June 12, 2024

Crisis Deepens in West Africa: U.S. Supports Niger’s Ousted President Mohamed Bazoum as Neighboring Nations Burkina Faso and Mali Threaten War

Official visit to Bénin by President Mohamed BAZOUM
Mohamed Bazoum

A profoundly concerning escalation of tensions has arisen in West Africa, with U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken expressing unwavering support for Niger’s deposed President Mohamed Bazoum during a phone call on Tuesday, August 1, 2023.

The backing stands in stark contrast to the alarming response from Niger’s neighboring countries, Mali and Burkina Faso, which have threatened to declare war against the African Union (AU) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) if military intervention is used to reinstate the deposed leader.

During his conversation with President Bazoum, Blinken highlighted the United States’ rejection of any attempts to undermine Niger’s constitutional order and affirmed America’s alliance with the people of Niger, ECOWAS, the African Union, and international partners, all united in their support of democratic governance, the rule of law, and human rights.

The sentiments echo the U.S. government’s commitment to the democratic principles that guide the region, principles that have been challenged by ongoing poverty, corruption, and historical exploitation by France and other European nations.

However, the situation took a perilous turn when Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga read a joint communique on behalf of Burkina Faso and Mali a day earlier, on July 31, 2023. The two nations denounced the regional sanctions imposed by the AU and ECOWAS. They issued a grave warning, stating that any military intervention against Niger would be met with a declaration of war. The threat, underscored by repetition, has cast a shadow over diplomatic efforts, igniting concerns of a potential military conflict in the region.

The political landscape in West Africa has grown increasingly intricate and fraught with tension. The exclusion of Burkina Faso and Mali from the second U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit last December added to the discord, with both countries strengthening ties with Russia, a United States adversary.

That alliance between some West African nations and Russia has significantly undermined the US influence in the region. In Niger, a country colonized by France, citizens have seen rising poverty and corruption, and exploitation of their mineral resources by France for almost 50 years.

Further complicating matters, the Prime Minister of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, received by President Biden days ago at the White House, had publicly accused France, a U.S. ally, of impoverishing and destabilizing Burkina Faso.

Niger is the world’s seventh-biggest producer of uranium and possesses Africa’s highest-grade uranium ores. It is also one of the leading exporters of uranium to Europe.

France, the country’s former colonial ruler, is a significant exporter of Nigerien uranium, which helps power the massive French nuclear industry. But the money has not reached ordinary people in Niger, fueling anti-French sentiments in the West African nation.

On Tuesday, France initiated the evacuation of its citizens and other Europeans from Niger. Concurrently, the influence of Russia in West Africa seems to be growing. A significant move by the President of Burkina Faso, Captain Ibrahim Traore, banning Uranium exports to France and the United States, has added another dimension to the situation, considering Niger’s status as a significant producer of Uranium.

The unfolding crisis in West Africa has raised urgent and profound questions about the balance of power, regional interventions, and future democratic governance across the continent. The U.S.’s steadfast support for Niger’s ousted president, juxtaposed with Mali and Burkina Faso’s war threats, has created a volatile situation with no clear resolution.

As international actors scramble to navigate the complex crisis, the world watches apprehensively. The delicate situation serves as a sobering reminder of the fragility of democratic institutions and the intricate web of interests that influence international relations.

Whether peaceful or otherwise, the eventual resolution of this crisis may have lasting implications for regional stability and the enduring struggle for democracy in Africa.

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