Niger’s Ordeal of Forever Colonialism


Richard Falk | Global Justice in the 21st Century – TRANSCEND Media Service

27 Aug 2023 – The original interview on the coup in Niger with Zahra Mizrafarjouyan of Mehr Agency in Tehran was published on 14 Aug 2023. A lot has happened since then that affects Niger, and how we understand its relation to that country, to West Africa’s Sahel region, to Africa generally, and to the geopolitical war of position that puts the U.S. rivalry with Russia and China in the foreground. I have taken ‘liberties’ with my interview answers to address this awareness of the broader context.

  1. What was the destructive colonial role of France in West African countries?

As elsewhere, but perhaps more crudely and more deeply, France dominated the post-colonial experience of West Africa that commenced in 1960, politically controlling and ruthlessly exploiting these countries economically whose populations were impoverished despite being resource rich. France more than other European colonial powers sought to replace the indigenous culture, including its language and cuisine, with what it claimed to be superior, which was of course, French culture. In Africa in particular France also created a set of conditions that made the society incapable of stable and equitable governance after formal independence was gained. As a result, a heavier residue of colonialism remained after independent statehood was achieved than in most other countries. Niger’s impoverishment, with an extreme poverty rate of over 40%, is a textbook case of ‘colonialism after colonialism.’

The differences between pre-independence colonialism and its post-independence sequel should be more than a matter of changing the flags and changing the racial features of the ruler, but even in the best of circumstances it is far less for decades than the exercise of the full right of self-determination for reasons long ago provided by Franz Fanon. The post-independence voluntary acceptance of Western military bases is indicative of the governance deficiencies of the native leadership capabilities when it comes to national security. In the case, of encroaching jihadist movements with their own territorial ambitions that have been encroaching on Sahel countries during the last twelve years. Analogous weaknesses, including capabilities, corruption and cooption, help explain the one-sided agreements on the production and marketing of resources is imprudently entrusted to the good will of the former colonizers.

The role of collaborative and corrupted national elites becomes indispensable to make the system of governance enjoy a semblance of political legitimacy that facilitates imbalanced resource related agreements that deprive the home country of its fair share. In the context of Niger, these foreign, non-African actors build further their case for interventions in such countries as Niger by pointing to the virtue of protecting democratically elected leaders against extra-legal coups of the sort that occurred on July 26th. The hypocrisy of the West is revealed when democratic elections produce a political mandate for radically nationalist leaders as with Chavez in Venezuela, or earlier Castro in Cuba and Allende in Chile. As with human rights, such enthusiasm for elected leaders is a selective policy instrument entrenching double standard, not a principled commitment to the rule of law, discrediting ideals that deserve more consistent respect if the peace and justice of the peoples of the world are to be served.

Niger, as with the earlier somewhat similar coups in Mali and Burkina Faso suggest, an important difference that distinguishes the two types of colonialism. It is that the post-colonial state, however beholden it remains in relation to its prior colonial master, has a strong sense of nationalist entitlement among non-collaborationist elites that is often shared with the armed forces and influential sectors of the population, and over time leads to a second anti-colonialism, an anti-colonialism after political independence. Such motivations seem present in the Niger coup leadership despite the fact that many of its members, including its apparent leader, General Abdurahman Tchiani, underwent extensive training by the U.S. armed forces, which usually produces compliant military leadership.

Besides personal ambition and a repudiation of ‘puppet’ leaders, the passage of time after independence leads portions of the elites and masses to grasp the connections between exploitation by the former colonial power and the poverty of the country that is giving away its potential prosperity.

2- It seems that France has kept its colonial role in the regional countries even after these countries gained their independence. What are the tactics that Paris uses to keep its influence in these countries?

The colonial era refused to educate and train an indigenous elite capable of running these West African countries without French assistance in the security, technological sophisticated, and economic policy spheres. When independence was granted in 1960 the French negotiated a series of self-serving arrangements that kept its troops in the country and its favorable and highly profitable and predatory relationship to the natural resources of each of the West African countries that had been its former colonies. Internal conditions prevailed in these countries that resulted in a new unspoken realism that I call ‘colonialism after colonialism.’ It is a way of underscoring the point that the structures of control and exploitation have persisted long after independent statehood, yet in more subtle forms, was achieved in the early 1960s, but without the stigma of ‘colonialism.’ As earlier explained, this process is greatly facilitated by the cooption and corruption of local elites that give a nationalist veneer to this reality of ‘stunted decolonization,’ but if the inequities are too gross a new surge of resistance to foreign exploitation begins to form, and will produce some kind of radical nationalist backlash.

3- What is the political, economic and military importance of Niger for France? Do you think that France whether France will be able to return to the African country?

French interests, also reinforced by Western interests, particularly by the U.S., are especially important in Niger. To begin with, as a spillover from the NATO regime-changing intervention in Libya, an alleged jihadist presence in the country became a target in counterterrorist agenda of the Global North and a pretext for the deployment of Western military forces, and the construction and maintenance of expensive military bases. For France in particular, Niger was a major source of uranium for its nuclear power facilities. It also had gold mines and oil reserves, both controlled by foreign corporations made profitable by low labor costs and pricing well below market values. Niger is also seen as strategically important to ensure that African countries keep aligned to and dependent upon the West as part of its multi-dimensional struggle with Russia and China for geopolitical primacy in the world. Africa has evolved into becoming an arena of this unfolding rivalry that has risen to the surface of global awareness in the course of the Ukraine War of the nuclear dangers of confrontations in the Global North, and offers a semi-peripheral seemingly less dangerous terrain to carry on the new cold war.

