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Over the past seven days, Niger has been spiraling into political chaos after a military takeover saw the democratically elected president ousted by force.
According to those who staged the coup, the civilian government had been unable to protect Niger from attacks by Islamic extremists — a problem Niger shares with its neighboring countries. In the days that followed, chaos continued as key ministers were arrested on corruption charges. Leaders of West African nations gave the junta just one week to restore civilian rule or face intervention.
On Sunday, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in support of the military takeover, waving Russian flags and denouncing France, its former colonizer. French President Emmanuel Macron pledged “immediate and uncompromising” action if any French civilian is attacked.
After the French Embassy in Niger’s capital, Niamey, was targeted by protesters, several emergency evacuation flights were organized for European citizens to leave the country.
Why should Americans care about the coup?
A U.S. diplomat told Politico on Wednesday that the Biden administration was looking to evacuate most of its embassy personnel in Niger. The claim was backed up by two other officials with knowledge of the deliberations. The evacuation will be made up mostly of staff and family members not critical in diplomatic functions.
One reason America should care about Niger’s coup is because of the country’s “extremism problem,” Miles Tendi, an associate professor of politics at the University of Oxford in England, told Yahoo News.
Speaking on July 27, U.N. chief António Guterres warned that the coup could lead to terrible consequences for peace in the country and “stability in the African continent and further afield.” He mentioned the “dramatic” rise in terrorist activity in neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso — both of which had recent military coup attempts. (Burkina Faso’s succeeded.)
Read more on Yahoo News: Are military takeovers on the rise in Africa? via BBC
The U.S. has been helping Niger in its counterterrorism efforts. Four American soldiers were killed in an ambush there in 2017 and, according to NBC News, there are roughly 1,100 American soldiers based in the country with the goal of training Nigerien forces in their fight against Islamic extremists.
On Tuesday, the Department of Defense suspended all its counterterrorism training there. “[We will] maintain close contact with our Niger military counterparts in the country as the situation continues to unfold,” Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said.
Despite Niger’s status as one of the poorest countries in the world, it is a major global supplier of natural uranium.
Read more on Yahoo News: Niger coup raises questions about uranium dependence, via AFP
What is going on in Niger?
On July 26, senior members of Niger’s military announced they had deposed President Mohamed Bazoum — who had been democratically elected just two years earlier. His election was the first democratic transfer of power since the country gained independence from France in 1960.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken labeled the ousting “an effort to seize power by force and to disrupt the constitution” and called for the immediate release of the president.
Following his disappearance last week, Bazoum reappeared on the X platform, formerly known as Twitter, reassuring the public. “All Nigeriens who love democracy and freedom will see to it,” he wrote.
On Friday, coup organizers named Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani as the new head of state. He then made a televised announcement, which sparked international condemnation. Tchiani said Bazoum’s removal was a bid to “preserve our homeland” in a “deteriorating security situation.”
According to Tendi, the Oxford professor, the military forces are arguing that Bazoum failed to guarantee adequate security against extremist violence. And so the military felt it was in a better place to “resolve the terror attacks.”
Why are some Nigeriens pro-Russia?
It has been clear that many Nigeriens have hostility toward foreign and French assets. Footage from Sunday’s protests showed demonstrators burning French flags and holding signs saying “Down with France.” France has about 1,500 soldiers stationed in Niger.
“Nothing has changed,” one protester told the BBC. “So this is why we took to the streets and decided to kick the president out.” The ruling junta accused France of organizing a military intervention to reinstate Bazoum. A pro-coup opposition movement in Niger, known as M62, issued a statement on Tuesday calling for all European nationals to be held hostage until all foreign forces leave the country.
During the protests on Sunday, some demonstrators waved Russian flags — appearing to follow in the footsteps of nearby countries that have allied with the Kremlin.
The Moscow-backed mercenary group Wagner is currently in operation in neighboring Mali.
Back in March, Blinken warned that everywhere Wagner goes, “bad things tend to follow.” He added: “Where we have seen it act, it hasn’t improved security. On the contrary, we’ve actually seen things get worse, and the exploitation of resources, the corruption, the violence that it brings are a plague on people in the countries that have chosen to work with it.”