by John Pottinger, published on Socialist Action, December 11, 2023
Even before the popular July 26, 2022 coup d’état that removed the US-backed and pro-French government, Niger was the seventh poorest country in the world. With a 37 percent literacy rate, only 20 percent of the population has access to electricity in a country with some of the largest uranium deposits on earth.
The victim of various forms French imperialist control and domination from the 1890s, when France first invaded to 1917 when it was formally conquered and included in the French Empire, to 1960 when it became a formally “independent” but a French neo-colony, Niger’s fate has been largely determined by its former masters, with US imperialism of late aiming at securing largest share of the nation’s natural resources.
Niger’s former President, the millionaire Mohamed Bazoum, was “elected” in 2021 provided he defended the interests of his imperialist paymasters. His daughter lives in Paris, far from its poverty-stricken suburban African immigrant banlieues.
Since the coup the new government has taken some steps against the imperialists, beginning with demanding that France’s 1500 troops leave the country. France’s President Macron initially refused, but weeks later, under pressure from the coup government’s mass mobilizations, he relented, withdrawing French troops to Chad, Niger’s next-door neighbor (cold comfort).
The Biden administration sent Victoria Nuland, Acting US Deputy Secretary of State, to Niamey, Niger’s capital, where she hoped to meet with both the now ex-President Barzoum and the new government, presumably to ensure that whomever was in power, US “interests” would remain unchallenged. She was quickly shown the door, deprived of the opportunity to “negotiate” Niger’s future.
The US has two military bases in Niger one in the Naimey capital and a new $110 million drone base, the largest in Africa, in Agadez, a department capital, adjacent to Niger’s main uranium deposit region. The US has 1500 troops in Niger, plus an undisclosed number of Special Forces. And just in case anyone was thinking of asking, the US Senate has already rejected a bill to remove its troops from Niger.
What do France and the US want from the seventh poorest country in the world?
Seventy percent of France’s electricity is generated from nuclear power; France “buys” uranium from Niger at a Walmart-like “everyday low price,” perhaps the lowest price in the world. Indeed, the price is so low that it’s kept a secret lest other nations seek to get in on the Niger uranium giveaway. In 1974 when then Niger President Diori sought to negotiate a higher price he was quickly overthrown, reminiscent of the 1991 US-orchestrated coup in Haiti that removed the elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide government that sought to raise Haiti’s minimum hourly wage from some 13 cents to 23 cents!
Macron and a gaggle of French business tops have since gone shopping for uranium in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan but, they may find it hard to beat Niger’s imperialist-imposed “every day low price” deals.
Meanwhile, the US drone base in Agadez patrols, spies upon and intimidates the Lake Chad basin area countries Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. US imperialism is quite open about its central military institution on the African continent, AFRICOM, or African Command. Its public website states:
“Our Mission: U.S. Africa Command, with partners, counters transnational threats and malign actors, strengthens security forces, and responds to crises in order to advance U.S. national interests and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity.”
No doubt, among these US claimed “national security interests” is the security of the planned Trans-Saharan pipeline, key parts of which are slated to cross Nigeria and Niger.
Exploiting Nigeria’s fossil fuel resources
Nigeria today ranks tenth in the world in oil reserves, with more natural gas than oil. But today only a trifle of the natural gas is exported, most just blatantly flared off in the course of pumping oil, yet another example of capitalism’s subordination of any and all concerns regarding global warming to extracting unheard of profits from the world’s poor and oppressed nations.
In Nigeria, the government previously owned the oil via the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC). But this now-privatized corporation operates via joint ventures with western oil companies including Shell (British), Chevron (USA), Exxon Mobil (USA), Agip (Italian) and Total (French). No Russian need apply!
With the Nigerian government previously selling very little natural gas to anyone, its now privatized fossil fuel industry is set to supply much of Western Europe, bringing countless $billions to the aforementioned oil companies and perhaps a bit to Nigeria’s 1 percent. But as the pipeline must run though Niger, imperialist control is critical. Another war for oil, who would have thought?
