Niger Air Base 201 near Agadez, constructed by the United States. Congress approved $50 million for the base, but the cost could eventually exceed $100 million. The facility operated by the US military as a drone base.
The impoverished West African state of Niger is the latest flashpoint in the struggle by the imperialist powers for a redivision of the world. The issues involved in the NATO-Russia war in Ukraine — a fight for territory, strategic resources and regime change — are erupting all over the globe, in China and Taiwan, and now in the Sahel region of Africa, Thomas Scripps, a Canadian ‘Global Research’ observer writes.
Though stalled for the moment, what would be a devastating war led by the most powerful country in the region, Nigeria, to oust the coup leaders in Niger and reinstate President Mohamed Bazoum is under active preparation. At a summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the Nigerian capital Abuja, leaders agreed to activate a standby military force and threatened that “no option had been taken off the table.”’
They agreed a new round of sanctions on Niger, which has been plunged into blackouts by electricity cut-offs and seen food prices rise 60 percent amid a blockade and the freezing of assets and trade.
A conflict would draw in the entire region. Senegal, Benin and the Ivory Coast have already pledged to send troops to aid Nigeria. Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea have declared for the military coup leaders in Niger.
Behind the proposed ECOWAS action stand the imperialist powers, who are intent on blocking Russia and China from further penetrating a continent whose strategic significance is growing rapidly. The long-term decline of France’s economic position in its former West African colonies — culminating in the last three years in a dramatic collapse of its military presence in Mali, Burkina Faso and now perhaps Niger — has thrown open the Sahel region to intense geopolitical competition.
Bazoum was considered an important Western ally. The US and the European powers have responded to the coup against him by cutting aid to Niger supposedly provided on “humanitarian” grounds — on which it relies for 40 percent of its annual government budget. They are determined to secure their interests whatever the cost.
Speaking after “difficult” talks with the coup leaders, US Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland — veteran of the US-backed 2014 coup in Ukraine — threatened, “We’ll be watching the situation, but we understand our legal responsibilities and I explained those very clearly to the guys who were responsible for this and that it is not our desire to go there, but they may push us to that point.”
Caution over a proposed military intervention by ECOWAS has centred on concerns that such action has not been properly prepared and would spark mass opposition throughout the region. A misjudged war could explode the social powder keg in Nigeria, where the US and Britain are heavily invested politically and economically.
A great deal is at stake. The United States currently has 1,500 soldiers of its 6,500-strong declared African deployment stationed in Niger across two bases — one of which is the regional hub for drone missions. France has 1,100 troops in the country, Italy 300 and Germany around 100.
Niger is a major uranium producer, providing a quarter of Europe’s supply. It is due to start exporting oil and plays a central role in policing migration out of Africa to Europe. It has become a frontline state in a battle for economic and military pre-eminence in West Africa and across the whole continent.
Africa is home to an estimated 30 percent of the world’s mineral wealth, including 90 percent of its chromium and platinum — crucial to the green energy transition. Another such mineral is cobalt, of which 70 percent of the world’s supply is produced in the Democratic Republic of Congo. By the end of the century, Africa could also account for a fifth of the world’s lithium supply.
The continent also produces 65 percent of the world’s diamonds and is home to 40 percent of its gold reserves, 12 percent of its oil and 8 percent of its natural gas, while Morocco alone is home to 75 percent of the world’s phosphate rock, crucial for fertiliser.
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