A deadline to reinstate the democratically-elected president has passed. What does the military takeover mean for the region?
Coup leaders in Niger have ignored a deadline to reinstate the country’s ousted president after soldiers who were supposed to be protecting him turned on him in late July.
The Economic Community of West African States wanted President Mohamed Bazoum released and reinstated by Sunday night. It threatened military action if its demands weren’t met.
Niger has now closed its airspace indefinitely.
To understand the coup you have to understand the role of France, which has dominated the region known as the Sahel for the last century.
After its African colonies won their independence in the 1960s, a web of economic, intelligence and military connections kept the French as kingmakers.
In Niger there has been a revolving door for elites between its capital Niamey and Paris.
Yet the country often comes at the very bottom of the Human Development Index.
Despite significant uranium reserves, which French nuclear companies have used to keep European lights on for decades, only 16 percent of the country’s 20 million people have access to electricity.
Coup leaders across West Africa are exploiting this anger but do not offer any other solutions except more violence.
Some, like the military junta in Mali, have turned to Russia’s Wagner Group that has had no qualms about massacring hundreds of civilians in exchange for lucrative mining contracts.
Now it’s been reported that one of Niger’s top generals has asked for Wagner’s help as well.
It wasn’t always like this. Twenty years ago, democracy began to take hold across the Sahel. But states are now slowly unravelling.
The region faces immense climate pressure and is described by the UN as “ground zero” for global warming.
As the desert expands and water sources dry up, herders and farmers have often ended up in open conflict.
Fissures between different communities have been exploited by bandits and armed groups including jihadists from Al Qaeda and Islamic State.
It’s led power-hungry military leaders to take matters into their own hands. There have been nine coups or attempted coups in West Africa in the last three years, most of them in the Sahel.
Niger was one of the last Western-allied countries in the region, but now it has been thrown into chaos and it looks like France, the US, and the EU have had enough.
Nigeria is also furious. It doesn’t want the countries in its sphere of influence to ally with Russian private armies or become dictatorships, which is why it’s leading calls for a military intervention to reinstate President Bazoum.
This episode was written and reported by Will Brown; it was mixed and produced by Patricia Clarke.