Image: REUTERS/Mahamadou Hamidou

By Donnelly McCleland

On Sunday 10 September, French President Emmanuel Macron rejected a demand from Niger’s military rulers to withdraw its troops from the country after the 26 July coup strained relations between the two countries. His comments came after the ruling junta said France was ignoring its request for the 1,500 French troops stationed in Niger to leave the country by 3 September. France continues to indicate support for military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has implemented severe sanctions, but has not followed through with its threat to send in troops to restore deposed President Mohamed Bazoum to power.

The coup in Niger was the third coup in as many years to topple a leader in the Sahel region. The coup leaders blamed rising insecurity and a lack of economic growth for their actions. They stated that the intervention was necessary to avoid “the gradual and inevitable demise” of the country. But the situation is far more complex than security and economics. Although there is no denying that the rise in insecurity – several insurgent groups, such as Al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates, as well as Boko Haram operate in the country – and declining economic prospects contributed to fragility in the country, Olayinka Ajala (political scientist with expertise on international security, conflict analysis, and governance in Africa) suggests three other issues that help to explain the recent coup d’etat. Firstly, there has been an ongoing debate over the ethnicity and legitimacy of Mr Bazoum, which began during the last election campaign. Mr Bazoum is from Niger’s ethnic Arab minority and has always been labelled as having foreign origins. There is a lot of emphasis on ethnic military composition in the country and appointments in the military are made along ethnic lines. The head of Niger’s presidential guard, General Abdourahamane Tchiani, who declared himself head of state after the military seized power, is of the Hausa people, the largest ethnic group. Secondly, the large number of foreign military troops and bases in the country has not been well received by the military as it is seen to undermine their authority. In 2022, France and other European allies withdrew their forces from neighbouring Mali. Mr Bazoum was quick to invite them to Niger but the Nigerien military leadership and some influential individuals in the country denounced the increase in foreign forces. Thirdly, Ajala suggests that the failure of regional organisations such as ECOWAS and the African Union to take a firm stance against military power seizures in Guinea, Burkina Faso, and Mali emboldened the Nigerien military. Other sources, however, have suggested that an investigation into the diversion of $125 million, nearly half the defence budget, to private contractors linked to the top brass in the military during the entire tenure of the previous administration (according to Africa Confidential), may well be the reason the generals moved against Mr Bazoum at this specific time.

Beneath these more overt issues is an intricate web of geopolitical competition and strategic agendas that have profound consequences for the Nigerien people. According to the authors of an article in The Conversation: “The recent coup underscores a geopolitical rivalry deeply rooted in colonial and neo-colonial legacies and intensified by some Western nations’ drive for the control of Niger’s resources. Although Niger grapples with extreme poverty, leading to widespread malnutrition and hunger among its citizens, it is the world’s seventh-biggest producer of uranium. This juxtaposition of mineral wealth and societal poverty underscores the irony of a nation abundant in resources yet plagued by profound economic hardships.” In 2021, Niger provided the European Union with nearly 25% of its uranium supplies, which produced electricity for millions of households. Yet 75% of electricity to Niger comes from Nigeria and has been cut off following ECOWAS sanctions, depriving countless villages and towns, including the presidential palace. There is much at stake for the Nigerien people, as can be seen in the chaotic aftermath of other coups in the region. It is critical, however, to evaluate the motives and repercussions of possible foreign intervention.

Open Doors’ senior analyst for freedom of religion and belief in sub-Saharan Africa, Illia Djadi, in an interview with Christianity Today, remarked: “The military coup is a setback. But so far there are no indications of rhetoric against Christians. We fear instability and are praying for peace. God willing, this period of uncertainty will come to an end.” In this interview, Djadi, a Nigerien currently based in London, provided the regional context, describing the difficult but improving situation of Christians in Niger, and issued a strong appeal against military intervention. Christians form a tiny minority, approximately 1% of the population, against the 99% Muslim. And though Niger is a secular country with freedom of religion protected by the constitution, Christians often face discrimination and other societal challenges. However, in terms of the country, Christians share the same poverty as everyone else. Despite being such a small minority group, Christian leaders were included when the junta summoned national stakeholders, shortly after the coup, to explain the situation, even asking the Church to pray for the nation. The evangelical and Catholic churches have appealed for prayer — for a peaceful outcome to the crisis.

Please join us in prayer for the following:

  • For an extraordinary, divinely orchestrated, outcome to the political/leadership crisis
  • For the Lord’s hand of protection to be over Niger and that all the enemy’s plans will be frustrated
  • For the Lord to bless and uphold His children that they may be instruments of change in their nation