Western response to Niger coup is shameless colonialism

Listen to the oped now.

By Carlton Joseph

Carlton Joseph

While Afro Canadian peoples celebrated Toronto Caribbean Carnival, the military in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world, staged a coup and overthrew the government. It appears that the coup leaders have the full support of the population, because thousands of people burned French flags and stoned the Embassy, and expressed anger over the legacy of French colonialism and its continued influence in the country.  Predictably, the United States (US) and other Western leaders were alarmed, and France, the ultimate colonialist with 1500 troops stationed in Niger, condemned the violence and warned that anyone attacking its nationals or interests would face a swift and stern response.  It’s amazing how these capitalists and colonialists talk about their national interests thousands of miles from their borders.

Interestingly, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a regional political and economic union of fifteen countries located in West Africa suspended Niger and announced sanctions that included closing borders, freezing Niger’s national assets and ending aid if the coup leaders fail to reinstate ousted President Mohammed Bazoum within one week.  At the same time, Burkina Faso and Mali expressed solidarity with the coup and refused to participate in the sanctions, calling them: “illegal, illegitimate and inhuman.”  They issued a joint statement that any military intervention against Niger would be considered a declaration of war on them.

Britain as expected, said it condemns attempts to undermine democracy, peace and stability in Niger and said the country stands by ECOWAS in their efforts to restore stability in Niger.  The European Union and France have cut off financial support to Niger and the United States has threatened to do the same. French foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, said “The era of coups d’état in Africa must stop. They are not acceptable.”  Italy’s Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni was more pragmatic in her comments, she acknowledged that Africa has significant resources, and was not a poor continent and admonished: “Africa today is victim of many external spoilers that work against its stability, and that Europe was always ready to give advice but not so ready to give a hand.”

France, in particular, must acknowledge that slavery and colonialism is over and must stop interfering in Niger’s and its former colonies’ affairs.  Globally, black people must insist that these ex-colonial powers stop working against their former colonies economic and human development interests.  Niger is considered one of the “poorest” countries in the world. However, for the past 40 years, uranium from Niger has delivered 80 percent of France’s energy power needs through 59 nuclear power plants, while Niger has insufficient access to the energy it needs. This is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated.  Urban areas in Niger have about 50 percent electricity service while power in rural areas varies from 10 to 40 percent. Niger’s  energy consumption is considered one of the lowest in the world.  With statistics like these ECOWAS should be supporting the coup, instead of trying to force neocolonialism and a puppet president on the people of Niger. 

Also important, Niger currently hosts 251,760 refugees mainly from Nigeria and Mali, even though the World Bank reports that 42 percent of Niger’s population live in extreme poverty.  Nigeriens are correct when they revolt and claim that France acts as an imperial power by depleting its natural resources and directing how its leaders steer the economy.

Western powers must understand that coup d’états will not end until poor countries are allowed to pursue their own destiny, and installing puppet governments that exploit the masses for the benefit of the one percent, is the reason why coups occur.  Also, exploiting the poverty they created and using other distressed countries as bases for launching Western campaigns, like from Niger against insurgents linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State in the Sahel.  According to a Pentagon think tank report, the war campaigns increased poverty in Niger and doubled the number of violent events in the Sahel.   In effect, black people are suffering and remain exploited while the West continue to talk about democracy, the rules-based order, and a return to constitutional order; a constitutional order that has kept these countries impoverished for over 100 years.

Niger has one of the largest World Bank portfolios in Africa, amounting to $4.5 billion. Niger is poor because France has continued to exploit its resources and keep it poor.  Energy is the catalyst of every economy, it is unbelievable that one country could supply 80 percent of another country’s energy needs, population 64.8 million, but cannot supply its own energy needs, population 21.4 million and still be one of the poorest countries in the world.  But that is the history of Africa, its resources have been used to benefit the Western and other developed countries, while keeping Africa poor and underdeveloped.  Unfortunately, Western countries have been sending troops to destabilize governments, and installed puppets to implement their policies, they have established international organizations like the IMF, World Bank, WTO and UN to secure their “National Security Interests” with total disregard for other countries’ national security interests.  This one-sided arrangement must end, every country’s interests must be considered when making decisions, and some thought must be given to past exploitation, and the economies of scale when large developed economies trade with smallest developed economies.  

Western countries must propose serious investments that benefit both countries interests. The current approach, stop gap economic proposals, because Russia or China is gaining influence in these countries is counterproductive. You cannot exploit and neglect a country’s development and react only when they choose options that better serve their interest.  It reveals your hypocrisy and sow mistrust. 

Europe must cooperate with Africa because it would mean greater energy security for both continents.  War in Ukraine has exposed Europe’s lack of energy resources, but Africa is potentially an enormous producer of every source of energy: gas, green energy, hydrogen, geothermic, but there must be a paradigm shift in the economic relationship.  Both continents must benefit from the deployment of resources, however, Africa must retain ownership of its resources.

(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington D.C., is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)