Big Tent Ideas

FRANCOIS BAIRD: The Niger Coup Could Produce A Domino Effect Across West Africa

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Francois Baird François Baird is a founder and chairman of Baird’s CMC Ltd, Baird’s US LLC and Calbridge Investments (Pty) Ltd. Baird’s CMC is an international communications management consultancy with 47 partners across the world.
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Niger’s recent coup threatens West Africa’s stability and American and French interests in Africa, while advancing Chinese opportunities. Africans will suffer and Moslem extremists will continue to gain ground. Niger is unlikely to return to democracy in the short term.

France hoped that the Niger Army would defuse the coup by the Presidential Guard, but the Army sided with the Presidential Guard. Deadlines set by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the military to return deposed President Bazoum to power or face military intervention have passed. (RELATED: SHOSHANA BRYEN: US Military Stays Tight With Israel Despite Political Rifts)

Developments in Niger follow the deteriorating security in Burkina Faso, which is also affecting other countries in the region.  This is an early test for the ability of newly-appointed Leonardo Simão, Mozambique’s former minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, as UN special representative for West Africa and the Sahel, to muster a coherent response. He is expected to pull together a better response to the risks in West Africa and SAHEL than has so far happened.

Niger’s military have learned from coups in Mali, Chad, Guinea, Sudan, Burkina Faso and Guinea-Bissau that the consequences are manageable. In other coups, when America and France walked away, Russians, in the form of the mercenary Wagner Group, were generally invited in.

But American and French governments have not learned from this near-term history. If America and France do not recalibrate their African approach, they would increasingly forfeit influence to China and Russia, suffering losses of access to strategic minerals, like over 7% of the world’s uranium in Niger, together with geographic, security and trade disadvantages.

The way forward for America requires both a focus on promoting the rule of law and democracy, while also having the fortitude for pragmatically dealing with undemocratic regimes and military governments. Pragmatism means also serving the interests of poor, disenfranchised people. Since France vacated its West African interests, particularly after the latest Burkina Faso coup, there are more displaced people, more incursions, slower economic growth and less democracy.

Risks for West Africa’s economy are obvious. Now Libya, Chad, Togo, Ghana, Senegal, Benin, Nigeria and Cote D’Ivoire are all at risk.

The biggest beneficiary of the situation is Guinea, another West African country recently captured by military coup. Guinea is proactively in favor of mining.

The Guinean government is already trying to capture Burkina Faso’s mining investment and income and will likely also be attractive to Nigerien miners. Guinea recently sent a counter-terrorism task force to its border with Mali.

Americans will know the situation is deteriorating further if Niger’s government forces lose several significant battles in a row, if a major military base is overrun or if there are significant attacks in Niyamey, the capital city, as happened in Burkina Faso.

Another sign of decline would be if high-ranking officials or civilians leave Niger, and the closed international offices and embassies do not reopen.

America should look out for growing displaced person camps and shortages of food, as well as declining tax income for the military government of Niger. Such developments will open the door for China, Russia and even Turkey, which is becoming more active in Africa.

Based on history, the coup will result in losses of American and French investment and counterterrorism bases in Niger. The winners are Russia, China and Moslem extremists.

The coup should be a wake-up call.

America and France need to recalibrate their approach and involvement in Africa so that they do not increasingly forfeit influence and lose access to strategic minerals, security, and trade.

François Baird is a founder and chairman of Baird’s CMC Ltd, Baird’s US LLC and Calbridge Investments (Pty) Ltd. Baird’s CMC is an international communications management consultancy with 47 partners across the world.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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