Politics

Even the US away from Niger

As soon as Vladmir Putin's obvious victory in the Russian presidential elections was announced, the military junta of Niger, which has governed the country since the coup d'état last July, announced “the end with immediate effect” of the agreements that allowed the United States to employ military and civilian personnel in the country. In 2016, the United States invested about 100 million dollars in the construction of a military base located in the city of Agadez, about 750 kilometers northeast of Niamey, the capital of Niger. In October 2023, the US administration described the change of government in Niger as a “coup d'état.” However, in the following months, negotiations for a democratic transition had raised hopes of a possible rapprochement between the two countries.

The Americans are present in Niger with less than a thousand personnel (around 700) and their contribution has so far been very important in the fight against the local militias of ISIS and al-Qaeda who are fighting for supremacy in the area. Niger is bordered to the north byAlgeria and Libya, to the east with Chad, to the south with Nigeria and Benin and to the west with Burkina Faso and Mali. These are sieve borders that jihadists cross whenever they want. If the Americans really leave Niger it will be impossible to counter the armed Salafist groups.

With the unilateral cancellation of the cooperation agreement announced with great fanfare on live television by the junta spokesman, Colonel Amadou Abdramane, the soldiers and employees of the American base have since Sunday been de facto “illegals” in the country with all that entails. What is happening exactly follows what happened with the 1,500 French soldiers who left Niger in September 2023. And now who will defend Niger from the fury of the jihadists? And who will help the population with basic necessities? In this regard, it is useful to remember that the United States is one of Niger's main development partners, with a significant commitment in terms of economic and military aid so much so that in 2022 alone it sent approximately 437 million dollars in support of Niger where according to USAID over 47% of children under 5 years of age are chronically undernourished and rates of acute malnutrition are well above the threshold of public health emergencies.

Economic progress is further challenged by the world's highest fertility rate (7 children per woman), which is set to double the size of the population over the next twenty years. These obstacles, combined with the growing presence of violence, crime and extremism, particularly along the border regions with neighbors Mali, Libya and Nigeria, put Niger at risk of reversing its recent development gains. Niger is also grappling with a significant influx of refugees fleeing conflicts in the region, particularly in Nigeria and Mali. Malaria is responsible for 50% of deaths among children under 5 years old. Furthermore, Niger has the highest fertility rate in the world. If left unchecked, Niger's rapid population growth will further undermine the effective delivery of health services and weaken the resilience of the country's most vulnerable people.

USAID programs focus on building the capacity of government, civil society, and other key partners to improve family planning, nutrition, and mitigate infectious diseases, including malaria, and emerging health threats. 71% of Niger's population is illiterate and only 54% of primary school students reach sixth grade. Despite all this, the coup military junta of General Abdourahmane Tchiani, former head of the Niger Presidential Guard also known as Omar Tchiani, has chosen to link itself to Putin's Russia exactly as done by the coup juntas of Mali and Burkina Faso. In this sense, the prime minister appointed by the junta, Ali Mahaman Lamine Zeine, was received in Moscow in an official meeting last December.

The Russians are very interested in Niger given its natural resources: Niger is the world's fourth largest producer of uranium with estimated reserves of 300,000 tons; oil with estimated reserves of 1.5 billion barrels; coal reserves estimated at 2 billion tons; iron estimated iron reserves of 1 billion tons; gold reserves estimated at 200 tons. Furthermore, the country also possesses other minerals such as phosphate, copper, zinc and molybdenum. Beyond the anti-Western and anti-colonialist narrative and the massive use of disinformation, the Russians trapped in the war in Ukraine certainly cannot invest resources or send soldiers to defend Mali, Burkina Faso or Niger, however, they can send a few hundred men from the Africa Corps ( former Wagner Group) to protect local notables and plunder the mines which they are doing in Mali. Finally, regarding disinformation, a recent study by the African Center for Strategic Studies shows how disinformation campaigns aimed at manipulating African information systems have increased almost fourfold since 2022, triggering destabilizing and anti-democratic consequences. In particular we read: «Russia continues to be the main supplier of disinformation in Africa, sponsoring 80 documented campaigns, aimed at more than 22 countries. This represents almost 40% of all disinformation campaigns in Africa. These 80 campaigns reached many millions of users through tens of thousands of coordinated fake pages and posts.

Aggressive exploitation of disinformation is one of the cornerstones of Russia's use of irregular channels to gain influence in Africa. Russia has spread disinformation to undermine democracy in at least 19 African countries, contributing to the continent's retreat on this front.” But it's not just the Russians who are spreading misinformation because the Chinese have been doing the same for years, plundering Africa worse than the Europeans have done over the centuries. As we have written several times, the destabilization of African countries and in particular those of the Sahel concerns us very closely because of the tens of thousands of internally displaced people, many try to reach the European coasts in search of a future and Italy, as we well know, it is their favorite landing point.