Nigerien soldiers on an exercise in 2018 Photo: USAC/CC
Nigerien soldiers on an exercise in 2018 Photo: USAC/CC
  • Workers and poor masses must reject the coup and foreign military intervention
  • For a constituent assembly based on a socialist programme linked with regional working class solidarity

Chinedu Bosah, NEC Member, Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI in Nigeria)

Niger has become a focus of international interest and discussion since the military elite presidential guard seized power from Mohamed Bazoum and placed him under house arrest on 26 July. General Abdourahmane Tchiani, the head of the Niger’s presidential guard has declared himself the leader of the country. There have been massive protests in Niger, showing anger against the long years of French domination and pillage, but some have illusions in Russia and Russian flags were waved amid anti-French slogans outside the French embassy in Niamey. Although General Tchiani cited “deteriorating security” and Bazoum’s handling of the ‘war on terrorism’, in reality the coup was a response to the president’s threat to remove him as the head of the presidential guard. The real reason for the power struggle within elite circles remains unclear.

Working people and youth must condemn the coup and also oppose any foreign aggression, be it the Nigeria-led Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) or the imperialist powers.

ECOWAS has rejected the coup and demanded a return to civilian rule and the reinstatement of Mohamed Bazoum on or before 25 August or face military intervention. Already, a number of sanctions have been imposed on Niger. For instance, land borders in the south have been closed and the Nigerian government has cut off electricity supply. The country depends on Nigeria for 70% of its electricity.

ECOWAS sanctions have led to sharp increases in food and commodity prices with dire consequences for the country’s working class and poor. Already, France has suspended all aid and other donor countries like Germany and the USA have suspended some of their aid packages, actions that will worsen living standards in Niger. However, a chunk of the aid is corruptly looted by the capitalist ruling elite and its military wing.

Just like many African countries, Niger has had four successful coups and several other failed attempts since its independence from France in 1960. ECOWAS leaders fear the spread of coups in West Africa as witnessed in Mali, Guinea and Burkina Faso in the last three years, and could be replicated in some other countries in the unstable region.

The economic crisis in Niger is huge despite being rich in uranium, coal and gold. It has a population of 25 million people and is ranked by the United Nations as the second least developed country out of 188 countries. Three million people face acute poverty and hunger, the illiteracy rate is 37%. French imperialism and some other European countries rely on Niger for uranium, it is the 7th largest producer in the world and France needs it for its nuclear industry.

In order to sustain the plundering of Niger’s mineral resources and to limit migration to Europe, French imperialism stationed 1,500 troops as well as an air force base in Niger and has strong financial control. This huge force in a small country is simply a reminder of the bloody and plundering period of colonisation. It is a force ready to be unleashed in order to sustain neocolonialism and the continuous defence of powerful interests at the expense of the ordinary Nigerien people. These foreign powers, in collaboration with the Nigerien capitalist ruling elite, have so ruined it such that the country has been dependent on foreign economic and security aid – about 45% of the budget comes from this aid, which is over $1 billion yearly.

Growing discontent

A growing disagreement between rogue capitalist ruling and military elites and the French imperialists over resources is what is playing out in the region, and the Russian and Chinese elites are exploiting it. Many people in these countries do not see any hope of improvement in their lives under French domination and have become resentful of the continuous foreign intervention. Putin opposed the coup in Niger through a foreign ministry statement but Prigozhin, the leader of the Wagner Group, the Russian private mercenary force with close ties to the Kremlin regime, praised the coup. Wagner forces are already in Mali.

France has backed the ECOWAS’s resolve to reinstate civilian rule while on the other hand, Mali and Burkina Faso have declared support for the coup and have pledged to deploy military support. This is a recipe for dangerous regional war.

The Niger military may want to enter into a deal with ECOWAS to pledge a return to civilian rule sometime in future, just like the promises made by Mali and Burkina Faso coupists, which they never kept. In doing so it could try to buy time to consolidate power and manoeuvre, or dare it and go into confrontation hoping for support from Mali and Burkina Faso to resist ECOWAS forces.

Nigeria, which will supply the most funding, equipment and men if an invasion is decided, is hobbled by opposition at home, reflected in the refusal of the senate to approve military intervention. The foreign borders imposed by the European imperialists when they carved up Africa between themselves cut across tribes and nations. Fighting in Niger would inevitably have an impact in northern Nigeria as a big portion of Nigeria’s northern population is Hausa who are also the second biggest ethnic group in Niger.

Unfortunately, the trade union movement is divided over the crises in Niger. The working population organised in the trade unions total 60,000, just 5% of the total working population. The Democratic Confederation of Workers of Niger, the country’s largest trade union centre, condemned the coup and demanded reinstatement of civilian constitutional order while the Trade Union Action Unit (UAS Niger) made up of smaller trade union centres issued a statement supporting the coup and called on Nigeriens and workers to rise up to defend the country against any foreign aggression.

The once-united trade union confederations – that responded to the former president Mamadou Tandja’s tenure extension plan and sweeping constitutional review that concentrated more power to the president with a 24-hour general strike in 2009 – are now in disarray.

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM, CWI in Nigeria) calls on the trade unions and working masses to unite to reject the military coup, defend democratic rights, and reject foreign aggression and intervention. The workers’ movement should demand and mobilise for a constituent assembly dominated by elected representatives of working people to bring about a constitution that puts the country’s resources under democratic control of the working people of Niger.

The working people and poor need to organise themselves, their future cannot be decided either by military leaders or foreign intervention. Peoples’ defence committees should be formed in workplaces and communities that can be the basis for a popular government led by the working class and oppressed. Alongside appeals to the rank and file of the Nigerien armed forces to support such a government, there should be an appeal to workers in the region to give active solidarity to the working people of Niger, including where necessary coordinated protests and general strikes against their respective aggressive countries.

While we agree with Nigerien protesters’ demands for France to leave Niger, however, we must say that accepting another imperialist power in the form of Russia is not the way out.

What is needed in Niger, as well as in Nigeria and the entire continent of Africa, is a socialist revolution that enthrones a workers’ and poor peoples’ government armed with socialist policies to end landlordism and capitalism. Such a revolution will probably start from one country but can quickly spread becoming a regional and continental mass movement for a real change in the way society is run. A workers’ and poor peoples’ government will take into public ownership the commanding heights of the economy like the banks, industries, oil and gas, mines, and put them under workers’ democratic control and management in order to ensure the economy works for the interest of the mass majority, instead of profit for a few.