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Niger: Boubacar Touré analyzes the withdrawal of US troops

Russian Africa Corps instructors have been based in Niger since April 12

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By Jean Sovon, Global Voices - Translated by Laura


The repercussions of Niger’s coup d’état on July 26, 2023, continue to impact daily life in this country. Following the withdrawal of French troops in December 2023, it’s now time to withdraw US troops at the request of the country’s military rulers.


On March 16, 2024, the ruling powers in Nigerien capital, Niamey, issued a statement criticizing the military cooperation agreement signed between their country and the United States in 2012. According to the Nigerien government, this agreement is nothing more than a note verbale that Washington unilaterally imposed on Niamey.


The coup d’état in July 2023 ultimately led to the creation of the  National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland (CNSP) with General Abdourahamane Tchiani as leader. This institution considers the stationing of US troops in Niger illegal and, therefore, demands their outright withdrawal from the US base in the northern town of Agadez.


This turning point in relations between Niamey and Washington signifies a geopolitical shift on this continent. After all, on April 12, 2024, Russian military instructors from the Africa Corps paramilitary group arrived in Niger to train Nigerien soldiers in the use of new military technologies. Africa Corps, under the Russian government’s authority, replaced the private Wagner military group that disbanded after the death of its leader, Yévguéni Prigojine.


This Tv5monde video shows the landing of a Russian aircraft delivering equipment:




On April 23, 2024, against the backdrop of a new cold war, the United States began talks with Niger on the outright withdrawal of its 1,000 troops from this country.


Jean Sovon of Global Voices interviewed Boubacar Touré, a Nigerien politician, secretary general of the Union of Popular Forces for Democracy and Progress (UDFP–Sawaba), and former president of the Young Leaders of Niger, to better understand this geopolitical shift. He explains the background behind this sudden shift and public opinion in this post-coup era.


Jean Sovon (JS): After France, the United States must now withdraw from Niger. How would you explain this sudden shift that is now causing a rift between Washington and Niamey?


Boubacar Touré (BT): I want to remind everyone that, since the events on July 26, 2023, when the National Council for the Safeguarding of the Homeland  (CNSP) came to power in Niger, the relationship between Niger and the United States hasn’t been the same as that with France. The United States waited over a month before declaring these events a coup d’état. A series of high-profile exchanges to exchange views soon followed. However, the US's insistence on restricting Niger’s choice of partners at the expense of its sovereignty resulted in the March 16 statement demanding the withdrawal of US troops. This statement also highlighted a lack of legal basis for the US presence in Niger and, therefore, its illegality.


According to this statement, this isn’t a sudden shift but the decision of a sovereign state to end this illegal and unprofitable presence, which could do nothing but cause a rift between there two countries.


JS: What is public opinion on this decision?


BT: The Nigerien people welcomed this decision as a victory over US imperialism. Since 2012, when these forces were stationed here under the pretext of combating terrorism, the people have been perplexed and thereby repeatedly denounced the uselessness of their heavy presence. Let’s not forget the various protests and statements that some civil society organizations and opposition political parties made criticizing the creation of foreign military bases. The new government met a longstanding public demand by ending this illegal stationing.


On April 14, 2024, two days after the arrival of Russian troops, many people expressed their support for the military with protests against the stationing of US troops. See this video report by the media outlet Africanews:




JS: In Mali and Burkina-Faso, two members of the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), Western nations were driven out in favor of the Russians. Is it right to assume that Niger is following the orders of AES?


BT: Orders? No! The Alliance of Sahel States(AES) is a deliberate alliance, which states defensive over their sovereignty designed and created to move away from conventional regional organizations and ultimately form a federation


I, therefore, ask us to look at this geopolitical shift from an angle other than one of contempt that views this as a change from one master to another, as if our states must always be at the service of a master.


Although insecurity was once confined to northern Mali, more than a decade after the arrival of Western forces with all the technological resources at their disposal, it spread to the rest of the country and even its neighboring countries. Therefore, our states had every right to point out this collaboration’s failures and to try others. This brought us together with Russia, which is already yielding results, like the liberation of Kidal in Mali, among others.


Niger is invested in defending its territory and is willing to cooperate with all countries in the world while respecting its dignity and freedom. At this time, Russia has demonstrated its willingness to support Niger by providing technical resources and training. Niger is eager to seize this opportunity for a genuine partnership.


JS: What are the medium-term outcomes of such a strategic shift in this region? Is this a return to the cold war? The creation of new alliances?


BT: The power struggles of the global powers interest neither us nor the Sahel states. It’s the survival of our country and the people’s safety that guide our governments’ decisions.


Of course, thinking they are capitalizing on this opportunity, the enemy will take desperate action in the coming weeks. However, I can assure you that our forces will respond vigorously to temper their ardor.


In the short term, thanks to the recent air and land acquisitions, a power increase boosted by greater operational flexibility, and the progressive restoration of security in this region, we anticipate a field-based power shift in the interest of our forces.


***

The withdrawal of US troops, already under pressure in Chad, signals a strategic shift in the Sahel region. Is this the end of a long period of Western dominance?


The United States is to complete this withdrawn from Niger by September 15, 2024.


Jean Sovon is Global Voices' regional editor for Francophone sub-Saharan Africa. A journalist specializing in human rights, he often brings his expertise to the cause of human rights.


A sociologist by training, he is passionate about issues of good governance, international relations, conflict prevention, peace and security.


Since 2014, Jean Sovon has been collaborating with several online media outlets in Togo and the West African sub-region.


This work is shared via a License CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

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