti-imperialist position on the issue. 

The governments of Guinea, Burkina Faso and Mali, have refused to enforce the “inhumane and immoral” sanctions imposed by the ECOWAS on Niger. Algeria and Libya have also condemned ECOWAS’ decision. This unexpected unity of African countries could trigger unrest among ECOWAS nations and question the legitimacy of punitive sanctions by former colonial powers. 

Following the Russia-Africa Summit, the United Kingdom has decided to deepen ties with African countries, with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly stating that London is “ready to seriously consider any requests from African leaders regarding capacity building and training in the British armed forces.” Recently, the UK government reduced its aid budget to African countries by almost 19 percent to £1.1 billion. However, Cleverly has announced visits to Ghana, Nigeria, and Zambia next week to promote “mutually beneficial commercial relationships” with African nations.

Niger’s next step could be to nationalise its mines and impose a more equitable agreement with the French company, Orano, that has been mining its uranium. Orano is keen to explore a new extraction site in the northern Arlit region. 

However, amidst fears of a US-backed French military invasion, there is talk of PMC Wagner going to Niger in defence of the new regime. This would mean another proxy war between NATO & Russia and could augment the alienation of Africa from the former colonial powers. 


Niger coup sparks concerns about French, EU uranium dependency, Politico, July 31, 2023.

France loses its uranium meal ticket in Niger, Rachel Marsden, August 1, 2023.

ECOWAS threatens ‘use of force’ against Niger junta, DW, July 31, 2023.

Burkina Faso president accuse African leaders of ‘beggary’, July 29, 2023.

Niger coup sparks concerns about French, EU uranium dependency, Politico, July 31, 2023.

Burkina Faso, Mali warn against military intervention in Niger, Al Jazeera, August 1, 2023.

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Sandhya Jain

Sandhya Jain is a political analyst, independent researcher, and author of multiple books. She is also editor of the platform Vijayvaani

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