By John Pottinger
Photo above: Thousands protest to oust Niger President Mohamed Bazoum, Aljazeera News Service
Since the July 28 coup in the West African country of Niger much more attention has been paid to it than the average coup, where both the winners or losers are often in the pay of the imperialist powers. With a population of 25 million (Nigeria has more than 230 million.) why all the fuss? Well, let’s follow the money.
Niger was invaded by the French in 1899 but only conquered in 1917 and became “independent,” that is, a neo-colony, in 1960.
And as every imperialist country bleats deep in its heart, made of the hardest stone, “once a colony always a colony.” (Yes, the United States thinks that Cuba is stolen property). And yes Niger is on the list of the ten poorest countries in the world, but it has two things the imperialists really want.
Niger has a large portion of the world’s uranium deposits, and surprise, 70 percent of France’s electricity is nuclear. Niger supplies much of France’s uranium but receives little in return. When it comes to trickle-down economics little trickles down to the Niger masses.
Niger’s literacy rate is 37 percent. Agadez, the department capital where the uranium is located, has no electrical grid. But it does have a $110 million US airbase built in 2019. No doubt the US will use drones to keep the uranium safe from Niger’s people. The US has 1500 troops in Niger, not counting an undisclosed number of Special Forces. The French also have 1500 troops in Niger.
The US drones, “peacekeepers” of course, patrol the Lake Chad basin in Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. The US has two other drone bases in Niger.
The new government of Niger has asked the French ambassador and the 1500 French troops to leave the country. The imperial President Macron refuses. So far mass mobilizations have stayed the hands of the French, whose troops routinely intervene in their former colonies to keep or install governments friendly to Paris.
While I doubt that US Imperialism cares too much about the French electrical grid, what they do care about is the new Trans-Saharan pipeline being built to supply natural gas from Nigeria to Western Europe. This pipeline will run right through Niger and will require a government that is willing to bow to Victoria Nuland. The Biden administration recently sent Nuland, currently acting US deputy secretary of state, to talk with the deposed President Bazoum and then with the new junta. She was unceremoniously asked to leave. I’m sure things will not end there.
This Trans-Saharan pipeline is expected to be a real moneymaker now that the Biden administration has blown up the Nord Stream pipeline. (See: Biden’s Nord Stream Pipeline Obliteration, June 17, 2023 at socialistaction.org.)
This trillion-dollar US gambit during the US-instigated war in Ukraine aimed at substituting expensive US-corporate owned liquefied natural gas for Russia’s cheaper gas, at half the price, via the Russian-German owned pipelines to Europe. Russia was previously Europe’s chief supplier of low cost natural gas and other fossil fuels.
Nigeria is 10th in its share of world oil reserves, with more natural gas than oil. Right now only a trifle is exported and most just flared off. In Nigeria, the government previously owned the oil via the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC). But this now-privatized NNPC operates via joint ventures with western oil companies including Shell (British), Chevron (USA), Exxon Mobil (USA), Agip (Italian) and Total (French). No Russian need apply.
With the Nigerian government previously selling very little natural gas to anyone, its now privatized fossil fuel industry is set to supply much of Western Europe, bringing countless billions to the aforementioned oil companies and perhaps a bit to Nigeria’s 1 percent. But as the pipeline must run though Niger, imperialist control is a prerequisite. Another war for oil, who would have thought?
The new pipeline will make the Western European imperialists more dependent on the US because only the US has enough military might to make sure the Trans-Saharan pipeline doesn’t end up as a hunk of metal at the bottom of the Niger River. US military power in Africa, via its U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), today exceeds the rest of the world combined.
AFRICOM’s website boldface “Mission Statement” is explicit, “U.S. Africa Command, with partners, counters transnational threats and malign actors, strengthens security forces, and responds to crises in order to advance U.S. national interests and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity.”
Anti-imperialists will need to keep an eye on Niger and support its right to self-determination. US Hands Off Niger! US and France Out Now! The same with the imperialist dominated Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).