In distress, Niger expels U.S. military and resurrects hope
Supporters of Niger’s governing military council, gather for a protest called to fight for the country’s freedom and push back against foreign interference, in Niamey, Niger, Aug. 3, 2023. A top Pentagon official says that the U.S. has not yet received a formal request from Niger's rulers to depart the country. | Sam Mednick / AP

On March 16, Amadou Abdramane, spokesperson for Niger’s governing military council, announced that the country was dropping its 12-year-old military cooperation agreement with the United States. Niger’s military council assumed power following the coup in July 2023 that removed Mohamed Bazoum, the elected president.

U.S. military intervention in Niger is now a poor fit with grim realities in the western Sahel region of Africa and with the Nigerien people’s needs and aspirations.

The U.S. military presence there co-exists with the danger posed by Islamic extremist military groups. These expanded after 2011 when NATO destroyed the Libyan government, which had been a stabilizing force in the region. Niger also faces a humanitarian crisis worsened by environmental disaster.

The military council is seeking alternative arrangements for security cooperation and looking to China for help with social development.

Abdramane denounced “the attitude of the [recently visiting] U.S. delegation in denying the sovereign right of Niger’s people to choose partners and allies capable of really helping them fight terrorism.” General Michael Langley, delegation member and head of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), had “expressed concerns” that Niger was pursuing close ties with Russia and Iran.

AFRICOM, headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, operates 20 bases in Africa. The two largest are air bases in Djibouti, in East Africa, and Agadez, in central Niger. Niger hosts two other U.S. bases, an airbase near Niamey, the capital city, and a CIA base in the northeast.

According to a report, the Agadez base cost $110 million to build and costs $30 million annually to maintain. It is “the largest Air Force-led construction project in history.” By means of these two large bases, the United States conducts air war, with drones, over a significant portion of the earth’s surface.

In moving to end U.S. military involvement, the coup government had backing “from the trade unions and the protest movement against French presence.” The new government already pressured France, Niger’s colonizer, to remove its military units from the country; the last of them departed in January 2024. Coup governments in Mali and Burkina Faso expelled French troops in February 2022 and February 2023, respectively.

Also in January 2024, the three countries abandoned the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). France had led in forming this trade bloc in 1975; it would include 15 African nations. Critics cited by the BBC claim that France, through ECOWAS, was able to “meddle…in the politics and economics of its former territories after independence.”

The French government failed in an attempt to mobilize an ECOWAS military force to punish Niger for leaving the trade bloc. Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger reacted by forming their Alliance of Sahel States. They “are exploring alternative security relations, including with Russia.” Niger also looks to Iran for security assistance.

Investigator Nick Turse points to U.S. failures to explain why Niger is looking elsewhere for military assistance. He documents the vast number of deaths in the western Sahel region at the hands of extremist Islamist groups over the course of 20 years. The killings skyrocketed despite the U.S. military presence in Niger.

Niger may also have given up on the United States based on considerations that U.S. and NATO military action in Libya in 2011 contributed to worsening living conditions in the region now. A commentator notes that “The toppling of Gaddafi created a power vacuum that fostered civil war and terrorist infiltration, with disastrous regional ramifications.”

Additionally, in a Niger unable on its own to adequately fulfill human needs, the U.S.’ focus on military advantage without attention to human suffering would have been disheartening. The scale of suffering in the Sahel region is immense, as evidenced by diminished food production and migration, with climate change contributing to both.

The International Rescue Committee reports that “The Central Sahel region of Africa, which includes Burkina FasoMali, and Niger, is facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. Over 16 million people need assistance and protection, marking a 172% increase from 2016.”

China responded, and Washington officials are perturbed. A report from Mali indicates that “In Niger, the main areas of [Chinese] investment are energy ($5.12 million), mining ($620 million), and real estate ($140 million); other aspects of cooperation include: the construction of stadiums and schools, medical missions, military cooperation, infrastructure (roads, bridges, rolling stock, thermal power plants).”

A “Nigerien security analyst” told investigator Nick Turse that “the trappings of paternalism and neocolonialism” have marred Niger’s military cooperation agreement with the United States.

Expanding upon these polite words while commenting on Niger’s current situation, Casablanca academician Alex Anfruns observes that “international capitalism has destroyed the hopes of entire generations of Africans while inflicting its policies like a thug with white gloves. Actors like the International Monetary Fund and World Bank are complicit as key functionaries of the neocolonial system.”

U.S. policymakers, enablers of world capitalism, look longingly at Africa. Africa claims “98% of the world’s chromium, 90% of its cobalt, 90% of its platinum, 70% of its coltan, 70% of its tantalite, 64% of its manganese, 50% of its gold, and 33% of its uranium.” Even more: “The continent holds 30% of all mineral reserves, 12% of known oil reserves, 8% of known natural gas, and 65% of the world’s arable land.”

Alex Anfruns sees hope: The leaders of Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso,  with their Alliance of Sahel States, “have sent a powerful message of solidarity to millions of Africans who share a vision and an emancipatory project, that of pan-African unity.” Indeed, “From now on, neither the United States nor France under the flag of NATO can destroy an isolated African country, as happened in Libya in 2011.”

Burkina Faso President Thomas Sankara expressed a far-ranging kind of hope in 1984, at the United Nations: “We refuse simple survival. We want to ease the pressures, to free our countryside from medieval stagnation or regression. We want to democratize our society, to open up our minds to a universe of collective responsibility.”

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W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.