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Colonialism, Is It Really a Thing of the Past?

Relations between Niger and France

Gloria Badibanga

Staff Writer

Photo via Sam Mednick.

Niger is one of the many West African countries formerly colonized by France. Despite officially gaining its independence from France in 1960, France still wields significant influence in the country, maintaining its alliance. So why has there been a sudden surge in anti-French sentiment? Why are French flags being burned, the French embassy attacked, and protests against France’s presence are now consuming the streets of Niger?

On July 26th, 2023, a coup d’état took place in Niger, leading to the overthrow of the president, Mohamed Bazoum, by the Nigerien Junta conducted by General Abdourahmane Tchiani. Mohamed Bazoum, who became president in April 2021, was the first to be elected democratically. However, his presidential run came to a sudden and abrupt end due to his arrest and the Nigerien junta seizing power, leading to the beginning of the coup. The leaders of the coup have expressed that the motive behind overthrowing the former president was the lack of economic growth with the simultaneous rise in prices for basic necessities, a general rise in insecurities, and the ongoing security crisis regarding terrorist attacks.

Another factor that fueled the coup was France’s influence in the country. Even post Niger’s colonization, France still had an impressive dominance in the country. Many people in Niger started to get fed up and tired of France controlling their country’s political, economic, and social life. A lot of the country’s population saw President Mohamed Bazoum as the last obstacle needing removal to finally be free from France, explaining why so many Nigeriens are actually in favour and supportive of the coup. In other words, the coup was them taking measures into their own hands.

Prior to the coup, France had a notable military presence in Niger. The West African country hosts a French military base with approximately 1,500 troops. Initially, the goal of having the French military in the country was to run an operation that would help Niger control and put an end to Islamist insurgency, terrorist groups, and violence. Nonetheless, the security issues and violence in Niger still prevail despite France's promise to help. The staticity of the country's violence has led to many Nigeriens questioning France's presence in their country. Many are starting to believe and claim that France is there for explorative reasons and their primary goal isn't actually to help Niger overcome their security problems. Following the coup, General Abdourahmane Tchiani has revoked five military deals with France, and thousands of Nigeriens have been protesting and demanding the removal of French troops.

If looking back to the historical relation between France and Niger, the claims and beliefs of several Nigeriens are not outlandish and are, in fact, quite rational. Niger is one of the biggest uranium producers in the world. There are three primary mines operating in Niger used to exploit uranium and other of their natural resources, of which a French company named Orana has a majority equity stake in all three. For the past ten years, Niger has been one of France's top three uranium suppliers. The relationship between France and Nigeria regarding supplying the European country's uranium never sat well with several Nigeriens. To many, the relationship was more exploitative and unfair. Furthermore, the deals were not benefiting the general population, which is another reason why the leaders of the coup and many of the Nigeriens wanted France out of their country.

Throughout the upheaval of the successful coup, protest, and ultimate chaos happening as a result, many countries have gotten involved, notably Russia. As the rise in political upheaval continues after the coup, Russia has been offering Niger military and economic aid. They have even strongly recommended ECOWAS (Economic Community Of West African States) not to intervene with military help as military intervention would disrupt the whole Sahel region. Even though there have been sightings in Niamey of people protesting with signs saying “Down with France, long live Putin,” some Nigeriens believe the country shouldn’t be praising Russia because, in the end, none of the countries intervening are genuinely motivated to assist. Many believe Russia is capitalizing on the coup and that their interference is their attempt to get a toe hold on the country. Others genuinely believe they have pure intentions and intend to help Niger. But one thing is clear, generally speaking, Niger would much rather have the presence of Russia than France in their country. For now, it is unclear whether or not Russia wants to help Niger or they’re just planning on treating the country as a pawn in a game of geopolitical chess.

All the current events happening in Niger raise many questions. Is France responsible for the instability and chaos happening in West African Countries? Is the legacy of French colonialism still lingering and haunting West Africans? What is currently happening in Niger is very similar, if not identical, to what happened in neighboring West African countries such as Mali and Burkina Faso. Both coups in each country have led to a defeat for France, forcing them to withdraw military troops and presence. Will Niger share a similar fate?


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