4- Some African countries are ready to wage war against Niger in fact to the benefit of France despite the fact that they themselves have been suffering from France colonialism. Why?

On the basis of available information, it is difficult to respond convincingly, especially as various African countries have distinct national motivations in such a complex situation and belatedly faced the fact they lacked the capability to ensure their own territorial security much less take part in an intervention of a sister African country. At the same time seems that many African states have grown worried about their own stability, and do not want to create another precedent of a successful West African coup as occurred in Mali, Burkina Faso. In addition, corrupted elites are fearful of their own vulnerability resulting from the spread of these expressions of anti-Western national radicalism. Part of the reality of colonialism after colonialism are habits of dependence that are difficult to break, especially if intertwined with corrupting incentives and threats to collaborating national elites that act as bonding ties to the former colonial power.

There is also issues arising from non-African interventions by external actors if Africa does not act to reverse the outcome of the coup. There is a growing fear that Africa could become a battleground for the geopolitical rivalry involving the U.S., Russia, and China if a second cold war continues to unfold. As observed, Ukraine War has raised concerns in the Global North about dangers of nuclear war that seem to be giving rise to temptations to shift armed struggles to the Global South as was the case in the Cold War.

So far, various states have acted with caution, with Russia taking the lead in urging non-intervention. The United States seemed at first ready to condemn the coup and suspend economic aid, but later has been sending mixed messages, including refraining

from calling the July 26 takeover of the government a coup despite have the features of a coup. If declared a coup then by legislative mandate, economic assistance would be suspended until civilian government is restored. It raises the question, ‘when is a coup not a coup?’ The answer is simple, a coup is not a coup if strategic interests so dictate.

Such a moderation of pressures may also reflect the position of the new Nigerien leadership which has sent signals that it is receptive to diplomacy and wants a renegotiation not a rupture with France.

5- Do you think that war will be waged in the region?

It is hard to tell, and partly depends on the type of pressure exerted by the U.S. and Europe, and the flexibility of the new civilian leader of Niger, a former Finance Minister, Ali Mawawan Lamine Zeine and the junta. And partly about how worried other African governments are about the danger of coups in their own country or already threatened by extremist insurgencies. Neighboring Nigeria that has been leading the effort to reverse the outcome in Niger is key to whether a diplomatic compromise can be negotiated, or a war erupts.

A central issue is whether foreign troops will be allowed to remain in Niger. A major outcome of the earlier similar recent coups in Bukina Faso, Mali, and Guinea each development provoked by the presence of foreign troops of France and the U.S. Each of these coups resulted in the demands for the removal from the country. At present, there are French, U.S. and Italian bases and detachments of armed personnel in Niger. it may be seen as a victory for the national military that launched this latest coup if these foreign forces are removed, and a humiliating setback if they are allowed to stay, or it may not if national forces are unable to contain the extremist group already occupying national territory.

The deposed President of Niger, Mohamed Bazoumi, is lauded in the West as the first democratically elected president in the country and condemned by the coup leadership as massively corrupt and coopted. There is no doubt that a war in Niger would be a tragedy for the country and the region, given its already impoverished population and the overall low rankings for these Sahel West African countries on the Human Development Index.

6- In case of a war what will be Russia’s reaction? As you know, many Russian Wagner forces are stationed there.

The Wagner Group’s role and response is part of the overall uncertainty, greatly accentuated by the death of its leader Prigozhin in a plane crash. So far Russia’s official position have in general supported the coup and opposed intervention from without. Whether the Wagner Group even with a mission of defending Niger possesses sufficient capabilities to alter the relation of forces in Niger or West Africa is unknown. There is a danger of a proxy war, which would prolong the combat and raise the stakes of winning and losing, with dire consequences for the people of Niger, and elsewhere in the region.

Whether the coup in Niger represents the last stage of decolonization or is just one more chapter in the under-narrated story of colonialism after colonialism remains to be seen.


Richard Falk is a member of the TRANSCEND Network, Albert G. Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, Chair of Global Law, Faculty of Law, at Queen Mary University London, Research Associate the Orfalea Center of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Fellow of the Tellus Institute. He directed the project on Global Climate Change, Human Security, and Democracy at UCSB and formerly served as director the North American group in the World Order Models Project. Between 2008 and 2014, Falk served as UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Occupied Palestine. His book, (Re)Imagining Humane Global Governance (2014), proposes a value-oriented assessment of world order and future trends. His most recent books are Power Shift (2016); Revisiting the Vietnam War (2017); On Nuclear Weapons: Denuclearization, Demilitarization and Disarmament (2019); and On Public Imagination: A Political & Ethical Imperative, ed. with Victor Faessel & Michael Curtin (2019). He is the author or coauthor of other books, including Religion and Humane Global Governance (2001), Explorations at the Edge of Time (1993), Revolutionaries and Functionaries (1988), The Promise of World Order (1988), Indefensible Weapons (with Robert Jay Lifton, 1983), A Study of Future Worlds (1975), and This Endangered Planet (1972). His memoir, Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim was published in March 2021 and received an award from Global Policy Institute at Loyala Marymount University as ‘the best book of 2021.’ He has been nominated frequently for the Nobel Peace Prize since 2009.

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