The new US-financed pipeline would run from Nigeria across Africa through Niger and Algeria and on to Europe. Its central objective, in accord with the Biden administration’s blowing up the Russia-Germany-owned Nord Stream Pipeline, is to replace Russia’s cheap natural gas to Europe and related fossil fuels with the now imperialist-owned corporations’ fossil fuels of Nigeria as well as US liquefied natural gas sold at double or triple the price now paid for Russia’s, a multi-trillion dollar US-imposed gambit aimed at further bloating the bottom lines of the largely monopolized US fossil fuel behemoths.
A pro-imperialist government in Niger, or, more accurately, a US-imposed stooge government, coupled with an unchallenged US spying and military presence, is a prerequisite to guaranteeing the new pipeline’s viability. No self-respecting fossil fuel multi-billionaire would want to see their projected pipeline become a hunk of metal at the bottom of the Niger River!
US sanctions prepare the way
To make clear to Niger’s new government that the US meant business, immediately after the July 26 coup the US imposed temporary sanctions against Niger, made permanent in October. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), a pro-imperialist trading block with 15 member nations in West Africa, joined in the sanctions and threatened to invade Niger. The European Union followed suit. The invasion hasn’t happened to date due to the prospect of setting off additional anti-imperialist struggles in West Africa and the region that stretches across Africa, south of the Sahara Desert from the Red Sea to the AtlAs 1960’s satirical folksinger, Tom Lehrer put it, “Aggression?! We hate that expression, we’d rather kill them off by peaceful means.”
Today, 62 percent of Niger’s budget is financed by taxes. Foreign aid, accounting for 38 percent of Niger’s budget has been terminated. Additionally, Niger’s Treasury banks with the West African Economic and Monetary Union that has frozen Niger’s accounts. People must now pay their taxes in cash. This has lead to Niger missing several interest payments on its international debt. We can only surmise that the World Bank may well begin foreclosure proceedings against Niger, cutting it off completely from all loans.
One horror on top of another
Imperialism knows no limits to the horrors it can and will impose on any nation that aims to seek an independent path of development, not to mention owning and controlling its own resources. At the behest of US and French imperialism Nigeria, which supplies 71 percent of Niger’s electricity, has pulled the plug. Both Nigeria and Benin have closed their borders to Niger, a land locked country.
The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an agency of the US government, has suspended funding for the Niamey-Cotonou corridor, (Cotonou is a large port city in Benin) the road is the main avenue of trade for Niger; the road is paved in Benin but is not in Niger.
The Niger-Benin oil pipeline scheduled to open last October has been stopped by the imperialist sanctions. Oil was first developed in Niger in 2011. The rights to the oil are owned by Savannah Petroleum Co., a British firm.
The Kandadji hydroelectric dam project has been stopped. This dam in eastern Niger would collect rainwater in the wet season to be used during the dry season. It would provide electricity and safe drinking water to Niamey and other parts of Niger, provide irrigation to nearby farmland or land that could become farmland which is critical for a small country like Niger. The project also includes the establishment of the Kandadji National Nature Reserve and Hippopotamus Sanctuary. There are a lot of hippopotamuses on this part of the river. The dam would regulate the flow of the river so prevent its drying up, thus keeping the lights on and the farms irrigated year round.
And finally, 20 percent of the Niger population are livestock breeders. They export live animals to Nigeria. This too has been stopped.
Do people in the State Department stay up nights thinking of ways to destroy people’s lives in Niger? Or perhaps, as is the case with Iraq, Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya. Gaza/Palestine, etc., that they already have a private manual entitled “Sanctions for Dummies?” Or perhaps a book called “How to Screw Poor and Defenseless Countries in your Spare Time Without Really Trying.” US imperialism imposes sanctions today, in truth, acts of war, on some 44 nations, all, without exception, aimed at advancing the interests of the US corporate elite. The same applies to the 1100 US military bases stationed in 110 countries.
In the pursuit of profit and to maintain the rate of profit all imperialist countries know few if any no limits. Socialist singer/songwriter Phil Ochs put it well:
“And the name for our profits is democracy. So like it or not you will have to be free. ‘Cause we’re the cops of the world boys, we’re the cops of the world.”
End the Sanctions Now!
US Hands Off Niger Now!
US and France out of the Sahel Now!
ECOWAS hands off Niger and Burkina Faso!
*Featured Image: Supporters of the junta resulting from the coup d’état in Niger gather to demonstrate near a French air base in Niamey, August 11, 2023. © AFP
John Pottinger is a member of the Political Committee of Socialist Action.