A New Beginning in Niger or a Worsening Situation? The Impact of the Niger Coup on the Western Sahel

The coup d’etat in Niger has been touted as the end of neo-colonialism in the country. But how does this military takeover adversely affect local and regional security?

On the morning of 26 July 2023, the Nigerien Presidential Guards headed by General Abdourahamane Tchiani launched a coup d’etat against the democratically elected president of the country. By dusk, military men had taken over the presidential palace in Niamey. Though the National Guard was initially ready to combat the putschists, they later gave in to allow peace and preserve the life of the detained President Mohamed Bazoum. When the initial confusion was cleared and it became obvious that Bazoum had indeed been ousted by Niger’s military, spontaneous celebrations broke out across the country—and even beyond. Towards the end of late 2020, Azeez Ishola, a Nigerien of Nigerian descent had been studying at the University of Ilorin, a tertiary institution in north-central Nigeria. In the same year, the 29-year-old undergraduate met some other Nigeriens who had also departed Niger, citing bad governance and limited education as reasons they went to Nigeria. ‘I was very happy about the overthrow of the democratic government because we cannot say this country (Niger) is a sovereign nation if there is excessive French influence,’ he said. 

Niger is a land-locked West African country that relies heavily on aid from the West. In the past ten years alone, Niger has received about $500 million worth of aid from international organizations. But despite decades of foreign assistance, the nation continues to suffer socioeconomic and infrastructural decline across various sectors, leading many citizens to question the impact of the role France and other Western countries claim to play.

In 2020, the World Bank endorsed the sum of $140 million from the International Development Association to improve the quality of teaching and learning in Niger. Additionally, in 2022, the World Bank also approved $191.5 million to aid Niger and bring improvement to public expenditure and human resources management in the health and education sectors. Yet, there has been little improvement. This is part of the reason Azeez left for Nigeria. Since his choice of course (Architecture) was not offered by any Nigerien university, he had to seek it elsewhere. 


On 25 August, the military junta in Niger ordered that the French ambassador to Niger be stripped of diplomatic immunity and expelled from the country, signalling Niger’s desire to chart a new course for its future without French influence. France’s relationship with its ex-colonies has continued to decline in recent years, owing especially to the fact that the French government continues to impose itself on the domestic affairs of its former colonies. According to Professor Samuel Aghalino, National President of Historical Society of Nigeria:  

The recent wave of consistent coups happening in French-speaking countries in West Africa is a result of the underdevelopment that these countries have experienced. These nations make a lot of money, yet most of their revenue is still being controlled by their colonizers.  

Fourteen former French colonies (including Burkina Faso, Mali, Gabon, and Niger) still pay ‘colonial tax’ to the French government, totalling around $500 billion annually. This is why an aggressive wave of anti-French political influence has emerged, especially in the Western Sahel that has seen more humanitarian and developmental support from the Western countries. 

Prior to the coup in July, Niger’s rating on the human development indices stood at 188 out of 189 countries and about 41.8 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line. The sanctions enacted against Niger since the coup have only worsened the country’s situation. Electricity supply has been cut off and all Western aids have ceased. However, General Tchiani, while insisting that the sanctions are illegal, says that the country is prepared to go through this difficult phase if it guarantees their eventual economic liberation. Dr. Augustine Aboh, a security expert and doctoral student in global governance and human security told me that ‘The military juntas and a chunk of Niger’s population believe that humanitarian aid has over time been used as bait for their continuous underdevelopment.’ Thus, while the preponderant liberal view is that Niger needs humanitarian aid to survive, Dr. Aboh believes that the policy of rejecting Western aid could work in Niger’s favour: 

I think that the country will be emerging from the turmoil with the buoyancy of economic bargain to its favour, bearing in mind that Western development aid now has an alternative in the new era of geostrategic scramble and partition of Africa.


Niger happens to be a major geostrategic hub within West Africa; an important conduit for military and humanitarian activities in the region. The coup not only opens up the surrounding regions to security issues but also waters down the significant investments of various stakeholders in their venture to combat terrorism. According to Dr. Aboh:

The Niger coup and its ensuing instability can embolden terrorists and insurgent groups in the country and across the region. In addition, criminal syndicates could exploit the current instability to expand smuggling, human trafficking, illicit substances, and arms, primarily through Agadez. 

Dr Enoch concurs: ‘The jihadists will be happy to see an invasion from Western nations and their allies as this will give them the opportunity to also fight a proxy war against the Western.’, he says, ‘This scenario will lead to great numbers of loss of lives, as the jihadist will either join the junta or fight on their own, making it a three-way conflict.’ It is obvious that the Niger coup, if not adequately managed, will compound the problems it set out to solve, thereby plunging the country and the region into deeper chaos. 


The adoption of a military solution to solve the crisis in Niger could be a disaster. If this happens, the international community and Economic Community of West African States {ECOWAS} could have a crisis on their hands in the next few months. The regional trade that the farmers in Niger rely on is affected by border issues. The cost of staple foods like rice has increased by 20 per cent, and the country still faces environmental issues like drought and deforestation amidst all the foreign aid being discontinued. 

War on Niger will not only bring about more internally displaced people but this will also cause more humanitarian crises to a country and region already facing a myriad of challengesIn addition, Professor Aghalino points out that ‘an invasion on Niger, is a declaration of war on the Hausas in Nigeria, because half the Niger population is Hausa. The borders shared between both nations are porous and people living across both sides share an ethnicity. Nigerian Hausas in the north will likely stand in solidarity with their kinsmen.’ 

President Macky Sall of Senegal said diplomatic resolution is one of the most important options for the restoration of peace in Niger against the earlier planned ECOWAS military intervention as this will bring the disagreeing sides together again. Since the juntas are after restoring peace they should be ready at every point in time for peace resolution. The juntas should also keep to their promises of restoring power to democratic leaders.  

Both ECOWAS and international allies need to envision a better, robust, creative solution to the crisis than simply stopping aid, imposing sanctions or military invasion. As President William Ruto of Kenya said, ‘The future of the Sahel region can (also) be determined by the stability of Niger…’ Niger should work with the other military-controlled countries like Burkina Faso and Mali by looking into what they have and leverage it. The country is rich in uranium that can produce fuel for nuclear power plants, submarines and nuclear reactors, which can be used to combat terrorism in the region. With the support of the newly-established military alliance with Burkina Faso and Mali, they can also build robust relationships with powerful nations like Russia and China who will be willing to come into affiliation since the Western countries are not involved again

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