People’s movements oppose West-backed military intervention by ECOWAS in Niger

The West African Peoples’ Organization said ECOWAS’ threat of military intervention was a maneuver by colonial France and Great Britain, under the hegemony of US imperialism. With Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso extending support to Niger’s new government, any use of force by ECOWAS may hurl the entire sub-region into warAugust 03, 2023 by Pavan Kulkarni

Several left and people’s organizations in West Africa have condemned the threat issued by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to militarily intervene with the backing of France and the US to restore the unpopular Mohamed Bazoum to Niger’s presidency.   

The West African Peoples’ Organization (WAPO) has “vehemently opposed” the ultimatum by ECOWAS Heads of States on July 30 to “take all measures necessary,” including “the use of force,” if the ousted president and his government is not restored by Sunday, August 6. 

This decision of ECOWAS is “a maneuver by colonial France and Great Britain, under the hegemony of American imperialism, to resort to armed intervention under the guise of restoring democracy and human rights in Niger,” WAPO said in a statement on Wednesday, August 2. 

“To keep the uranium-rich country under the imperialist fold”

Warning that the real purpose is to “keep Niger continually in the imperialist fold,” the group of unions, left parties, and civil society organizations described Bazoum as “servile to the imperialist powers of NATO, particularly France, which for decades has plundered its uranium.” 

Endowed with Africa’s highest grade of uranium ores, Niger is the world’s seventh largest producer of this nuclear fuel. While Niger itself remains one of the lowest consumers of electricity — with an electrification rate of only about 17.5% — its uranium has been powering a third of the light bulbs in France.  

The new military rulers of the country have halted the export of uranium and gold to France, which the junta accused on July 31 of having secured an authorization from the ousted government’s foreign minister to militarily intervene to restore Bazoum. Up to 1,500 French troops are already deployed in Niger, in addition to about 1,100 US troops in two bases, about 300 Italian soldiers, and a smaller contingent from the EU.

Amid militant mass demonstrations demanding the removal of the troops and military bases of former colonizer France and its western allies, Bazoum had invited more French troops, ordered out of Mali, into Niger last year. 

Bazoum’s crackdown on the anti-French protest movement, its leaders, and opposition parties further diminished his domestic credibility as a representative of the democratic will of Niger’s people. 

After the head of the presidential guard, Gen. Abdourahmane Tchiani, removed Bazoum from presidency on July 26 in a coup, there have been repeated demonstrations welcoming the military takeover and demanding the removal of all foreign troops from Niger. 

“ECOWAS’ adventurism has already split the sub-region”

Following similar coups in Mali, Guinea, and Burkina Faso over the last three years, the military governments which took power have consolidated popular support by ordering the French troops and their allied western forces out of their countries. 

These countries, which are suspended and sanctioned members of the ECOWAS, have pledged their support to Niger. “The transitional governments of Burkina Faso and Mali… warn that any military intervention against Niger is tantamount to a declaration of war against Burkina Faso and Mali,” read their joint-statement on July 31. Should ECOWAS go on to execute its threat, Burkina Faso and Mali will take “self-defense measures in support of the forces, armies and people of Niger.” Reaffirming “its solidarity to the Nigerian population,” Guinea also refused to support the ECOWAS sanctions and or its military intervention.

Niger and Mali, along with Burkina Faso and Guinea, amount to nearly 60% of the land-area of ECOWAS, with the remaining 11 member countries adding up to about 40%.

“ECOWAS’ adventurism has already split the sub-region and could overnight escalate the political crisis in Niger to an existential crisis for the entire sub-region,” said Kwesi Pratt, General Secretary of the Socialist Movement of Ghana (SMG), in a statement on August 2. The SMG added the warning that a sub-regional war will destroy “millions of lives and hamper production of goods and services with severe ramifications for the entire continent.”

Questioning the moral standing of the ECOWAS leaders to invade Niger, the statement added, “Our leaders have not.. raised concern about the squalor, lack of basic amenities, or exposure of children to deadly radiation that the French capital imposes on the inhabitants of uranium mining towns. Our leaders have not protested the numbers of innocent citizens killed by US and French troops in their so-called counter-insurgency operations. Rather our leaders have forced through laws granting US troops full immunity for crimes committed on our soils – essentially ceding our sovereignty to foreign militaries.”  

At a time when ECOWAS is unable “to manage even domestic insurgencies,” the sub-regional bloc “can only contemplate a Niger expedition because “NATO” will resource and run it,” the statement said. ECOWAS’ role in this invasion, the statement argued, will only be to provide African cannon-fodder to die in what is effectively “just another US or French invasion of a struggling Third World country” — dressed up as an intervention by its West African neighbors to defend democracy in the region.   

“Military intervention will invite greater domestic unrest for ECOWAS governments” 

Esther Yiadom, a Ghana-based journalist and a member of WAPO, argued that the vast majority of the people of the ECOWAS countries do not support their government’s decision to intervene in Niger. “Most of the governments in the ECOWAS sub-region are already unpopular among the citizens of their own countries, because they are seen as puppets of imperialist powers,” she told Peoples Dispatch

“For a country like Ghana to use its resources to destabilize Niger, while people in our own country are already struggling…! Taxes, unemployment,  prices of basic goods and services are all rising. People are struggling to make ends meet. There are demonstrations and protests day in and day out in ECOWAS countries. I don’t know why governments of any of these countries would want to intervene in Niger in such circumstances, if not for the fact that they are mere puppets of imperialist powers.”

WAPO warns the war cannot be financed “without imposing further hardship on citizens through taxation and deprivation.” 

In Nigeria — whose presidency the current ECOWAS chair Bola Tinubu assumed earlier this year after an election marred by allegations of widespread voter-suppression — labor unions protested against the worsening economic conditions across the country on August 2.

“If we make a mistake of involving military in Niger, we may end up inviting more internal problems to ourselves,” warned Adamu Garba, a chieftain of Tinubu’s own ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). 

“The West, under France and the U.S, have perfectly set a trap for ECOWAS to go into a total war in the region. Any mistake of military intervention in Niger means we are done with. President Tinubu must be courageous enough to resist French and U.S pressure on ECOWAS to wage any military action against Niger,” he urged.  

There is also internal resistance in Benin, whose president Patrice Talon, on being dispatched by ECOWAS after meeting Tinubu to assess the situation in Niger, told the media in its capital Niamey, “All means will be used, if necessary, to restore constitutional order in Niger.”

“The Communist Party of Benin formally warns Patrice Talon against participating in any aggression against the fraternal people of Niger and other peoples of the sub-region,” read the party’s statement. “The African peoples and those of our sub-region are engaged in a fight to the death against the imperialist powers, and in particular against FrançAfrique.”