The coup in Niger, the world’s poorest exporter of uranium, can open the doors for jihadists who are already wreaking havoc in neighboring countries – but behind the story lies a narrative of French neocolonialism and political foolishness.
The background is that Niger’s sitting president, Mohamed Bazoum, was ousted in a military coup led by Colonel Amadou Adramane on July 26th.
Democracy is what we stand for…
Now, most of the 15 member countries of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), except those under military rule and Cape Verde, have declared their readiness to participate in an “emergency force” that can intervene after the coup.
However, the bloc has described the use of force as a “last resort,” partly due to a lack of consensus among its ranks. Burkina Faso and Mali, which have experienced several coups themselves, have warned that a military intervention in Niger would be seen as an act of war.
The African Union (AU), while finding the increasing number of coups in West Africa concerning, rejected foreign military intervention during a tense meeting, out of concern for triggering a bloody civil war. The AU has temporarily suspended Niger from all AU activities.
Thousands demonstrate against France
– Democracy is what we stand for and it’s what we encourage, said Nigeria’s Chief of Defense at the start of a two-day meeting in Accra. – Our focus is not just to react to events but proactively chart a course that results in peace and promotes stability.
Thousands of people have demonstrated in front of the French embassy in Niger, chanting “Long Live Putin” and “Down with France.” Emmanuel Macron says that France will respond “immediately” to any violence against French interests in Niger after the coup.
– The French government will not tolerate any attack on France and its interests in Niger.
The picture is complicated
The picture is complicated. The coup in one of the world’s poorest countries could open the doors for Al-Qaeda and ISIS, which are already causing chaos in neighboring countries.
Bazoum is under house arrest with his wife and son in the capital Niamey. He is an ally of the West in the fight against militant Islamists in West Africa.
Niger also has large oil reserves that the foreign companies wanted to access. But it's population are being exploited by France. The French nuclear company AREVA reserves the right to process the uranium deposits in Niger for more than 50 years! Piracy! #Niger #NigerCoup pic.twitter.com/QmXUZ3iQ2y
— 2.0Tauriel (@0_tauriel) August 7, 2023
Journalist Geir Furuseth received a video from a source in Africa. Here we get a different, African perspective on France’s neo-colonial role in Niger, articulated by a man whose identity we unfortunately do not know. We have transcribed the man’s message to the best of our ability:
An African perspective on France
– A French company has effectively controlled Niger for 60 years. The company is called Areva (Orano). Uranium extraction began in the 1960s by a French company called Somina. Over time, through takeovers and mergers, Somina and a group of other companies became Areva.
This narrative is about Areva and its stranglehold on Niger’s economy and the country’s struggle to free itself.
Areva controls three uranium mines in Niger and has exported uranium from Niger for billions of dollars over the past sixty years. Niger’s population has not reaped the benefits of Areva’s operations; it has only benefited France.
While the Eiffel Tower is illuminated by uranium from Niger, the people of Niger live in the deepest darkness. Thousands of people work for Areva in France and they receive high salaries. Miners in Niger are forced to work under extremely difficult conditions.
The French company made a multitude of promises to Niger that they never fulfilled. They deplete our resources and leave nothing behind except disease, death, and radioactive radiation.
In January 2011, a group of Nigerien miners in Arlit went on strike. They demanded higher wages and better working conditions. The strike lasted for several months and dramatically affected uranium production.
Guess what happened?
Areva rejected the miners’ demands and called in the security forces of the puppet government. They killed ten people and injured dozens of others. The strike ended without the workers’ demands being met. But the discontent did not end – we’ve had enough of French companies stealing our resources without giving anything back in Niger.
In 2014, after two years of negotiations, Niger’s authorities entered into a new agreement with Areva. In this agreement, the royalty rate was increased from 5.5 percent to 12 percent.
Areva did everything to avoid signing this contract but had to do so after months of protests in Niger.
It was expected that since the royalty rate increased by more than double, the government’s revenues would also increase. But that didn’t happen. Five years after the contract was signed, it was revealed that Areva was actually paying less than they had before.
How was this possible?
Areva concocted a complicated plan to avoid paying royalties.
Areva has subsidiaries in Niger and France. A subsidiary in Niger extracts uranium. A subsidiary in France buys the uranium.
In short, what they did was reduce the price of the uranium they sold to the French subsidiary: they reduced the profit in the Nigerien subsidiary and increased it in the French one.
With lower profits came lower royalties to Niger.
After fighting so hard and for so long to get a fair share of our own resources, the Nigeriens gave up. All they asked of Areva was to clean up after themselves and shut down.
Mining uranium is not just an environmental challenge; it brings diseases and radioactive radiation that make the area uninhabitable for people.
People who worked in the mines and lived nearby have been exposed to radioactivity and are dying of cancer. Now they are asking Areva to clean up and shut down the mines and provide treatment to sick miners, but Areva won’t. They came up with a PR stunt to evade responsibility and cover up the connection between disease and mining.
Once again, Niger’s people had had enough. If you see people celebrating the military coup, it’s simply because they have tried everything to establish a mutual and equitable relationship with France, while France has done everything to continue enslaving, mistreating, and extracting the resources that belong to Niger’s population – without giving them anything in return.
And guess what, the same France is trying to convince the leaders of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) to support a military intervention in Niger to restore “democracy.”
If that’s what democracy means, the Nigeriens are not interested.