Long stories short
- A Moscow office tower was hit by a drone attack for the second day in a row.
- An Axios study found the best time to send emails was between 3 and 6pm.
- Jess Harding and Sammy Root won the UK’s tenth season of Love Island, splitting Harding’s £50,000 prize as overall winner.
The coup belt
Last week, soldiers in Niger took President Mohamed Bazoum prisoner, suspended the constitution and dissolved all governmental institutions. The head of the presidential guard then declared himself leader. West African nations are now threatening a military intervention to restore the “constitutional order”.
So what? It is now possible to walk 6,000 kilometres (twice the distance from London to Moscow) across Africa without stepping in a democracy.
- West Africa made huge democratic gains in the 2000s but states are now slowly unravelling across the Sahel region
- The region is facing immense climate pressure and is described by the UN as “ground zero” for global warming.
- Jihadist groups linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State have driven the governments of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger back towards their capitals, leaving millions at the mercy of armed groups.
There have been nine coups or attempted coups in West Africa in the last three years. Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Sudan are now all run by putschists in military fatigues, content with pummelling civil society groups into the ground. To shore up their regimes, some are pivoting to Russian Wagner mercenaries, who have had no qualms about massacring hundreds at places like Moura in central Mali in exchange for lucrative mining contracts.
Paris’ proxy. France has dominated the Sahel region for the last century. After its African colonies won their independence in the 1960s, a web of economic, intelligence and military connections nicknamed the Françafrique kept the Elysée Palace as kingmaker.
- Despite significant uranium reserves (which French nuclear companies have used to keep European lights on) only 16 per cent of Niger’s 20 million people have access to electricity and the country often ranks at the very bottom of the Human Development Index.
- It is one of the key transit routes for African migrants and refugees trying to get across the Mediterranean.
- Fearful of millions of migrants from Nigeria, the EU has invested heavily in migration control in Niger, turning it into “Europe’s Southern Border”.
There is deep-seated resentment over French influence across the Sahel, which many blame for the region’s moribund economy and corrupt elites. Thousands of French troops fighting jihadists in the Sahel were expelled from Mali and Burkina Faso by putschists last year. President Bazoum’s government in Niger was one of the only remaining Western proxies.
The coup has left a battered Western counter-terror strategy in disarray and given a potential opening to jihadist groups and Russia, which already has more than a thousand Wagner mercenaries in Mali. Wagner’s chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin, has already congratulated the putschists for beating the “imperialists” and touted his services.
By the numbers:
- 1,500 – French troops on the ground in Niger before the coup started
- $280 million – cost of a US drone base on the outskirts of the migration hub of Agadez.
- 540,000 – estimated number of migrants and refugees that crossed Niger in 2019, mainly trying to reach Europe
- $554 million – budgetary support and aid the EU promised for Niger from 2021–24 in return for controlling migration, compared with Niger’s GDP of $15 billion.
The response to the coup has been fiery. The EU has suspended all assistance, and President Macron has said he will “not tolerate any attack against France and its interests”, which could be code for saying military options are on the table.
EU sanctions are unlikely to have much sway on soldiers brave enough to storm the president’s palace. The putschists know the EU is torpedoing its own migration strategy by suspending support.
Look to Abuja. One actor to watch is Nigeria, the regional democratic goliath. Abuja has watched coups move closer to its borders for years. This may be too close to home for it to tolerate.
Nigeria leads Ecowas, the Economic Community of West African states, which issued an ultimatum to reinstate Bazoum by Sunday or risk the use of force. If it did come to military action, West African troops would probably try to coordinate with France and its ally Chad to reinstall President Bazoum. The question is whether the putschists in Mali and Burkina Faso and their Wagner mercenary allies will intervene to shore up their new friends in Niger. Don’t bet against it.
Photograph Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images
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